Born in Liscarney, Dingle, Tom O’Donnell served as a teacher in the Killorglin boys National School from 1892 to 1900. He married Nora Ryan whose family owned a public house in Lower Bridge Street. He was elected M.P. for the West Kerry constituency in 1900, for John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party (I.P.P.). O’Donnell was the first politician to use Irish in the House of Commons, which was ruled out of order by the Speaker – an action which made him the poster boy for the Gaelic League.
Party spokesman for Education and the Irish language, in 1902 O’Donnell accompanied John Redmond – his party leader – on a fundraising tour of the United States. On a visit to Pittsburg, he visited the headquarters of the Carnegie Corporation to enquire about their library funding programme.
By 1906 he had obtained approval from the Carnegie Corporation to construct a library in Killorglin. A £2,000 grant was secured and Rupert Maximillian Butler, a Dublin-based architect was selected to design the building. Butler would later design the UCD Pavilion on Earlsfort Terrace (now the National Concert Hall). The Killorglin Library opened with great pomp and circumstance in March 1909 – 1910 was an ‘election’ year. In September 1909 a co-educational secondary school was established – 53 pupils enrolled – under O’Donnell’s management. Its official designation was the “Intermediate School, Killorglin”, but its popular name was ‘the Carnegie’. The school was closed during the Civil War as the building was used as a barrack by the Free State forces. The building closed as a school in June 1988, as a new ISK premises opened less than a mile away in September 1988.
In the interim the building has found a new role as a Community Day Centre under the auspices of the Health Service Executive.
Tom O’Donnell lost his parliamentary seat to Austin Stack in December 1918, a consequence of the “Sinn Féin landslide”. He left Killorglin for good in 1921, moving to Dublin. A barrister since 1905, O’Donnell concentrated on a legal career in post-Independence Ireland. He served as a Circuit Court judge during the 1930s and died in 1943.