A couple of years ago Shay Healy rang me after a mutual friend had died and finished the conversation by saying: “They’re picking from our bunch now.”
I got what he meant when I was told Paddy Murray was dead.
I had already heard from another of his friends, James Morrissey, earlier in the week, how Paddy had only a few days to live. When I relayed that message to another journalist he replied: “I’ve been hearing that for the last 20 years.”
Sadly, last Thursday morning it was true.
Paddy’s illnesses, his bouts of cancer and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) were, like himself, the stuff of legend.
He had battled them for 20 years with spirited humour and, since Covid, very publicly in columns and radio interviews. I’m told that as he lay dying in St James’s Hospital, Dublin, on Wednesday night he watched the television coverage of the Russian build-up on the borders of Ukraine and, like a good newsman, pronounced: “They’re going to invade.”
I like to remember Paddy Murray as a young, quick-witted reporter and columnist, with a big head of curly hair. When I first arrived in the newsroom of the Evening Herald I marvelled at his cleverness and easy confidence, born of his upbringing in Mount Merrion, Co Dublin, (son of the chief executive and chairman of the ESB) and his Blackrock College education.
The school was a sacred subject that could not be sullied by the humour or cynicism conferred on almost all other institutions and persons.
Soon we were drinking pints together in The Oval, Higgins’ or The Bachelor, moving in a louche circle of news and sports journalists and assorted ‘characters’ whose full-time occupation seemed to be holding up the bar.
He recounted in his memoir under the heading ‘The Drinkers Who Become Journalists’ how once he broached the subject of drink and journalism with a well-known psychologist. “I work in the Independent and there is an enormous drinking culture there. Many are drunk in the later afternoon. And the whole thing is centred around drink,” Paddy said, describing the situation.
“I know,” the psychologist replied, “but it’s not journalists who become alcoholics; it’s alcoholics becoming journalists. People will go for jobs which facilitate their lifestyles and peccadilloes.”
Paddy was not an alcoholic; he just loved the ambiance of the pub and the comradery after the paper was “put to bed”. He didn’t miss deadlines, he was at his desk at 8am no matter how late he had stayed in a pub or nightclub, and he took his job as seriously as he did his social life and his music.
He liked to conduct good natured feuds but was “sound” on the national question long before many others. He would have no truck with paramilitary violence, or fellow travellers of any description. Killing people in the interest of Irish reunification was derided and he would launch into a parody of A Nation Once Again with the verse ‘An Alsatian Once Again’.
Paddy enticed us out to play rugby (badly) or got us togged out with his indoor soccer team. In one game at UCD sports centre Dermot Morgan, then a budding Fr Trendy, was on our side and the opposition consisted of members of Def Leppard and Spandau Ballet, who thrashed us roundly.
While never leaving the ‘newspaper pubs’, we progressed, in time, to other haunts of the late 1980s: Scruffy Murphy, Dobbins, Lillie’s Bordello. His friend Eamon Carr, the Horslips drummer, recalled he didn’t frequent nightclubs very often but whenever he did he would invariably find Paddy Murray ensconced having a drink at the centre of a charmed circle.
Paddy left Middle Abbey Street and his old haunts to go to work for the fledgling Daily Star, 50pc owned by Independent Newspapers and based in Terenure. His editor, at the Evening Herald and later the Star, Michael Brophy, last week recalled how although Paddy was known as a writer and columnist, he was vital to getting the paper on the street.
“He contributed so, so much in bringing it into the era of ‘new technology’ and whenever there were problems, he didn’t bat an eyelid, he sorted them out,” Brophy said.
Afterwards, with Colm MacGinty, he would repair to Brady’s in Terenure to discuss his latest foreign trip or plan to join Jack’s Army on whatever soccer campaign was in the offing.
Leafing through his memoir is like taking a world trip and meeting celebrities in every city. John Wayne in the Gresham Hotel, Madonna in a New York bar, Richard Harris in a Limerick pub, Kim Wilde, Eric Clapton — all in situations he wrings humour from.
He covered an Elton John concert in Belfast, prior to him playing in Dublin. It was a fantastic concert and his review was “enthusiastic”. When Paddy went to the concert in the RDS he was told Elton wanted to see him. He was ushered backstage, where the singer told him: “I just want to thank you for the best and most intelligent review I have ever received.” (There were witnesses.)
His enthusiasm for music was infectious and he particularly admired The Stunning. He and Harry Crosbie were responsible for putting a plaque on the front of Arnotts department store in Abbey Street to commemorate the Beatles’ 1963 concert when the building was the Adelphi Cinema.
“No matter what life threw at him, he always knew how to raise a smile,” said Brian Farrell, who worked with him in the Sunday World, where he wrote a column for many years. But one of those columns, bereft of humour, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’, was a defence of his brother, Donal, the Bishop of Limerick, who resigned in the wake of the Murphy Report into clerical child abuse.
“A good man has been vilified. A man whose heart is filled with compassion, who has devoted his life to God and to those less fortunate than himself, who has, by his own admission, occasionally failed, has been scapegoated by those who should and do know better,” he wrote.
A friend from his days in the Sunday Tribune, where he was editor from 2003 to 2005, recalled him stopping in Baggot Street one day, not just to give money to a beggar, but also to sit down and talk to him. He ended the conversation with a generous donation and told the man, “I hope you’re going to spend it on drink”, knowing full well he was.
When I first knew him, he had been married to Paula, but their marriage didn’t last. He got married again, to Connie Clinton, who worked with him as sports editor in the Star. “There is one word which I discovered late in life, is more important than any other in the English language,” he wrote. “And that word is ‘Dad’. And it is important when spoken by my daughter [Charlotte].”
After reluctantly ending his association with the Sunday World, Paddy wrote a funny but at times heart-wrenching column on life, illness and his family for the Irish Times. Even as he was dying at the age of 68, he was fretting the headline on his last column would have to be changed on his death.
Paddy wrote his own epitaph in the last few sentences of his 2021 published memoir, And Finally…A Journalist’s Life in 250 Stories: “I know some people didn’t like me. I know that many thought me arrogant. I know lots thought I never shut up. And many others thought of me a bit of an eejit. But there were some who liked me and a few who loved me. I really don’t care. I hated nobody and I loved many. Thank you all.”