An Appreciation: Tony O’Callaghan

A journalist and PR man who once became the story

 Tony O’Callaghan, in Killybegs. Photograph: Brian McDaid

Tony O’Callaghan, in Killybegs. Photograph: Brian McDaid


Time was when no reporter ever wanted to be “the story”, and print journalists such as Tony O’Callaghan, who has died recently at the age of 68 after a short illness, were quite happy with that one unwritten rule.

Imagine his mortification, then, when he found himself the centre of attention after he slipped off the deck of a fishing vessel en route to Donegal’s Arranmore island. It was late October 1982, and O’Callaghan had been en route from Burtonport to interview a north American yachtsman who had hit rocks off the island, after completing a transatlantic crossing from Boston in a craft named God’s Tear.

As Fr Colm Ó Gallchóir, parish priest of Killybegs, recalled at O’Callaghan’s funeral, the reporter was lucky as he was wearing a heavy coat and carrying a camera. He “swam for his life”, and had to be pulled out of the water by his hair. Though his colleagues were delighted at having not one but two stories to report, “Tony didn’t regard this as being his finest hour . . .”

He was second in a family of five children reared by Dermot and Lena O’Callaghan in the south Donegal fishing port, and he attended local primary school at Fintra. Athletics was a passion at Gormanston College in Co Meath, and he then studied for a short time in University College, Dublin (UCD) before switching to the College of Commerce in Rathmines (now Dublin Institute of Technology) to pursue his true calling – journalism.

Love of this life

O’Callaghan began working in The Irish Press newsroom, where he quickly learned from the many fine journalists around him, and was appointed Northern editor. However, exposure to CS “tear” gas used by the British army during protests affected his health, and he and his family moved to Killybegs in the early 1980s for that reason.

His keen sense of news, his 100-words-a-minute shorthand and his fluent Irish stood to him. He worked as court stenographer, as freelance journalist, as contributor to the Donegal People’s Press, Donegal Post, Donegal Democrat, Radio na Gaeltachta, Ocean FM and The Irish Skipper. He became first editor of the monthly Marine Times, founded by in 1989 by a consortium including the late Joey Murrin, then Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive.

He served four years with the magazine and then set up his own public relations and marketing company. Clients included firms like Swan Net, expanding its European base at a time of the growth of the Irish pelagic (mackerel) fleet.

Interest in politics

His loyalty was to his wife and two children, his mother Lena, and his community of Killybegs. He was a founder member of the local history and heritage project.

He also headed up the parish council, was involved with the Combat Poverty Agency, and trained as a tour guide. He was spotted escorting visitors from cruise ships around his home town up until shortly before he died. He was known for his constant good humour, with a smile that could transmit down a phone line and an infectious chuckle.

Tony O’Callaghan is survived by his wife Patricia, son Conal, daughter Karen, and five grandchildren.