On The Edge
AS we put last week’s edition of The Mayo News to bed earlier than usual, the banter was typically light-hearted. The fact that we were getting out of the office shortly after 7pm because of the Ireland v Wales soccer match led me to suggest that we needed to put the same effort in again this week because of a ‘Very Important Knitting Conference’ myself and editorial colleague Ciara Moynihan needed to attend. Our male colleagues, naturally, smiled wryly, put their eyes up to heaven and continued to talk about Martin O’Neill’s game-plan to slay the Welsh dragons.
Neill O’Neill, our Managing Editor, skipped out the door just before me and as I reversed my car from my parking space across the road, he drove up Mill Street in his big white SUV like a bat out of hell.
If there was a sound-track to the scene, it wouldn’t be the Meatloaf anthem though. More the multi-layered, saxophone dominated Blues Brothers theme tune, ‘Peter Gunn’. Can’t you just imagine O’Neill sitting in that classroom with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd? No better man to disarm Sr Mary Stigmata!
THE late Neill O’Neill lived life in fifth gear. His energy levels were boundless. His work rate was phenomenal. His community commitments endless. His convictions about his home town unassailable.
I have never met anyone who could write an article, have a phone conversation, drink from his cup of soup and beckon you into his office at the same time. Apparently he was on 12 committees, which probably involved bi-location or even tri-location on occasions. It took the cyclone that was Neill O’Neill to repeatedly confirm the elemental precepts of metaphysics.
Another recently deceased member of The Mayo News editorial team comes to mind. After Martin Curry passed away during August last, his friend and fellow journalist, Liamy McNally, a Mayo News columnist, observed that the renowned teller of tales never used one word when a thousand would enhance the hilarity of the yarn.
Neill replicated this in the hundreds of articles and features he wrote. Well, the devil was always in the detail and he was like a forensic scientist about the detail. Ask Kevin Loftus or any of the production team about his ‘snag lists’. They would be presented around 9.30pm on Monday nights when our computer screens were doing somersaults in front of goggle-eyed faces in the newsroom.
It might be a query about the spelling of a name. A question about a charge or conviction in a court case. A request to explain ‘what exactly was meant in a certain paragraph’.
‘Heart and soul’
IT didn’t take long for Neill to become ‘the heart and soul’ of The Mayo News after he was appointed Managing Editor, at the age of 30, back in 2011. His earlier role, from 2007 to 2009, as a journalist meant he was very familiar with the workings of this family-owned newspaper. The fact that the late Seán Staunton was still ensconced – officially as a proof-reader – as the ‘Father’ of the newspaper meant he was in receipt of paternalistic advice in those early days and during a chasmic period for the newspaper industry and the economy as a whole.
During his two-year break, he managed the iconic Asgard Bar and Restaurant with his best friend, Kevin ‘Kipper’ Joyce. I remember noting how Neill was always out there on the floor, serving food, chatting to customers, having the craic, during that time. This hands-on approach was carried into his role at the helm of The Mayo News.
His immediacy, easy empathy and boyishness underpinned the spontaneity of his charm. This melded seamlessly with the strong professional ethos he exercised at The Mayo News and, undoubtedly, at the plethora of other community organisations in which he volunteered.
A few months ago he asked me if I was available to give some early morning lectures to American tourists, staying in The Plaza Hotel, on the subject of ‘Contemporary Ireland’.
“I know I could do it,” he said, “but I’m so busy with other stuff I’d just be spoofing.”
He wouldn’t have been spoofing. He may have just prepared the talk an hour before the 8am deadline but he would have been totally on top of his brief and, inevitably, would have become best friends with at least half of the American tour group.
Long may the double beat of your energy, Neill O’Neill, ripple through the pages of The Mayo News.