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Monday 20 November 2017

Brunch served to a million people

Aengus brought drama, knowledge and passion to his role, writes Tony O'Reilly, who shared with him a love of books

Tony O'Reilly

Back in the Eighties, I asked Aengus what was his concept of a Sunday newspaper? He said instantly: "It has to be like a great Sunday brunch -- something for everyone," and aided by an eclectic, diverse and hugely talented group of writers (and particularly by the creativity of his wife, Anne), he produced week after week for more than 28 years, to the delight and dislike of friend and foe, a paper that a million people just had to read.

He presented no particular political or economic agenda other than fairness, and his interviews with a wide range of different individuals over the years sparkled with his curiosity and his search for this elusive element.

He wasn't ideological. He was not left or right. He was for fairness as he saw it and the democratic way of life without violence.

Aengus brought passion, knowledge, gaiety and a sense of theatre to the position of editor. Then Anne, his wife, brought the female quality, the sensuality that, together with the hugely gifted writers and columnists, made the paper what it is today. A special doffing of the hat to his deputy, Willie Kealy, who, through all the storms, kept the ship on a steady course.

Aengus must be one of the few individuals who played for Kerry, but went to Lord's and Old Trafford for the cricket, one of his great passions in life. The Sunday Independent cricket team owes its esprit to this particular passion. The statistics of the game are esoteric but central to its enjoyment: Bradman v Tendulkar, Hobbs v Hutton, Miller v Botham, Shane Warne v Jim Laker, Larwood v Lindwall versus the current brilliant crop of England's pacemen. He knew them all -- and their facts and figures.

At John Meagher's (the former CEO of Independent Newspapers) funeral in 2001, the congregation filed slowly and mournfully from the church in Mount Merrion. Suddenly and without warning, the piercing beauty of a clarinet penetrated the air. Aengus, from his pew, was playing a beautiful solo of farewell to one of his great colleagues. It was a magical moment.

Throughout the years we constantly exchanged that most personal of gifts -- books -- some for review but mostly on topics we both enjoyed, particularly history. Poignantly he received my last book only some weeks ago -- Max Hastings's All Hell Let Loose. Sadly I will not now have the pleasure of discussing it with him.

Editors all have their crises, but Aengus handled each crisis in the cool, engaged but unflappable way that he approached life.

The "brunch" that he has created is enjoyed by over a million people, and its fearlessness, frankness, excitement and professionalism will continue to pay tribute to its greatest of editors.

Aengus would have been pleased, but not surprised, with the outcome.

Sunday Independent

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