Declan O'Byrne: gentleman and friend leaves huge void in our lives
I never thought I'd be doing this: writing an appreciation of a dear friend.
That's what Declan O'Byrne was; a friend and a gentleman.
Declan (right) passed away at his home on Saturday night. I'm writing those words but it is with disbelief I do so.
I was only speaking with him on Friday and we, as usual, had a chat and a laugh on the phone (not that he was the quickest to answer the mobile sometimes).
Despite the raw, searing pain of loss, I want to remember him for the laughter. It is how, I think, he would want to be remembered too... he and I sitting on a bale of straw at Athlone Show, eating ham sandwiches as I reported for the Westmeath/Offaly Independent and he for the Roscommon Champion.
It has been a long, happy friendship ever since; a privilege to have known him.
He was an excellent reporter; he loved local papers and characters even though he was a Dublin boy who always followed the Blues and the Irish soccer team.
He went to the Irish Independent before I did but was the first to show me the ropes when I joined in 1987.
He was a fine sub-editor and, on his day, one of the best headline writers I've known (I've no doubt he'd suggest a better headline for this piece). No wonder he was promoted to Revise Editor.
His few words on top of a story lit up many a piece beneath. His written words, as part of his TV column, sparkled with wit and information too.
He loved cars and it was my pleasure to have him deputise for me at some launches.
And did we have fun? His ability to mimic well-known personalities (Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson) was awesome; his jokes legendary.
I remember my young daughter and I meeting him and his beloved Lorraine at Kitty's Kaboodle restaurant by chance one night and my daughter subsequently telling me she never thought adults could be such fun.
Sadly, troublesome health curbed his travels but he still loved to write the odd piece for Motors which invariably sparked a response.
He had a knack of knowing what concerned people.
Personally, he was wonderful to me; always there when needed; always the wise, gentle word at critical life junctures; always the reassurance: "There for you 24/7."
I know the same applied to many others, his pals in the band (he was a wonderful singer, drummer and was thrilled with his CD), his legion of friends, neighbours and the many he was 'there' for.
But none more so than Lorraine, his dear mum Angela, sister Carol and, of course, his deceased dad Dermot. He loved them so much. He leaves a huge void in their lives. Our sincere sympathy to all.
It will be strange, and sad, not being able to call him hands-free for a chat the next time I'm driving down the country.
* Eddie Cunningham