David (Dave) McKechnie
Born: August 4th, 1976
Died: April 5th, 2022
David McKechnie, the deputy foreign editor of The Irish Times who has died unexpectedly aged 45, was a master story teller. This gift was central to what made him a superb writer, an insightful editor and a treasured friend of many.
McKechnie began his career in journalism as a sports writer for the Sunday Tribune in 1996. He moved through various production roles for the Sunday Times, the Guardian and The Irish Times before being appointed deputy foreign editor for The Irish Times in 2015.
As well as his work as an editor, McKechnie reported for the newspaper on the Fifa World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the Columbian peace process in 2017 and the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh in 2018.
His intelligently analytical writing style made complex subjects accessible even to those who didn’t know the historical context or geopolitical nuances of the country he was reporting from. He had an exceptional talent for capturing in words the mood of a place and its people. He didn’t shy away from describing the savage brutality and cruelty of soldiers and the sometimes unfathomable suffering of displaced people.
His 2019 article on the plight of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, in what was then the largest refugee settlement in the world, began: “Harrowing stories are difficult to tell… [but] in any hierarchy of suffering, the Rohingya people of Myanmar might not be bested, yet the brutal, decades-long repression they have suffered only occasionally troubles the public consciousness, as when some 700,000 fled over the border to Bangladesh in 2017.”
His reports on the peace process in Columbia in 2017 showed how rigorous research can provide readers with rich historical background to a war which had lasted more than 50 years. This series of articles and videos was supported by a grant from the prestigious Simon Cumbers Media Fund.
McKechnie’s writing on sport – football in particular – went way beyond clever analysis of tactics and the personal foibles of players. His piece in July 2014 on how Germany beat Brazil 7-1 in “the most stunning result the World Cup has ever known” is a brilliant piece of colour writing about how many journalists – himself included – were 600km away from the action watching the game on television at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.
Optimistic, empathic and curious by nature with a friendly smile and a glint in his eye, McKechnie was interested in everyone he met and arguably left a lasting impression – even on those who only encountered him briefly. His long-standing friends point to his incredible ability to make new friends while also sustaining friendships with those he met at earlier stages of his life.
Chris Dooley, The Irish Times foreign editor who had worked with McKechnie since he was appointed deputy foreign editor, said that great writers don’t always make great editors but that Dave was an exception. “He had unerring news judgment. He had high standards. He cared deeply about his work and was really conscientious. His calm demeanour and wry sense of humour made him a joy to work with,” said Dooley. Kind and generous with his time and very approachable, he was also a good mentor to young journalists starting out.
McKechnie was born in Marino and grew up in Drumcondra, the youngest of three children of Hugh and Rose McKechnie. He attended Ardscoil Rís secondary school on Griffith Avenue in Dublin and played football for Marino Football Club. Following his secondary school education, he studied journalism at the Dublin Institute of Technology from 1994 to 1996. His father died in May 1997.
His first job in journalism was as a sports writer for the Sunday Tribune and he served as that paper’s football correspondent covering the English Premier League soccer in 1999 from a base in Leeds. With his college friend Paul O’Keeffe, he took some time out to travel to India and across southeast Asia before spending a year working in Sydney, Australia. He then returned to London where he worked as a production editor for the Sunday Times and the Guardian from 2002 to2005.
Back in Dublin, he began working as a subeditor in The Irish Times. He quickly moved up through the ranks on the production team at that tumultuous time in the media industry when online news was growing and newspaper reading was in decline. He began working on the foreign desk in 2015. He also wrote occasional pieces for the Dublin Review of Books.
Appetite for learning
McKechnie’s insatiable appetite for learning saw him return to study for a degree in art history and English at University College Dublin from 2006 to 2009 while continuing to work full time in The Irish Times. He went straight into a one year master’s degree in American literature at the university. It was during this year that he met a young Dutch woman, Lilian Dorst, who had come to Ireland to do a master’s degree in Anglo-Irish literature and drama in the English department at UCD.
The relationship between Dave and Lilian blossomed and in 2017, the couple married in the medieval church Sint-Nicolaaskapel in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, returning to live in Dublin thereafter.
During the Covid-19 pandemic when they were both working full-time from their apartment in Stoneybatter, Lilian and Dave found a new pace of life – getting to know many of their neighbours and enjoying meet-ups with friends when walking their distinctive Irish terrier, Nelson, on city streets and on beaches and parks in Dublin. Fit from his new passion for long-distance cycling, he was planning to do the Wicklow 200 cycle and two cycling trips abroad this year.
‘Full of stories’
“Dave lived life to the full and he was not done yet. He made me laugh every day. I loved the way his mind worked. He was a planner and connector of people. He was always full of stories and knew exactly how to tell them,” Lilian said in her eulogy to him at his funeral in their local church on Aughrim Street, Dublin 7.
The couple’s many plans for the summer of 2022 – which included camping, hiking and music festivals – were cut short when on his return from a short run one evening, he collapsed at home. His death seven days later in the Mater hospital was mourned by his family and a wide circle of friends from around the world.
David (Dave) McKechnie is survived by his wife, Lilian, his mother, Rose, his sister, Elaine, his brother, Gerard, his aunt Marie, nieces, grand-nephews and a wide circle of friends. His father, Hugh, predeceased him in 1997.