He was one of those people who was known to all by just the one name, Danno. He was born Francis Brendan Heaslip in Knocknacarra in 1938. Because he looked very like a boxing champion of the times, Danno O'Mahoney, he was given the nickname Danno and it stuck. He was one of six siblings born to Joe Heaslip from Cork and Maureen O'Donoghue from Tuam – Minnie, Jimmy, Michael, Danno, Helen and Phil. They lived in Lenaboy Gardens in Salthill, Galway.
Danno went to school with the Patrician Brothers. His spare time was all about sport – Gaelic football, hurling, soccer, swimming, diving – but when he went into secondary school in the "Bish", he focussed on rugby. The untimely death of his father at the age of 54 meant changed circumstances for the family and they moved to Limerick. There he played rugby for his school, Crescent, on the same team as Des O'Malley and Terry Wogan. While on a visit back to Galway, he attended a match which Galwegians were to play. Their scrumhalf did not turn up and Danno had to transfer from the sideline to the scrumhalf position for his first senior game. He was 15.
The family returned to Galway and Danno went back to the Bish for his final two years where he captained the school team and the Connacht Schools team. After his Leaving Cert, he worked at a variety of jobs before going to London for two years with the Norwich Union. While there he played a number of games with London Irish, often filling in for Andy Mulligan, the Irish scrumhalf.
When he came back to Galway, he and his brother Michael set up Heaslip Insurances, which succeeded so well that the Irish permanent Building Society set up a new branch in Galway and appointed the boys as the local managers.
Danno used his business acumen to set up an auctioneering firm which again succeeded to the extent that within five years he was bought out by Osborne, King and Megran and made a partner in that firm.
Once, at a Druid production of Conversations on a Homecoming by his good friend Tom Murphy, he let out a loud guffaw when the auctioneer character in the play was criticised: "You are only a bunch of keys". He had to stifle his laughter to allow the play to continue but his body shook with silent mirth for a few more minutes. "It was a perfect description of my profession," he said.
All of this time, he was playing rugby for Galwegians and managed to stay reasonably injury-free, “Thanks to a few fellows like Tony O’Sullivan minding me.”
Like all good scrumhalves he was narky nuisance, a great competitor on the pitch but always a friend off it. When he finally retired as a player after 23 years, he had amassed an extraordinary 11 Senior Cup medals, and had played scrumhalf for Connacht for four years. He began to play a lot more golf and became interested in horse-racing. In 1982, his horse For Auction, which he jointly owned with his brother Michael, won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham at odds of 40/1. He always maintained his interest in rugby as a supporter and administrator and when the IRFU unbelievably decided to threaten Connacht with rugby extinction, he was one of the chief leaders and organisers of the protest group known as the Friends of Connacht that marched to Lansdowne Road on January 24th, 2003. Thanks to him and the 2,000 marchers that day, rugby in the province is in a healthier state than it ever was.
Danno lived a very full life and involved himself very much in the commercial, sporting and cultural life of his native city. Not content with supporting local charities, he worked hand in hand with many of them, was a founding member of the Galway Lions Club, and for some years was chairman of the Galway Branch of Irish Cancer Campaign. He was a people person, maybe small in stature but big in heart, very caring, great company, occasionally mischievous, a terrific host, a loyal friend. His passing has left a huge gap in Galway, especially in rugby circles.
He was lucky in love too when he married a Wexford lady, Mary Murphy, who at the time was presenting a programme called Home Truths on RTÉ. Together they had four children, Justine, Simon, James and Mary Kate, and 11 grandchildren. We sympathise with them on their great loss.
Rest in peace, Danno.