Saturday 10 December 2016

'A pragmatist who believed in accountability and governance' - James Downey laid to rest

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

Irish Independent columnist James Downey is carried to his final resting place in the peaceful grounds of Creevelea Abbey in his home village of Dromahair, Co Leitrim, with the Sleeping Man Mountain in the background.
Irish Independent columnist James Downey is carried to his final resting place in the peaceful grounds of Creevelea Abbey in his home village of Dromahair, Co Leitrim, with the Sleeping Man Mountain in the background.
James Downey

"A man of high ideals and great ambition, not for himself but for this country."

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James Downey (82), the political commentator and Irish Independent columnist, was laid to rest in his home village of Dromahair, Co Leitrim, on Saturday after a touching funeral Mass where he was remembered not only as a voice for social equality, but as a man of great wit and good humour.

As friends from the worlds of politics and media gathered with his wife Moira, daughters Rachel and Vanessa and family to bid farewell to a "voice of integrity", it was Rachel's moving words which captured his spirit.

She said her father had been driven by his wish to see a more progressive society, but stressed he was no dreamy idealist.

"He was a pragmatist who believed in responsibility, accountability and good governance and he regularly bemoaned the fact that on those scores, Ireland's leaders had a long way to go," she said.

She spoke of how journalism and politics had been his "life blood", recalling to laughter from the congregation how when Cosgrave formed the first coalition government in 1973, while she and her sister Vanessa, then only four and six, were being rushed out to school by their mother, her father decided this was the perfect time to explain how coalition governments worked to his young daughters.

"He was a brilliant father. He taught us so much and inspired us to learn more," she said.

Speaking of his love of knowledge of everything from the Spanish Civil War to the works of Tennessee Williams, South American politics to opera and Crystal Palace football club, she added: "Our mother always thought that he should enter academia, but I think not.

"Our dad was in love with the moment, of listening to what people were saying and gauging the mood of the nation. His love of being 'in the know' was infectious."

She recalled the words of one journalist colleague: "Before we had Google, we had Jim Downey."

Above all, he loved to share his knowledge and, aside from herself, her sister and his grandchildren, James Downey's lasting legacy would be the many young journalists "he inspired and encouraged to uphold the highest standards of their profession".

President Michael D Higgins was represented by his Aide de Camp, Lt Commander Patricia Butler.

Among the mourners were Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith, Senator Diarmuid Wilson and former TDs Conor Lenihan, Declan Bree and Frank Feighan

Also in attendance were Irish Independent Editor Fionnán Sheahan and friends from the world of journalism Dan White, Ciaran Byrne, Tommie Gorman, Seán Whelan, Mike Burns, Renagh Holohan, David McKittrick, Miriam Lord, Mary Maher, Conor O'Clery and Paddy Clancy.

Fr John McTiernan described James as a man with unrivalled insight into the Irish psyche, adding: "He was a voice of integrity and that voice is now stilled."

Irish Independent

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