Saturday 21 July 2018

Obituary: Sean ‘Chesty’ O’Shea, legendary PR man

The legendary PR man, raconteur and wit will be greatly missed, writes Liam Collins

Bon Viveur: Sean O’Shea
Bon Viveur: Sean O’Shea
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Sean O'Shea, described by one journalist as "a good old-fashioned Dublin PR man" - the PR standing for Public Relations - has left behind at least one lasting legacy, the Texaco Children's Art Competition, which has been running for the last 62 years.

Immaculately dressed, usually in a houndstooth jacket and slacks, he was a connoisseur of a pint of Guinness and in his company you were never short of a laugh, because he enjoyed his own jokes and stories, many and varied, as much as his audience.

Sean, who died last Sunday at the age of 88, was born in Castleconnell, Co Limerick, across the street from the famous hurling Mackey family.

Sean, who was known fondly as 'Chesty' O'Shea loved all sport, but hurling in particular, and was a boxer of some considerable skill with the Corinthians club in Dublin. After school, he joined the Royal Air Force, before returning to Dublin, where he established Sean O'Shea Public Relations, opening an office in Abbey Street.

Although he had a considerable business in advertising and public relations, O'Shea's specialist skill was entertaining clients and engaging in what is now known as 'event management'.

One of his first clients was the major oil company Caltex (which later became Texaco) and executives of the company who came to Dublin in the early 1950s were so impressed by his Joycean-like tours of restaurants, like The Red Bank and Jammets, and Dublin pubs that they tried to get him to join their head-office staff, possibly hoping to bring something of O'Shea's laughter and gaiety to their dull executive lives. He declined the offer.

"Out of his imagination came things like the Texaco Sports Stars awards, the Texaco Children's Art Competition," says Don Hall, one of his early employees and now the doyenne of the Dublin public relations industry.

"Next week, the winner will be presented with an award in the Municipal Gallery in Dublin, the 62nd year of the competition. In terms of sponsorship, it will never be overtaken and it is all down to Sean O'Shea."

Winners over the years included Ruairi Quinn, Robert Ballagh, Thelma Mansfield, the designer Paul Costello and many others.

Sean, with his wife Maureen, later moved offices to Eden Quay in Dublin, cunningly chosen for its central position and proximity to Independent Newspapers in Abbey Street, the Irish Press on Burgh Quay and the Irish Times in D'Olier Street - and possibly hostelries where reporters and journalists gathered and a good pint of Guinness was served, such as The Bachelor Inn, Mulligan's, The Fleet and The Oval.

"He had a photographic memory and at the drop of a bar mat could recall and recite the most wonderful songs and poems, many of them his own, made up about golfing and newspaper characters," said an old buddy of that era, Ray Managh.

"He was a good man, a decent and generous friend, husband, father and granddad and hopefully he has teamed up again with his wife Maureen and old mates like Tom 'The Squire' Cryan for composed four-ball repeats of their weekly outings at Royal Dublin."

As one of the public relations advisors to Michael Fingleton, he organised the Sunday Independent Person of the Year awards, which was accepted by President Mary McAleese in 2003 and included a glittering array of personalities organised by O'Shea.

Yachting writer W M Nixon recounts how another long-running competition, the Yacht Club of the Year, came about. "Sean O'Shea was in his car in a traffic jam outside an antique shop and ran his eye over the items on display, which included a ship's wheel. His busy brain was developing the notion of using the old wheel as a trophy in sailing."

The upshot was the Club of the Year competition, sponsored by another of his long-time clients, Frank Keane of the BMW car empire.

Sean O'Shea lived with his wife Maureen and three daughters, Marie, Hélène and Lynda in Howth, before moving to Sutton. He was a long-time member of the Dublin Journalists Golfing Society and he also played for many years at Royal Dublin.

Veteran hacks, including Des Mullen, Charles Mallon, Liam Flynn, Gerry Carroll, Adhamhnan O'Sullivan, John Maddock, Tom Rowley, Ray Managh, Mick Devine, Donald Doherty, Ray Glennon, Mick Horgan and Roddy Hyland were among those who formed a guard of honour to say farewell to their friend outside St Fintan's Church in Sutton last Wednesday.

Sunday Independent

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