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The legacy lives on

Comment & Opinion

MUCH MISSED Former Managing Editor of The Mayo News, Neill O’Neill. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

October 10 marks the first anniversary of the death of the Managing Editor of The Mayo News, Neill O’Neill. He was just 36 years of age when he died of a brain haemorrhage in 2017.
It has been a hugely difficult year for all the staff here at The Mayo News, as Neill was not only our colleague and boss, but he was also a great friend. As was said at the time of his death, he was the captain of The Mayo News ship.
It was also said many times at Neill’s funeral, and over the past 12 months, that few people packed so much into 36 years of life. Thanks to that, Neill’s legacy has lived on in so many different ways.

Pep in his step
Neill loved his job, and he always had a pep in his step as he bounded up the stairs of The Mayo News office. Having worked as a journalist in the paper before taking over as Managing Editor in 2011, he really appreciated the importance of a newspaper in the local community but also knew all too well the real challenges that the local newspaper industry was, and is, facing.
It was fitting back in May that Local Ireland, the representative group for local newspapers in Ireland, remembered Neill’s contribution to the industry at their annual awards by making a special presentation to his partner, Emma Joyce.
Neill, of course, was also very involved in the business community of Westport, and indeed, Mayo, through his term as President of Westport Chamber of Commerce. His contribution was remembered at the Chamber of Commerce Mayo Business Awards and also particularly at the opening of The Leeson Enterprise Centre in Westport last May, as he had done so much work in the background to make sure the centre became a reality.

New memorial competition
Apart from his work at The Mayo News, and his contribution to the Chamber of Commerce, Neill also was heavily involved in the sporting community. He was remembered by a moving video, put together by his good friend Kevin Loftus, at The Mayo News Club Stars GAA Awards. Later this month, his friends at Westport United will remember Neill by running an underage soccer tournament in his memory. Just last year, Neill himself had played a central role in organising similar tournaments in memory of great Westport Utd men who had passed away in recent years.
Here in The Mayo News, later this month, we will highlight the indelible mark that Neill left on the Mayo media community with a new art, writing and photography competition in Neill’s honour. The full details will be released before the end of October.

Passionate advocate
As well as being an erudite businessperson, Neill was an outstanding journalist who right up until his untimely death immersed himself in local news. He revelled in breaking stories and campaigning for good causes. One story that he followed closely, and indeed, led from the front on, was the fate of Westport House when the historic building was put up for sale by NAMA. He passionately believed that it should be bought locally and saved as tourist attraction for the county. Neill organised public meetings, and through The Mayo News, campaigned vigorously to keep the house in local ownership.
Neill also was in his element at election time, and he would surely be looking forward to the prospect of a general election, local elections and European elections taking place in 2019. All of his colleagues in The Mayo News, and in other local newspapers in the county, have great memories of him buzzing around the count centre in Castlebar.
He had some great friends in politics, and it has been said many times since his death that he could well himself have ended up in the Houses of the Oireachtas, as a Senator or a TD, such was his ability.

The O’Neill family, a very close-knit unit, were rocked again just seven months after Neill’s death, when Neill’s father, Colam, died after a short battle with illness. Colam was a loving husband to Mary and father to Neill, Finbar and Conor, Aoife and Orla. He was hugely proud of all that Neill had achieved in his career in the media, and the loss of his youngest son certainly hit him hard.
A large crowd is sure to gather next Saturday evening at 6.30pm in St Mary’s Church, Westport, for Neill’s first anniversary Mass. He was taken from us all to soon, but the memories will live on for many years to come, kept alive by all who were lucky enough to have known him.