He crafted his pieces with the care of the poet he was
OBITUARY:There were many paradoxes about Paddy Downey’s life and career. At a time when national GAA correspondents numbered an elite few rather than, as they would become, a demographic, he weathered the rarefied distinction with courtesy and charm – even if capable of volcanic temper if provoked.
In a world of urgent deadlines and often disposable prose he agonised over and crafted his pieces with the care and attention of someone who also liked to write poetry.
Reared in the remoteness of rural Ireland in the 1930s and ’40s, he grew to play a prominent role in the dissemination of Gaelic games through a national newspaper at a time when that was effectively the sole means of mass-media communication.
Committed in his writings to celebrating Gaelic games and particularly hurling he nonetheless cultivated a wide range of interests and wrote on politics, the arts and was this newspaper’s radio critic for a spell in the 1970s.
He was particularly interested in the work of Patrick Kavanagh and plucked up the courage to speak to him on one occasion in Searson’s and although gruffly rebuffed, he went on to commission a piece from the irascible poet for the Gaelic Weekly in 1956.
The transaction is mentioned in one of Kavanagh’s letters to his brother Peter, but sadly from Paddy Downey’s point of view the identity of the commissioning editor remains unrevealed.
From Toormore in west Cork, he was a strapping youngster, more than six feet tall at the age of 14, interested in many sports and with ambitions of a military career, but his life changed irrevocably in the summer of 1944 when he was struck down by polio.
His pastimes became by necessity more sedentary and formal education became impractical but days, weeks and months in hospital gave him a love of reading, which ranged from newspapers and periodicals to books of all sorts.
The broadness of his self-taught curriculum helped make him the writer he became but the career path to journalism stretched throughout the 1950s after his arrival in Dublin at the start of the decade. A position secured through the Polio Fellowship correcting crosswords for the Sunday Independent supplemented his primary income, earned as an estate agent.
“I managed to sell two houses,” he later said about his initial career direction.
Pangs of envy
A decade spent writing about Gaelic games began with a position in the Gaelic Sportsman and passed through other publications, culminating in an appointment to The Sunday Review, this newspaper’s short-lived venture into Sunday publishing.
Earlier in the decade his health took another knock when he contracted TB and spent over a year convalescing. By that time he had established relationships and friendships within the games and on an occasion which must send pangs of envy through all modern practitioners, he was visited in the Richmond Hospital on the morning of the 1953 All-Ireland by the Cork hurling maestro Christy Ring.