Former Irish Times journalist Seán Mac Connell dies

Journalist had career spanning 45 years

Seán Mac Connell hiking in Wicklow in 2004. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Seán Mac Connell hiking in Wicklow in 2004. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Wed, Sep 4, 2013, 15:53

Former Irish Times Agriculture Correspondent Seán Mac Connell has died. He was 66.

Mac Connell, who retired in 2012, passed away suddenly early this morning St James’s Hospital in Dublin.

He is survived by his wife, Pat, daughters Siobhán and Kate, son Eoghan and grandchildren. His brothers Cathal, Cormac and Mickey are well known in traditional music circles.

The Co Fermanagh native retired from The Irish Times last year, after a career in journalism which began in the Roscommon Champion newspaper in 1967. In 1968 he moved to the Roscommon Herald, in 1970 to the Free Press Wexford and later that year to the Irish Press in Dublin.

He joined The Irish Times in 1986 as a senior reporter, and became Agriculture Correspondent in 1989. He became Midlands Correspondent in 1997 and returned to the newsroom in Dublin in 2001.

Irish Times Editor Kevin O’Sullivan said: “It is with great sadness that we in The Irish Times have learned of the death of our former colleague Seán Mac Connell. He was an outstanding journalist of his generation; initially with the Irish Press group and subsequently with The Irish Times from March 1986.

“As agriculture correspondent for more than 25 years, he was known in every corner of Ireland. His contacts and understanding of the farming sector were critical factors in his winning the ‘journalist of year’ award in 2001 for his coverage of the foot and mouth crisis.

“He was unique in many ways; a man of ‘the land’ who had a deep understanding of the physical landscape and its close association with our collective culture and history - which was reflected in much of his journalism. He retired from The Irish Times in January 2012.

“Our deep sympathy goes to his family; wife Pat, daughters Kate and Siobhán and son Eoghan, and to his extended family.”

Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Séamus Dooley, said: “Seán Mac Connell was a force of nature, a passionate journalist with a huge commitment to social justice. That burning commitment was reflected in his journalism, in his trade union activity and in his singing. His death is a sad loss to his family and all who knew Seán.”

Mac Connell was a life member of the NUJ and served as deputy father of the chapel at The Irish Times, having previously served in the Irish Press chapel.

“Sean loved a good argument and was a dogged, determined negotiator. His presence enlivened many meetings over the years and while he could infuriate no one could ever doubt the depth of his commitment or his strong, personal integrity,” Mr Dooley added.

Mr Dooley said he knew Mac Connell through the Cle club and he was a frequent contributor to the weekly music sessions at Liberty Hall in the early days of the club.

“At the Larkin Hedge School two years ago we hosted a re-union of the Mac Connell brothers and they were, as always, anarchic, hilariously deprecating and above all else entertaining. It was one of many memorable nights spent in his company.

“He was proud of his heritage, proud of his union and proud of his craft. On behalf of the NUJ I extend sympathy to his family.”

The Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney also paid tribute to Mac Connell this afternoon.

Mr Coveney said he was “taken aback as was everybody else” by his sudden death and said he had received several phone-calls from people in his department wishing to express his condolences with the Mac Connell family.

The Minister described him as a “top-class journalist” and said he had wished him well on his retirement last year remarking that he had a lot more time to pursue the things he was interested in.

“From when I became Minister, he interviewed me on various different topics. We really liked him. He gave really accurate and insightful coverage of the agricultural industry when there was real change,” he said.

“He gave agriculture the kind of coverage that it deserved at the time. He was really popular and well-liked. We missed him when he retired.”

The president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) John Bryan said he was greatly saddened by Mac Connell’s death.

“Seán made an outstanding contribution to the reporting of agriculture in Ireland for over 20 years. He had a great empathy for rural people and loved the countryside. He was always a strong advocate for agriculture and rural communities”. He said he was “wonderful company, a great storyteller and singer. To his wife and children, I want to extend our deepest sympathies on their loss”.

His removal will take place on Friday morning to the Church of the Divine Word, Marley Grange, arriving for 11am mass, with the funeral immediately afterwards to Mount Jerome Crematorium.

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