Tuesday 18 December 2018

Obituary: Arthur Deeny

Celebrated wit, adman, humanist and cricket captain

WITTY: Arthur Deeny, a life lived nobly
WITTY: Arthur Deeny, a life lived nobly

Yesterday a host of friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of Arthur Deeny, noted wit, raconteur, cricket captain, moustachioed character, cherished husband, proud father and in his final years, founding editor of the Humanist Times. An Ulsterman who adopted Dublin as his home, few people loved the city more than Arthur, who died last Sunday aged 64.

Born the fifth of six children to Doctor Donnell and Annie Deeny on July 20, 1953, in Lurgan, Co Armagh, Arthur was educated in Clongowes Wood College and in Trinity, where he took a degree in English. A masterly debater, Arthur won honours in Clongowes, and in college, earning the Maiden Speaker Award in the College Historical Society, the world's oldest university debating club.

From his earliest days, words flowed out of Arthur in sinuous, ironic and poetic sentences. From penning warm-up sketches for Gay Byrne's Late Late Show to writing radio plays for the BBC, like Foggin' (the Armagh term for robbing an orchard), about a doctor forced to treat a wounded IRA man after his wife had been kidnapped... In Dublin, he wrote and staged his play The Mot and the Magician in the HaPenny Bridge Inn, later taking it to the Edinburgh Festival, a Fringe performance in a suitably named hostelry, The Blind Poet. He was a noted stand up comic, even after being diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2016, he still performed his classic routine Get Us Out of Here in The Moth, the peripatetic story-telling event.

His endless bon mots fuelling a notable career in advertising, an adman who invented the most infectious jingle of the 1990s, Fleetwood would, would Fleetwood. A copywriter for the Irish Permanent, he created the words for Packie Bonner and Roy Keane for Italia 90. He penned multiple radio commercials, starring Owen Roe and Pauline McGlynn of Father Ted fame, though Arthur's gift for mimicry meant he often played parts himself. He also had a gift for inventing popular terms: Cashere for the Irish Permanent ATMs; or Samba Soccer for Brazilian football schools; and even had his own show Commercial Breakers on Anna Livia Radio.

While still in college, he began raising his family with his art historian wife Sile Connaughton. Blessed with three daughters, Leda, Shaula and Cordaella, four decades after his graduation, all five members of his family jointly collected their Masters of Arts scrolls in September 2016, leading Provost Patrick Prendergast to nickname them The Five Masters - one of Arthur's proudest days. Though, looking back with brutal honesty, he confessed in his contribution to Trinity Tales, Trinity College Dublin, in the 1970s: "I repaid my father's love and kindness in the traditional manner of sons, by crashing his cars and drinking his money and failing the exams about which he cared so much."

After witnessing the ugly scars of intolerance during the Troubles of his youth, he fought for compassion and tolerance for all communities. Famously captaining two cricket teams - Arthur's Knights and The Tequila Slammers - noted for their rich mix of nationalities, culled from multiple corners of the Commonwealth. Arthur also jointly founded The Ranji Trophy, named after an Indian maharajah who summered in the West of Ireland.

Arthur dressed with sartorial panache, shocking passing motorists when he went for his Saturday morning paper in Ballsbridge dressed in a Moroccan djellaba or Indian shalwar chemise. His signature shoes were red lizard, and he had more hats than Philip Treacy. He was frequently hailed cycling into his job at Javelin in Smithfield for his choice of helmets; whether golden centurion or leather dinosaur. No Bloomsday was complete without Arthur, who began the day on Duke Street.

As he once wrote: "There is a common view in places as far afield as Britain, France, Italy, the United States and India that Northerners tend to be honest, hard-working, hard-nosed, practical, zealous, clannish, competitive and aggressive. Southerners, by contrast, are widely seen as soft, sottish, idle, pampered and pleasure-loving. You can see why I live down here."

Nobody loved the cricket creases of Leinster more than Arthur: Castle Park overlooking Bullock Harbour; Trinity college; Oakhill in the Wicklow Hills; or Railway Union, He was proud of completing his century of swims in the Forty Foot, and enjoyed a good seat in the Aviva. His penultimate afternoon was spent with his family in Newtownpark House Nursing home, quietly seeing Ireland sew up the Grand Slam.

His final flowering was as a humanist celebrant, though even back in the 1980s, he had already founded a company called Ceremonies Without Religion. Showing the true courage of wit in the face of adversity, he wrote in his first issue of the Humanist Times: "I recently had the benefit of brain surgery, which took a load of my mind."

His last evening night out was in the Shelbourne. Life coming full circle. From his early days joining his parents and siblings in the Grill Bar before rugby internationals, to a family cocktail three days before Christmas in the Residence Bar, Arthur sitting proudly as his two baby grandsons, William and Arthur junior, played at his feet.

Arthur was a considerate, kind, hospitable, generous, stylish, warm, kind, lively, compassionate, creative, egalitarian and tremendously witty gentleman.

No statue awaits him, but he leaves something far more worthwhile, the memory of a life lived nobly.

Sunday Independent

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