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Friday 24 November 2017

A little bit of the magic has gone out of our world

Aengus's fondness for non-conformity and fun is what many will remember him for, writes Liam Collins

For a man who wasn't much given to funeral-going himself, Aengus Fanning got a fine send-off from the congre-gation that packed the Church of St Joseph, Glasthule, Co Dublin, last Friday.

He was described from the altar as an agnostic and while the clergy -- his friends Fr Denis Kennedy and Fr Tom Stack -- endeavoured to follow the usual funeral formula, the haunting jazz music and the speeches ensured that the ceremony veered much closer to Aengus's own fondness for non-conformity and fun.

Born in Tralee, Co Kerry, on April 22, 1942, Aengus grew up in St Brendan's Park in the town.

His father Arnold Patrick Fanning, educated at Blackrock College in Dublin, was from a well-known family in Birr, Co Offaly. He sold his share in the Midland Tribune newspaper in Birr, Co Offaly, to his brother James and moved to Tralee where he taught science, maths and chemistry in the technical school in the town for 38 years. Arnold Fanning was also a playwright and keen amateur botany artist and his collection of more than 2,000 drawings was donated to the National Botanic Gardens after his death in 1980.

Aengus's mother Clara was from a Presbyterian family from Rostrevor, Co Down -- and he wrote to her, as he did to others throughout his life, in long-hand, using a fountain pen.

He went to school in the CBS in Tralee and later to University College, Cork, where he studied commerce.

He was an outstanding sportsman, playing Gaelic football for Austin Stacks and later the Kerry minors in 1959/1960. He played rugby for UCC and Tralee and he was an avid student and player of cricket and jazz music.

He left Tralee to become a trainee reporter in the Midland Tribune in Birr in 1964, working for his uncle and marrying his first wife Mary while living in Birr. He joined the Irish Independent as a news reporter in 1969 and became agricultural correspondent in 1973 and news analysis editor in the early Eighties.

In 1984 he was appointed editor of the Sunday Independent in succession to Michael Hand and it was a job that consumed him for the next 28 years until his death this week at the age of 69. As his son Dion said last week: "He died with his boots on . . . he didn't see the point in retirement."

Aengus lived in Sandycove and every day travelled by a circuitous route to work in central Dublin, stopping off most days to swim at the 40 Foot or Seapoint, picking up Anne Harris from her house and having morning coffee in Insomnia in Blackrock, sitting outside (when possible) reading papers bought from Jim in the Centra next door. Along the way he collected stories, anecdotes and parking tickets.

He was married to Mary O'Brien, from Birr, and they had three sons, Dion, Evan and Stephen. After his wife's death he married Anne Harris, deputy editor of the Sunday Independent. He shunned the social life, preferring to keep the company of an eclectic circle of friends. Always a jazz aficionado, he started playing clarinet under the name 'Peanuts' O'Donovan, with his good friend Professor Peter O'Brien. He later produced the last CD of another good friend, Ronnie Drew.

Following mass, the congregation was addressed by his wife Anne Harris, his friend Charles Lysaght and his sons Dion and Evan.

His son Evan recalled how during his illness Evan had driven his father into town. During the drive Aengus was silent, eventually summoning up enough strength to ask: "Why aren't you driving in the bus lane?" a well known habit of his father, on the basis that "there are no buses using it." In his memory his funeral cortege to Mount Jerome veered into the bus lane as it travelled along the Merrion Road. His eldest son Dion also spoke about his father's individuality. "Dad's inability to understand that the accepted procedures in a situation might have to apply to him -- from Kosovo to Ethopia to parking meters in Blackrock, all had the same beginning."

He enjoyed the company of musicians, writers, his family and random people he met along the way. And it was the musicians who, along with the speakers, provided the most poignant moments of his funeral mass. They were the singer Mary Coughlan, Hugh and Richie Buckley, Paul Sweeney, Dave Fleming, Myles Drennan and Kieran Wilde. They were joined by Aengus's son Stephen of The Last Tycoons, who sang Abilene, and the coffin was carried from the church to the strains of The Last Wave -- a song written by Aengus himself. And Noirin ni Riain's haunting spiritual singing imbued the proceedings with the aura of a great tribal chieftains funeral.

The chief mourners were his wife Anne Harris, his sons Dion, Evan and Stephen, his brothers Patrick and Connell, and step-daughters Constance and Nancy Harris. Among those who did the readings were Willie Kealy, also deputy editor of the Sunday Independent and Mungo Harris.

A special tribute was paid to his friend the late Peter O'Brien and Aengus's late brother Brian and his late sister Betty. Also present were his late wife Mary's sister Terry Quinn, her husband Bob and their daughters Niamh and Rachel.

There was a large representation from Independent News and Media. The chairman James Osborne and his partner -- and friend of Aengus -- Patricia Devine; chief executive Gavin O'Reilly; chief operating officer Vincent Crowley; chief executive, INM (Ireland), Joe Webb; deputy managing director, INM (Ireland), Declan Carlyle; INM director Lucy Gaffney; managing editor Michael Denieffe; editor of the Irish Independent Gerry O'Regan; chief executive of INM (Northern Ireland) Michael Brophy; Sunday World editor Colm McGinty; columnist Kevin Myers; sports writer and Kerry footballer Paidi O Se; and many other friends and acquaintances from Independent Newspapers.

Special mention was made of Bernie Guerin, mother of the murdered Sunday Independent reporter Veronica Guerin, who was accompanied to the funeral by Veronica's husband Graham Turley and their son Cathal.

President Michael D Higgins was represented by Col Michael McMahon and Taoiseach Enda Kenny by Comdt Michael Treacy. Among those present were many contributors and writers for the Sunday Independent, including the economist Colm McCarthy, Gay Byrne, Senator John Whelan and Andrew McKimm.

Frank Cullen of National Newspapers of Ireland; former TD Tom Enright, from Birr, Co Offaly; Kevin Dawson of RTE; Tim Vaughan, editor of the Irish Examiner; Willy Clingan, managing editor of The Irish Times; Joe Jackson; Paul Drury; John Cooney; Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin; Richie Boucher, chief executive of Bank of Ireland; Ronan Keane; Mary O'Rourke and Brendan Glennon.

Writers included Anthony Cronin, Ulick O'Connor, Charles Lysaght, Christina Rehill, and also attending were Michael Colgan of the Gate Theatre, John Caden, Eamon Dunphy, John A Murphy, John Waters and Michael Sheridan. His doctors, Professor John Crown, Michael Keane, Ken McDonald and each member of staff at St Vincent's Private Hospital were personally thanked by his son Evan.

Others present included Shane Ross TD, Eoghan Harris and his wife Gwen Halley, Alison Doody, Brian Kennedy, Michael O'Mahony, John Rocha, Michael Mortell, Mike Burns, Rev Chris Hudson, film-maker Gerry Gregg, Sinead and Katie O'Brien, Eithne and Orla Healy, artist Brighid McLaughlin, solicitors Simon McAleese, Paula Mullooly, Tony Williams and Ciaran Maguire, and Frank Murray, manager of The Pogues.

The Sunday Independent Cricket Society, which Aengus founded, was represented by Patrick Coffey and Ross Hathaway, along with occasional player Mick Gleeson.

His son Evan said that throughout his life "what he searched for was a sense of magic". A little bit of the magic went out of the world when he died last Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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