Award-winning journalist with a passion for music

‘An outstanding journalist of his generation’ says Irish Times editor

Sean Mac Connell hiking in Wicklow

Sean Mac Connell hiking in Wicklow

Sat, Sep 14, 2013, 01:01

Seán Mac Connell Born: Jan 2nd 1947; died: September 4th, 2013

Seán Mac Connell who has died suddenly aged 66, was a devoted family man, a prize-winning journalist and a man with a wide circle of friends as was attested by the large attendance at his funeral at the Church of the Divine Word in Marlay Grange, Dublin.

Born in Ballinaleck in Co Fermanagh in 1947, the fourth child of Sandy and Mary, Mac Connell never outgrew his rural roots, nor his love of traditional music and singing which he learned from his father, a noted folklorist.

Educated at St Michael’s College, Enniskillen, he commenced his journalism career with the Roscommon Champion in 1967. He worked with a number of provincial newspapers before moving to Dublin to join the Irish Press in 1970 and The Irish Times in 1986. He was appointed Agriculture Correspondent in 1989 and retired in 2012.

Mac Connell’s rural background and passion for the countryside made him a natural Agriculture Correspondent, a job at which he excelled. Tributes were paid to him by the presidents of the Irish Farmers’ Association and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and by the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Simon Coveney, who said he was one of the best journalists he had ever dealt with. Mac Connell won several awards for his work including a national media award in 2001 for his coverage of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Being raised in a home steeped in tradition and music, it was no surprise that Mac Connell should be a talented singer and songwriter with a wide range of folk ballads in his repertoire. In 2011, he joined forces with his brothers, Cathal, Mickey and Cormac to give a series of performances at venues around the country including the Willie Clancy festival in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare.

Another great passion was hill walking. He seized every opportunity to set off from his home in Marlay Grange to climb into the Dublin Mountains with a pack on his back and a staff in his hands. Here he would sit in splendid solitude and gaze down on the city below.

But even when hill walking, his interest in song was never far from his mind. It was on a walking holiday to the Basque country with his friend Frank Hopkins that he learned an old ballad called The Three Rock Mountain Side from an American tourist they met. He sang the song just a few weeks ago to a delighted audience at the Song Central club in Dublin.

Mac Connell was an ideal journalist because he possessed an ever-enquiring mind and was never afraid to ask difficult questions to get at the facts. He was a wonderful colleague, ever ready to assist a newcomer who was finding his feet or a reporter struggling to meet a deadline. News editors loved him because his copy was always crisp and precise and delivered on time. The Editor of The Irish Times, Kevin O’Sullivan, described him as “an outstanding journalist of his generation.”

He was also a staunch trade-unionist and lifetime member of the National Union of Journalists and served in many positions within the union. Tribute was paid to his contribution by the Irish secretary of the NUJ, Mr Seamus Dooley who said that Mac Connell loved a good argument and was a dogged, determined negotiator.

He was a true renaissance man with interests ranging from politics and history to wildlife and angling. But it is as a generous friend and entertaining companion that many will remember him. Seán Mac Connell could light up a room with his banter and wit. As his long-time friend Gerry O’Hare of Travel Extra magazine remarked: “There was never a dull moment when Sean was around. There aren’t many people I would share a desert island with, but he was certainly one.”

He is survived by his wife Pat, daughters Siobhan and Kate, son Eoghan and grandchildren and brothers, Cormac, Mickey and Cathal. His sister, Maura, predeceased him in 2006.