Monday 11 November 2019

Roslyn Dee: 'A warrior and a gentleman... Shay Healy is a true national treasure'


Shay Healy
Shay Healy

Roslyn Dee

Is there really such a thing as a national treasure? One person's meat can well be another's poison. And even when universal approval does seem the order of the day, more often than not, it simply doesn't last.

People fall in and out of fashion, let themselves (and, therefore, us) down through some personal failing or other, lose the run of themselves when fame takes root, handle adversity badly, or, simply, at some stage in their lives, let the mask slip, displaying themselves in their true and not-to-be-treasured colours.

But occasionally - just occasionally - someone deserving of that national treasure tag truly emerges. Someone in the public eye who never loses the run of themselves, who remains true to who they are and who always seems to handle triumph and disaster - as Rudyard Kipling said - with equal composure. Someone who embraces life and, in doing so, enhances the lives of others.

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I spoke on the phone to such a national treasure on Monday evening. To my own shame I haven't spoken to him in a while even though, up until earlier this year, I spoke to him every week for 11 years.

I'd be over-egging the relationship to call Shay Healy my friend, but for those 11 years he wrote a weekly column for the newspaper I then worked for, and I was lucky enough to be his editor.

I'd never spoken to Shay in my life until 2008 when - somewhat nervously - I rang him to ask if he would write a piece about living with Parkinson's disease. Self-deprecating, warm, engaging and humorous that day on the phone, after due consideration and much serious talk about stem cell research and the science of it all, he agreed to do it.

That article led to an eclectic and entertaining column, and my journalistic collaboration began with the man I had only ever known as the captivating host on RTÉ's 'Nighthawks' and, before that, as the person whose songwriting skill had delivered the Eurovision prize into the hands of Johnny Logan back in 1980.

And throughout all my years of working with Shay - despite him being in pain on a daily basis, and all the other burdens of Parkinson's, despite his beloved wife Dee Dee's illness and demise and, on a lighter note, despite his weekly battles with technology - he never let me down.

A man with the sharpest of intellects and with boundless wit and compassion, away from the 'entertainment' persona Shay is also something of a walking encyclopedia on soccer and a particularly well-informed science fanatic.

Why am I writing about him here, and at this precise time? Because when I was in the Gaiety recently I spotted a poster as I was leaving the theatre. 'In My Life: Songs & Stories Celebrating Shay Healy', it said.

A one-night-only event on November 3, the line-up (including the man himself) is terrific and also features Finbar Furey, Johnny Logan and Colm Wilkinson.

All the proceeds are destined for the coffers of the Parkinson's Association of Ireland.

I came home, phoned the sister in Yorkshire (a huge Finbar fan) and before you could ask 'What's Another Year?', she'd booked her flights and I'd booked the Gaiety.

I told Shay the other night that I'd be there on Sunday week.

What I didn't tell him was that I was writing about him here.

Genuine national treasures are a rarity. But Shay Healy - writer, performer, optimist, warrior, and all-round gentleman - is the real deal, and a man who truly deserves to be treasured by this nation.

Irish Independent

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