The late Tony O'Callaghan , Killybegs . Photo Brian McDaid
It was in the weeks leading up to Christmas and a familiar face loomed into view in the interior of the Courtyard Shopping Centre on Letterkenny’s Lower Main Street.
A face I hadn’t seen for a couple of years but no more appropriate place to meet up with him again than on the site once occupied by the old C.Y.M.S. Rooms.
For back in the day - or even the day before that – on the first floor of that former landmark, a small handful of us shouldered together in the confined offices of the ‘Donegal People’s Press’ and it was there that I really got to know the character that was Tony O’Callaghan.
And through the smog of Woodbine and Sweet Afton that enveloped the premises – we did have editor, John McIntyre, and fellow reporter, Noel Slevin, occupying the same space – we toiled towards the weekly deadline and telephoned our council or court reports through to our colleagues in the ‘Sligo Champion’ for production purposes (both those of us at the Letterkenny end and those forced to type in our reports on the other side celebrated that memorable day when technology in the form of a Fax machine was introduced and there was no further need for time-consuming telephone exchanges or fears that the copy sent on the C.I.E. bus would end up in Galway).
Laughter and banter
But the work was not that demanding that laughter and banter wouldn’t break out on many an occasion in the old office – and for the period he spent there, Tony was often central to the ribbing and repartee.
Sarcasm, they say, is the lowest form of wit but it was Oscar Wilde who pronounced that it was the highest form of intelligence. Tony O’Callaghan was a master of both wit and wisdom and they shone through in his journalistic career.
It was a career that involved a lengthy stint at the sadly now defunct ‘Irish Press’ where he, time and again, proved his credentials as a highly rated reporter.
His reputation preceded him before he rose further in his profession and joined the D.P.P.!
As a mere cub, I learned so much from him and that experience he brought with him into the paper.
And savoured those anecdotes he shared on a daily basis. It was, in truth, never dull when Tony O’C was around.
We kept in occasional touch when he departed the ‘People’s Press’ and his subsequent involvement as editor with the ‘Irish Skipper’ newspaper.
Here his knowledge of the fishing industry took him into familiar waters – as familiar as his beloved Killybegs around which he conducted guided tours and provided additional angles to the port.
Community played such a part in his life and he rarely lost an opportunity to promote the place of his birth and extol its virtues.
He also set up his own P.R. company – a career move helped by his extensive connections both inside and outside the world of journalism.
For a few years we lost contact until court work brought us into close proximity again – his expertise again been called upon when he took up the role of stenographer in Letterkenny Circuit Court. And during any break in proceedings, he and the press table invariably bantered on the issues of the day – steering well clear of the case that was being conducted at the time, his professionalism never allowing him to stray beyond the bounds.
His stint as court stenographer completed – at least as far as Letterkenny Circuit Court was concerned – we once again went separate ways and it was only that chance meeting in the Courtyard Shopping Centre that brought us into contact once more.
We both had time for a coffee and consequently sat at a table at Joe Jackson’s Ice Cream Parlour and talked of old and present times.
And that brilliantly mischievous smile creasing those familiar features as he sauntered into some story or another.
And when we took our leave, we promised – confirming phone numbers – to meet up again soon.
Indeed, I told him I would try to get to Killybegs and participate in one of his guided tours.
Sadly it never happened and, now, never will. The tour is over but the shock of his passing lives on.
In those years before we met up again, the world of athletics brought me into contact with his brother, Bernie, and sister-in-law, Mary.
To them and Tony’s spouse, Trish, daughter, Karen, son, Conal, and other family members, including his other siblings, Enda, Dermot and Miriam, his friends, and the community of Killybegs, sincerest condolences on the loss of a truly invigorating personality.