Salesmann, accomplished illustrator and leading motor-bike scrambler

Simon Campbell - Born: August 28th, 1914; Died: August 27th, 2013

Simon Campbell pictured on Ireland's Eye off Howth in the 1940s; Lady Longford described him at the time as "the handsomest young man in Dublin."

Simon Campbell pictured on Ireland's Eye off Howth in the 1940s; Lady Longford described him at the time as "the handsomest young man in Dublin."


The 20th century witnessed the creation of many divisions in Irish society and between independent Ireland and the British state, but few can have encapsulated what it was to live on both fault-lines as did Simon Dunleavy Campbell, who died on August 27th, just three hours away from what would have been his 99th birthday.

Born at the outbreak of the first World War, Campbell was the child of the fiercely Republican and Catholic poet Joseph Campbell and Nancy Maude, scion of an old Anglo-Irish landowning family, one of whose descendants is British Conservative MP and minister Francis Maude.

Campbell’s parents had in effect eloped from London when Nancy Maude’s parents strongly disapproved of their daughter’s engagement, so he could be said to have been born into conflict.

One of Campbell’s earliest memories was of British army soldiers recovering in a Dublin nursing home from terrible wounds, when he was sent there to recover from a severe childhood illness.

At the age of eight, when walking with his brother, Gillachrist, near Enniskerry in Co Wicklow, a week after the assassination of Michael Collins, he had an even more traumatic experience when Free State soldiers, reacting to shouts of “traitors” from the young Campbells, bundled both boys into a field and lined them up, firing squad style, for “execution”, only for the soldiers to raise their rifles to shoot over the children’s heads.

This experience, his son the artist Rory Campbell told The Irish Times this week, affected the young Simon for the rest of his life.

Ironically, the boys had been returning that day from visiting their close friends, Desmond, Pierce and Fergus FitzGerald, the elder brothers of Garret, later taoiseach, and the sons of Desmond FitzGerald snr, a minister in the Free State government. The FitzGeralds remained close friends all his life.

Parents’ separation
After their parents’ acrimonious separation in 1924, and Joseph Campbell’s emigration to the US, Simon and his brothers, Gillachrist, Flann and Dominic, attended Sandford Park School in Dublin.

He then took a degree in chemistry at Trinity College Dublin, joining the Urney chocolate firm on graduation.

While at TCD, Campbell became an active member of the now-defunct Dublin University Motor and Light Car Club, and remained connected to it for most of his life, becoming its honorary president in 1958. He was well known as one of the country’s leading competitive motorbike scramblers in the 1940s and 1950s.

Campbell, an accomplished illustrator, mixed with an artistic and literary set at the time, which included poet Austin Clarke, writers Ernie O’Malley, Maurice Craig and Brian O’Nolan, artists Harry Kernoff and Sean Keating, and Lady Longford of the Gate Theatre, who described him as “the handsomest young man in Dublin”.

His only sister, Diana, was for a time an actor at the theatre. He hosted legendary parties, earning him a commendation from O’Nolan, writing as Myles na gCopaleen, in one of his An Cruiskeen Lawn columns in The Irish Times in the early 1940s.

In 1946, in what might be termed a reprise of his father’s life, Campbell, after a visit to London, married Lavinia Bingham, who came from a distinguished British naval family whose ancestors had been Anglo-Irish landlords in Co Mayo.

The couple settled in Killakee in the Dublin mountains. After leaving Urney, Campbell worked as an engineering salesman for Masser’s, a Dublin industrial products firm, but on retirement became a freelance travelling salesman, working right up until his late 80s, retiring only in 2001.

Predeceased by his wife, Campbell is survived by five sons, Luke, Julian, Rory, Nicholas and Thomas, and by grandchildren.