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Friday 23 February 2018

John Cunningham

Old school: John Cunningham The 'Connacht Tribune' editor strove to always represent every angle of the story, writes John Fallon

Some of us slipped into the Connacht Tribune during the early Eighties while John Cunningham was away for two years in Waterford, so when we heard he was returning to Galway as editor we had no idea what to expect.

Twenty years had passed from the first time he had stepped through the Tribune doors to when he returned from a stint as editor of the Waterford News & Star to take over the top job at Market Street in Galway at the end of the summer in 1984.

It was a great summer to start in journalism in Galway. The GAA was enjoying its centenary, Galway was celebrating its quincentenary with festivals in every street and parish, Ronald Reagan came on a visit and the City Tribune was soon to come flying off the presses in Market Street.

It was only when I did the sums this week, after hearing about John Cunningham's death last Tuesday night, that I realised he was only 38 when he came to the Tribune as editor in 1984. Somehow, he seemed older, more mature, more authoritative.

He led from the front and insisted on writing stories himself. That first week he came back a firm in Athenry which sold tractors went bust. The closure of the tractor firm seemed a straightforward 10-paragraph story. But JC, as he was known to all who worked with him, ran it across the front page.

The story delved into the loss of such a long established business, the impact on the family who ran it and the implications for farmers in the region. All of a sudden, the story had five or six angles.

And that was the way he handled stories and expected them to be handled. Every point of view should be sought. Or, as he would say as you headed out of office after a briefing, "just write it as it is".

Those six words probably summed up John Cunningham's contribution to journalism in this country every bit as much as the thousands of words which have poured out in tribute to the man this week following his death aged just 66 after a brief illness.

He was a native of Tuam and he had an intricate knowledge of north Co Galway which extended to all of the county when he joined the Connacht Tribune in 1964.

He dabbled in sports writing but it was as a news reporter he stood out. He knew what readers wanted and he knew how to get that information and formulate it in a way that not just informed, but also entertained. He got better and better at that and for 18 years he passed on that wisdom to the students doing the MA in journalism at NUIG.

He was from the old school -- check and double check your facts; check your spellings and your grammar and read your copy before presenting it to an editor.

Headings were not his strong point but getting to the heart of a story was. He wasn't without a few health issues along the way but that only served to increase his fascination with new medical devices.

Politics fascinated him, local and national, and nothing got him going better than an election with all its twists and turns.

He was often edgy in company or conversation but it took a lot to rattle him.

He was a valuable member of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and a deserved winner of a national journalism award in 1979.

His hobbies were golf and going for walks with his wife Nuala, especially on the prom in Salthill where they would be seen in all sorts of weather.

Last week President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, all men he knew over the decades in the west of Ireland, led the tributes to Cunningham. Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin also paid tribute. At his funeral there was an input from all quarters, just like one of his many fine stories.

He is survived by his wife Nuala and sons Enda, Gary, Ivor and Shane. He was laid to rest at Rahoon Cemetery on Friday.

Sunday Independent

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