Friday 25 May 2018

'Memory Man is dead...but what memories he has left behind him'

Fr Brian D’Arcy blesses the coffin as Jimmy Magee’s remains are taken from the church in Kilmacud. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Fr Brian D’Arcy blesses the coffin as Jimmy Magee’s remains are taken from the church in Kilmacud. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Jimmy Magee
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

No Mass booklet was needed to remind mourners at his funeral yesterday of what he looked or sounded like.

Everybody who came knew Jimmy Magee, even the few people he had never met.

"He was a philosopher, he was a commentator, he was a journalist, he was a family man, and, as he said on so many occasions about others, he was 'in a different class'," explained an emotional Fr Brian D'Arcy.

The Church of St Laurence O'Toole in Kilmacud, Co Dublin, was 'standing room only' for the funeral Mass of the 'Memory Man', who came to live in the nearby Lakelands estate.

Family members console each other. Photo: Collins
Family members console each other. Photo: Collins

You didn't see Jimmy around that much in this part of south Dublin, he was usually off at the Olympics, Ireland's international soccer campaigns, travelling to every county in Ireland, and further afield, with his 'Jimmy Magee All-Stars' raising money for charity.

"He never retired - even when he was no longer getting live commentary jobs he prepared file notes as if he was commentating the next day," his son Mark said. "He used to say, 'You'd never know, they might ask'."

He was a man of tremendous energy, almost as much - and sometimes probably more - than the sportsmen and women he covered in boxing, athletics, cycling, soccer and the GAA.

A picture of him as a young disc jockey, an Olympic torch, boxing gloves, a broadcasting award and a copy of his autobiography were carried to the altar by his grandchildren to commemorate the life of the 82-year-old legend, who died last Wednesday.

Jimmy Magee
Jimmy Magee

He was carried into the church accompanied by a bodyguard of the 'Jimmy Magee All-Stars', his charity team who travelled endlessly, playing 254 matches, never losing or winning one ... they all ended in a draw.

His coffin was carried shoulder-high from the church to the strains of 'Billy Won't You Please Come Home', played by his friends Paddy Cole and Sean Campbell.

It was a fitting tribute to a man whose voice, as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said going into the church, "was the voice in our living room for so many years".

Fr D'Arcy, a personal friend for decades, said: "The Memory Man is dead, but what memories he has left us.

"It is as if an era died with him, all those sports and entertainment memoires and the voice of Jimmy Magee to be found in all of them ... but Jimmy is silent now."

He told the story of going to lunch recently with Sean O'Reilly of Release Records and Jimmy, who shared an office with him for many years when he was "in the band business". "I didn't know at the time that it was to be our last supper," said Fr D'Arcy, relating how Jimmy didn't like anything on the eight-page menu and eventually the chef was summoned from the kitchen and concocted a lunch of salmon and scallops "with no sauce".

"The chef was thrilled to do it for the legend that was Jimmy Magee," he concluded.

Born to Irish parents in New York on January 31, 1935, he was brought up in Greenore, Co Louth. He worked in a pharmacy in Carlingford and later for a railway company before coming to Dublin and landing a job in Radio Éireann compiling the first record Top Ten, which was broadcast by his friend Harry Thullier. He later did the Junior Sports Magazine programme, before graduating to live commentary.

He also wrote for the 'Sunday World' for 43 years with colleagues noting that he never missed a deadline. When he went into hospital the week before he died, he told his son to make sure to deliver his column, which was in an envelope at his home. Inside, not only was there a quiz for the coming Sunday - but for every Sunday until December.

He met his wife Marie in Dublin in 1953 and they married in October, 1955, when he was just 20. They lived in Kilmacud and had five children, Paul, Linda, June, Patrick and Mark.

"He found responsibility difficult, but he got there," said Fr D'Arcy. He gave up alcohol in 1973 at the urging of his wife.

But despite his fame and his foreign travels, it was never a gilded life.

Marie died at the age of 55 in 1989 and Paul, a talented footballer, in 2008 at the age of 51.

"When Paul died, something in Jimmy died with him. When you met him there was a loneliness in his eyes that wasn't there before," said Fr D'Arcy.

Among the large congregation yesterday was the Ireland assistant football manager Roy Keane, Sport Minister Shane Ross, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, president of the IRFU Phil Orr, and John Delaney and Ian Mallon of the FAI.

Also among attendees were many staff at the 'Sunday World' and its publisher Independent News and Media, including 'Sunday World' Managing Director Gerry Lennon, Editor Colm MacGinty and Ed McCann, Group Managing Editor at INM.

Other mourners included Dermot Gilleece, Michael Carruth, Kenny Egan, Tadgh de Brun, Michelle Smith de Bruin, Des Cahill, Mick Clerkin, Sean O'Reilly, Oliver Barry, Gary Power, Larry Gogan, Charlie Chawke, Peter Malone, Sean Ryan, Martin Breheny, Vincent Hogan, Marty Morrissey and many more.

Music was provided by his friends Johnny Peters, Gerry Hunter, Paddy Cole and Sean Campbell.

The Mass was concelebrated by Fr Dermod McCarthy and Msgr Eoin Thynne.

"He broadcast for 40 years, he became the voice of most historical events at home and worldwide - Maradona's goal, Barry McGuigan, Michael Carruth, John Treacy, Katie Taylor, wonderful, wonderful events ... his voice was in our hearts and in our heads," said Fr D'Arcy, his voice breaking with emotion.

Jimmy said the reason he went into radio was "the greatest sportsmen didn't last a lifetime, but commentators go on forever".

Irish Independent

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