Joseph Swaine obituary: ‘He could talk about anything’

Lives lost to Covid-19: Keen golfer spent decades in England running pubs and off-licences

Joseph Swaine left Enniskerry for  London at the age of 19 and stayed for six decades.

Joseph Swaine left Enniskerry for London at the age of 19 and stayed for six decades.


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Joseph Swaine

“He could talk about anything in the world,” recalls Rita Paul of her late brother, Joseph (Joe) Swaine. “Music, politics, it didn’t matter what it was. He read so much. He knew so much.”

Joe Swaine was born on February 3rd, 1940, the eldest of six. Aged four, his family moved from Dún Laoghaire to settle in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, where he attended national school. “The teacher used to joke that she could never get me to talk, yet she could never get my brother to shut up.”

From a young age, he nurtured a lifelong love for traditional Irish music, learning instruments such as the bagpipes. When he played up at the front gates of the family home, it was said that locals a mile away across the valley would come outside to listen.

After he left school, he worked cutting timber, before leaving for London at the age of 19. His old forestry boss told him he would be “back in a week with your tail between your legs”. Renowned for his stubbornness, he stayed for six decades. His accent remained intact, along with his affection for his homeland.

After arriving in London, he wrote home excitedly to his mother to say it was so hot, his biro “melted in his shirt pocket”. He met Meath woman, Theresa Arnold. When he was 21 and she was 19 they married in the Servite church on Fulham Road. They had a son and a daughter.

His convivial manner led him to run off-licences and pubs for employers including the Finch’s chain. His many friends in the trade included Andrew Carey, the celebrity “Irish barman” on Chris Evans’s television show. After converting to the life of a teetotaller, he began laying carpets, working closely with a friend from a shop in Hendon. He loved it and worked beyond the age of 70.

He would rarely concede defeat to a crossword and he was also a keen golfer and a member of the West Middlesex club. He was never without his golf clubs on his regular visits back to Ireland. His brothers warmly recall that “he wasn’t fond of losing”.

After retirement, he moved to just outside London in Hertfordshire, nearer the countryside. He never got much of a chance to enjoy the life. His wife died barely two years after they moved and a few months later, in 2015, his own health slipped and he moved to a nursing home.

Even there, he was true to himself. The staff were soon acquainted with his wit and warmth, remarking upon his impeccable manners and grooming but also “the glint in his eye”. As his health deteriorated further, his family recall that his mischievous personality still shone through. He passed away in the nursing home from Covid-19 on April 15th, at the age of 80.

Covid-19: Lives Lost