President leads tributes to journalist James Downey

Former ‘Irish Times’ deputy editor remembered as ‘committed journalist’

James Downey: described as “the best editor The Irish Times never had”. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

James Downey: described as “the best editor The Irish Times never had”. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


President Michael D Higgins has sent condolences to the family of James Downey, one of Ireland’s most distinguished journalists.

“It is with sadness that I have learned of the death of James Downey,” President Higgins said.

“He will be remembered as one of Ireland’s most committed journalists and editors and as having made a lasting imprint on journalism through his deep knowledge of the world of news and public affairs.”

Born in Dromahair, Co Leitrim, Downey began his newspaper career in the early 1950s at the Sligo Champion and later moved to the Evening Press in Dublin.

In 1969 he was a Labour candidate in the general election. Later, he moved to The Irish Times, where he became deputy editor.

He set up a highly regarded but short-lived magazine, the New Nation, before moving to the Irish Independent, where for many years he wrote a weekly column.

Former Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy, who would have been a junior journalist during Downey’s tenure, said he was a “very nice man and a very nice colleague” as well as a “very fine journalist [WHO] always took time out to help younger reporters in the field”.

National Union of Journalists Irish secretary Séamus Dooley, described Downey as “a journalist of formidable intellect, style and wit who believed passionately in the right of journalists to ask difficult questions”.

He added: “James Downey was a provocative columnist. He had an unrivalled knowledge of Irish politics. James was urbane and sophisticated yet never lost touch with his rural roots or his love of Co Leitrim. He was the best of company and will be missed as a friend and mentor.”

Downey’s book In My Own Time: Inside Irish Politics and Society was published in 2009. Speaking at the launch, Vincent Doyle, former editor of the Irish Independent, said: “James Downey was the best editor The Irish Times never had.”

Mr Downey died peacefully at the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin.

He is survived by his wife, Moira, his daughters Rachel and Vanessa and by his siblings.

His funeral Mass will take place in St Patrick’s Church, Dromahair, at noon on Saturday.