News cameraman with innate instinct for the big story

Paddy Barron: March 8th, 1932-October 6th, 2013

The late Paddy Barron

The late Paddy Barron

Sat, Nov 9, 2013, 00:01

Paddy Barron, who has died in Dublin aged 81, was a brilliant photographer who won widespread acclaim for his achievements – first in newspaper journalism and later in television and cinema – in a colourful, event-filled career spanning 60 years.

At his funeral Mass the former editor of the Irish Press Tim Pat Coogan eulogised him with these words: “Paddy was more the artist than the artisan.”

In the 1950s former Irish Times editor, the late Douglas Gageby – then editing the fledgling Evening Press – was heard to say of Barron: “When you sent Paddy out with a camera you could count on him to come back with something original and different, often a good old-fashioned scoop.”

Barron was born in 1932 in Bray, Co Wicklow, and after education in Coláiste Mhuire Primary and Sandymount High School, he got a job developing and printing pictures with the Irish Press Group.

He quickly emerged from the darkroom and ranged across Ireland with a Speed Graphic camera in pursuit of news pictures, his wit and charm opening doors that might have remained closed to others.

Eye for the unusual
His innate instinct for the big story and his unerring eye for the unusual immediately marked him out as one of Ireland’s top press photographers. He was part of a team that helped propel the embryonic Evening Press to the highest circulation in Dublin, largely through its spectacular coverage of a rash of baby kidnappings in the city, Barron producing exclusive pictures of the dramatic events.

Covering an IRA raid on Omagh Barracks in 1954, he had a chilling confrontation with some menacing B Specials. His upstairs hotel bedroom overlooked the rear of the RUC station, and when he leaned out to take a picture of the Specials, they threatened to shoot him dead. He ignored the threat, took the picture, slipped it to an Irish Press reporter who hightailed it for the Border, frustrating the Specials when they confiscated the camera.

Under the headline “Death of a ship”, another Barron photo was spread across the front page of the Irish Press, showing a close-up taken from a rescue boat of a stricken vessel in its final throes as it sank in the sea off Arklow.

Movie camera skills
In 1958 Barron entered the world of movies as an assistant cameraman in the newly-opened Ardmore Studios in Bray. Working on big-budget features, he developed movie camera skills that paved his way to freelance news and feature assignments for RTÉ in its early days.

He worked on the Seven Days current affairs show, covering the moneylending scandals of the 1960s and filming the show’s first colour documentary John Hume’s Derry.

ITV soon signed him up and for the next 30 years he covered major stories south and north of the Border for the ITN News At Ten. He pulled off another big scoop when a tip-off led him to Sean Bourke, the Limerick man who had masterminded the escape of Soviet spy George Blake from Wormwood Scrubs prison. He met Bourke off a plane in Dublin and, dodging a pack of pursuing British paparazzi, secreted him in a Dublin hotel from where he and an ITN reporter filed a series of exclusive reports.

In the 1980s he and his sound engineer Tommy Curran established Anner Communications for the production of high-quality commercials for TV and cinema.

Flying wings
Barron had a diverse range of interests, including aviation. Having trained, he got his flying wings and acquired a De Havilland Tiger Moth biplane in which he flew around Ireland taking aerial shots of the countryside.

He had a deep love of Waterford, his mother’s county, and designed and built a home for himself in the village of Dunhill.

He founded the Dunhill Players, and when they staged Many Young Men Of Twenty, directed by Barron himself, they gave a private performance to Jackie Kennedy, who was visiting the area.

He was pre-deceased by a two-year-old son Nicky. He is survived by his former wives Nuala Malone (ex-RTÉ) and Marcella van der Wiel, foreign correspondent with the Dutch Der Telegraaf; his son Patrick, daughter Gráinne and grandson Daniel; and by his siblings Maura, Sean and Brian.