‘A national treasure’: Tributes paid to Eurovision-winning songwriter Shay Healy

Songwriter who wrote What’s Another Year sung by Johnny Logan has died aged 78

Shay Healy has died at the age of 78.  File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Shay Healy has died at the age of 78. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Tributes have been paid to songwriter and broadcaster Shay Healy who has died at the age of 78.

President Michael D Higgins said news of Mr Healy’s death “will have been heard with sadness by so many across the community of music and music-making in Ireland”.

“Shay’s talents extended across so many areas and continued, even when challenged by illness, into the modern decades,” the President said. “His approach to everything he did was original and conveyed with enthusiasm. The range of his song-writing was such that it included not just songs that could compete with real prospect at Eurovision, but also songs that responded to contemporary events and that could take their place in the folk community.”

President Higgins praised Mr Healy’s television programme Nighthawks, as “quite brilliant”. He said the Irish Film and Television Academy’s recognition of Mr Healy’s work was “so appropriate, as practically in every area, from the showband era to the production of musicals including The Wiremen, Shay’s work was continually breaking new ground”.

He said he treasures the correspondence he received from Mr Healy over the years, and said to have known him as a friend was a great privilege. “ He was loyal in his friendship and generous in its expression.”

“While he will be missed by so many who have been inspired and entertained by his work, his loss will be felt most acutely by his sons Oisín and Fionain and other members of their family to all of whom Sabina and I send our deepest sympathy.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was so sorry to hear of the death of Mr Healy “after a brave and dignified battle with illness”.

“He brought so much joy with his Eurovision success, and informed millions with his skilful interviews,” Mr Martin tweeted. “My deepest sympathies to his family on their loss.”

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin expressed her condolences to the family and friends of Mr Healy and described him as a “ a gifted songwriter and a national treasure. His beautiful song writing inspired a generation of Irish artists to take their place on the world stage.

“His battle with Parkinson’s disease in his later years was so difficult but also a source of great inspiration for many dealing with the same struggles.”

Johnny Logan, who won the Eurovision Song Contest with What’s Another Year, written by Mr Healy, told RTÉ One’s Brendan O’Connor Show on Saturday morning that he was heart-broken over his death.

Logan described Mr Healy as a “very witty man”, who had a gift for words.

Singer Linda Martin, who also worked with Mr Healy, said “all of my memories of him and his wife are happy memories” and described him as “clever, kind and witty”.

Martin said Mr Healy was one of the first people to give her a solo song, Edge of the Universe, which she sang at the Castlebar Song Contest.

“I got into the car with him with make-up on, and I arrived in Castlebar with not a shred of make-up on, because he was so funny on the way up, the tears were rolling down my face.

“I have wonderful memories of that man.”

Musician Phil Coulter also paid tribute. “There’s nobody who got more out of writing a hit song, a Eurovision song, than Shay. They were his glory days.”

Coulter described him as full of ideas and “a trier”.

“Shay has left a great legacy behind,” Coulter said. “He was upbeat, bohemian, a lovely guy.”

Mr Healy had been ill with Parkinson’s Disease since 2004 and often spoke publicly about living with the illness.

He is best known for having written What’s Another Year, Ireland’s Eurovision entry in 1980, sung by Johnny Logan, which won the competition.

He was also an accomplished broadcaster. His programme, Nighthawks, was a very popular show in the early 1990s.

His interview with the former minister for justice Sean Doherty in 1992 about the phone-tapping scandal of 1982 hastened the end of term for the then-taoiseach Charles Haughey.

In 1998, Mr Healy made two half-hour documentaries for the RTÉ One television series, Against The Odds. The series focused on individuals who had overcome adversity in their lives.

Mr Healy’s two films featured an actor, Chris Burke, who was born with dwarfism, and the singer, Ronan Tynan, whose legs were amputated when he was 20.

Mr Healy later founded his own production company. In 2018, he spoke about his illness on the Claire Byrne Live programme.

His wife Dymphna pre-deceased him in 2017. He is survived by his two sons Oisin and Fionain.