Willie Meighan, who has died from cancer at the age of 48, was proprietor of the legendary Rollercoaster Records in Kilkenny, dubbed “the happiest little record shop in the world”.
For three decades, Willie manned the counter in his Aladdin’s cave of music, making a friend of every customer who entered and dispensing his vast musical knowledge with a modesty and generosity that endeared him to music fans in his native city and far beyond.
He was born in Kilkenny on July 19th, 1969, the fourth of five children, to Liam and Mary (née Young). At CBS Kilkenny, he regularly finished near the top of his class, until the age of 15 when he discovered music and his interest in formal education waned. Early forays into musical performance – notably with the Crawl Babies, a short-lived but influential group that inspired a new wave of Kilkenny bands like Kerbdog and Engine Alley – convinced Willie that his own talents lay behind the scenes.
When record shop owner Richard Ford came to CBS looking for staff for the Kilkenny branch of Top Twenty Records, the brothers recommended Willie and thus began a dream job and a life’s work.
With Kerbdog drummer Darragh Butler, Willie soon bought out Ford and rechristened the shop Rollercoaster. Over the years, what began as just another independent record shop, struggling to survive in an age of downloads and downturns, was transformed by Willie’s energy and enthusiasm into an invaluable hub for music in the southeast. The shop’s Facebook group became (and remains today) a busy forum for music lovers from around the world, and latterly, Willie – who only acquired a mobile phone at the age of 40 – found to his surprise that he was being hailed as a social media genius.
Willie’s imprimatur was as good a guarantee of an audience as could be found in Kilkenny, and he was a key figure in the development of the city’s live music scene, including the Kilkenny Roots festival and the Alternative Kilkenny Arts festival. He was also a quiet but generous supporter of local charities, campaign manager for local Green Cllr Malcolm Noonan, and treasurer of the Susie Long Hospice Fund, which campaigns for better cancer care for public patients.
Willie faced his own illness with characteristic good humour. His “cancer diaries”, which he shared with the Rollercoaster community online, were funny, poignant ruminations on life, death and chemotherapy, delivered with his dry wit, but without a trace of self-pity. His last days were eased by the huge outpouring of love and respect that flowed through the Facebook page, and by his marriage to his beloved partner of seven years, Aisling Hoy, in the company of his close friends and favourite musicians. He died at home, surrounded by his family, on November 28th.
Willie was a man driven by his passions – for music, for his native Kilkenny, for Ipswich town FC, and for Dicksboro GAA club. He never acquired much wealth during his life, but friendship and respect were the real currencies that he traded in, and on those terms, Willie Meighan died the richest man in Kilkenny. As his funeral procession wound through the streets of the medieval city last week, young and old paid their respects to a man whose generous spirit had touched so many others.
He is survived by his wife Aisling, his mother Mary, his sister Marie, his brothers Harry, Jim and Declan, and by his many nephews and nieces.