Many times since Saturday, both Fiona and I have scrolled through our phones, linking the recent threads of our precious relationship with this most special of men.
I hope he had some inkling of how very highly he was thought of, and by so many.
Since Christmas, he had faced health challenges. Before Christmas, he had worked as normal for the Roscommon People, powering around the county with his ever-ready camera – his effortless charm, good humour, kindness and decency underpinning all his work as he recorded for posterity the everyday life of a county and its people. He loved the build-up to Christmas, and his photographs showed that.
After Christmas, as in previous years, Mick wanted a break. Needed a break, and deserved a break. This year, he faced challenging health issues. We kept in contact, enquiring as to his welfare, while Mick, typically selflessly (and unnecessarily) apologised for not being available for work. In these conversations he always spoke with love and pride of his mother, for whom he was devotedly caring.
On a good night, the phone call with Mick was flavoured with his often outrageous humour, with stories wondrously woven in the style that was unique to this gifted raconteur. More on that later.
On the 6th of April, out of the blue, Mick texted to say he might go to the match on the forthcoming Sunday. Guess who Roscommon were playing, guess which team had prompted the possible comeback? Mayo, of course!
With Mick now back doing the odd game, as recently as June I texted suggesting it might not make sense for him to cover an upcoming match, as it was a very long journey. I hoped he wouldn’t mind.
Mick replied: “You read my mind. Probably take me two weeks to get back!”
We’ve worked with Mick for about 27 years, and what a journey it was. Like all who knew him, we are stunned that he has now departed, at just 59 years of age, (he would have been 60 next Monday, August 28th; his birthday fell one day after our son’s, and he used to joke to Fiona that she should have “hung on for one more day”).
We became friends and work colleagues in the mid-1990s. At the time, I was working with both the Longford NEWS and the Roscommon Champion. Mick began to work in Longford, and he made a predictably big impact there. I recall him being great friends with the late TD Peter Kelly (a fellow raconteur), but then Mick made tremendous, joyous friendships anywhere he went. At one stage, with the newspapers under some strain, management types hauled everyone to an emergency meeting in Longford. A prospective Editor-in-Chief (not me, and the appointment never went ahead) had a number of ideas which might help to freshen up the paper(s). In those pre-drone days, he suggested that Mick take aerial photographs of Longford town from a helicopter (Mick wouldn’t be piloting). To be fair, it wasn’t a bad idea, but nobody had much enthusiasm for it, the idea met with glum silence.
A while later, one of the ‘bosses’ was tut-tutting about the need to curb the travelling expenses of journalists/photographers, and suggested some cooperation between staff in Roscommon and Longford could help achieve this. Mick wasn’t going to miss an open goal.
“Eh, I wonder could we start on cutting travel expenses by forgetting about the helicopter?”
The breadth of his photography output was remarkable. He operated as a freelance, working for a variety of regional and national newspapers. When Fiona and I set up the Roscommon People in 2007, Mick covered the west of the county, with Andrew Fox and Michelle Hughes Walsh covering the mid-south region. Mick supplied the Roscommon Herald for many years too, while primarily working for the People in recent times.
He was an absolute joy to work with, unfailingly obliging. The only problem was, Mick took so many photos it was impossible to publish them all. Such was Mick’s desire to accommodate the people he had photographed, he often expressed polite frustration to me about the ones that ‘got away’ (the photos we didn’t include). He loved making people happy by photographing them for the papers. He had a fantastic eye for a good photo, and took great pride in presenting quirky or funny ones for consideration. The fact that he appeared to know most of the population of the county helped! Mick would email in a photo with an enthusiastic recommendation attached: “Your man is a mighty character, I had a job getting him to pose, but I got him just right. He’d love to see himself in the paper!”
Readers will be familiar with the sight of Mick walking most blades of grass in the Hyde (and other venues) as he tirelessly (and happily) gleaned memorable action shots and vibrant supporter photos from the proceedings. He loved this part of his work, this marriage of the sporting competition and the interaction with club stalwarts and fans from every parish in the county. At intercounty level Mick covered many great Roscommon wins and his knowledge of and passion for the GAA (and sport generally) was evident to all.
His generosity with his time and his incredibly obliging nature at GAA functions and other such events has rightly been referenced by many of those paying tribute to Mick this week.
Mick also loved covering election counts (local and national). He enjoyed the buzz and the bloodsport-type atmosphere, not to mention the challenge of trying to capture the photographs that would best convey the drama, the triumphs and the heartbreak.
All of his prolific photography work was marked by the hugely endearing personal interest Mick took in the subjects of his photographs. He was, after all, as consummate a people person as you could wish to meet.
It was Mick’s joie de vivre that connected him with people so brilliantly. Somehow, when working or socialising, he found time for everyone. Always the friendly word…at a minimum; usually it was garnished with some inspired but always playful slagging, often it was memorably enhanced further by one of Mick’s epic stories.
His prowess as a raconteur was legendary. Everything stemmed from his friendliness, his love of people, of banter, of humour, of parish, county, country. He was a true patriot. He had a wide range of interests and could talk on international politics, Irish history, drama, sport and the culture wars ‘til the cows came home (or later).
Back to his storytelling: Mick in full flow amongst friends in a bar was some sight, and if there was a Mayo-ite within hearing distance to be slagged, all the better. He had what appeared to be a never-ending bank of stories on which to call – depending on the occasion and audience – and these he told with a great flourish. His own laugh – joyously delivered at the end of one of his great (and often outrageous) stories – was something to behold.
So many times over the years he regaled us with hilarious stories of characters from Ballaghaderreen, few of whom we knew. His pride in Ballaghaderreen was very evident and he took great pleasure in tipping us off about people who should be interviewed or featured in the paper from that neck of the woods.
One year, I think it was 2005, sixteen Roscommon Champion staff members went on a Christmas Party. One night only. To Brussels. Absurd as it might sound, we got good value, arriving early on a Saturday morning and flying back on the Sunday evening.
Mick was the life and soul of the party. We all enjoyed a few drinks early on the Saturday, before gathering for dinner at around 7 pm. No sign of Mick, who it turned out was entertaining all and sundry in a quaint local bar. When he eventually arrived in the restaurant, sporting his trademark grin, he passed our table (of sixteen, one seat vacant) and joined two bemused couples (French and Belgians) at their table and proceeded to entertain them for a while. He was a one-off, a character to whom people were effortlessly drawn, such was the warmth of his personality.
The collective Roscommon media are numbed by his passing. We will miss him terribly. Our thoughts are with his family, who have suffered such a great loss. I hope they will be comforted by the knowledge that Mick was so very highly regarded, with such affection and warmth.
When I think of Mick now, I think mostly of his generosity and kindness. He looked out for people, saw the good in them, and then sprinkled his own goodness into their path. His humour brightened so many days. We won’t see his likes again, and we won’t forget him. Rest in peace, Mick.