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In memoriam: Remembering the famous Irish faces we lost in 2021

We take a look back at some of the many greats and well-known faces we lost this year.

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IT WAS A year in which we lost many Irish people.

From those who brought joy and happiness to our screens and airwaves for decades, to the loved ones lost to Covid-19.

We bid our final farewells to many people who brought us solace in times of sorrow, be that through sport, art or entertainment. Join us as we take a look back at those we lost over the last 12 months.

Bagatelle frontman and lead singer Liam Reilly died at the age of 65 on 2 January.

The musician and songwriter’s influential band, formed in Dundalk in 1978, had hits such as Second Violin and the iconic Summer in Dublin.

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Tipperary hurling legend Theo English passed away aged 90 on 10 January. English won five senior All-Ireland hurling titles with the Premier in the 1950s and 1960s.

On 14 January, legendary Cork GAA figure Éamonn Ryan passed away at the age of 79. Ryan’s impact on Cork GAA was felt across all codes, genders and age groups.

He played senior inter-county football for the Rebels between 1963 and ’68, going on to manage the men’s senior footballers between ’80 and ’84. He also steered the Cork ladies footballers to 10 All-Irelands in 11 years between 2005 and 2015.

eamonn-ryan Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Irish athletics great Jerry Kiernan died at the age of 67 on 21 January. Kiernan famously finished ninth in the 1984 Olympic Marathon and won the Dublin Marathon twice — in 1982 and 1992.

In recent times, he was coach to some of Ireland’s highest-achieving athletes, most notably Ciara Mageean. Kiernan also coached John Travers and Joe Sweeney, while he earned plenty of plaudits as a pundit and analyst on RTÉ.

jerry-kiernan James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Stage and screen actress Rynagh O’Grady passed away aged 69 on 7 February. She trained in the Abbey School of Acting and first appeared on the stage of Ireland’s National Theatre in 1969.

The actor is perhaps best-known to wider audiences for her role as Mary O’Leary in Father Ted. She has also featured in films directed by Warren Beatty and Ron Howard.

Etx9EV1WgAsx-fS AbbeyTheatre / Twitter AbbeyTheatre / Twitter / Twitter

Renowned traditional musician Joe Burke died at the age of 81 on 20 February. 

Regarded as one of Ireland’s button accordion players, Burke was also a skilful fiddler, tin whistle player, flutist and uilleann pipes player.

clarebannerman / YouTube

On 24 February, former Ireland and Leinster prop Gary Halpin passed away at the age of 55.

Halpin was responsible for one of the most iconic moments in Irish Rugby history, scoring a famous try against New Zealand at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, followed by an infamous middle-finger celebration. The Kilkenny native made his international debut against England in 1990. He represented Ireland 11 times and also featured at the 1991 World Cup.

inpho_01588770 (1) Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

RTÉ journalist Mike Burns died aged 84 on 28 February. Burns spent the majority of his career at RTÉ becoming head of news and later London Editor. In 2004, he received an MBE for services to UK-Irish relations.

EvQ9foEXAAgIV72 MicheálMartin / Twitter MicheálMartin / Twitter / Twitter

Singer and entertainer Carmel Quinn passed away at the age of 95 on 6 March. 

After moving from Dublin to the US in the 1950s, Quinn went on to become one of the best known Irish figures in America thanks to her appearances on Broadway, television and radio. She received a Grammy Award nomination in 1965 for her children’s recording of Patrick Muldoon and his Magic Balloon.

carmel-quinn-1964 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Skid Row drummer Noel Bridgeman passed away at the age of 74 on 23 March.

The much-loved musician played and recorded with the likes of Jackson Browne, Sharon Shannon, The Waterboys, Van Morrison, The Chieftains, The Corrs, and Christy Moore among others.

On 5 April, renowned soprano and music teacher Dr Veronica Dunne died at the age of 93. An internationally renowned singer in her own right, Dr Dunne also trained some of Ireland’s best known classical singers.

90403174 Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Eurovision-winning songwriter Shay Healy died at the age of 78 on 10 April. Healy wrote What’s Another Year, sung by Johnny Logan, which was the winning entry at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980.

Originally from Sandymount in Dublin, he started his career as a trainee cameraman in RTÉ before going on to become a presenter with the broadcaster. In 1992, an interview with former Minister for Justice Sean Doherty about phone-tapping on his late-night talk show Nighthawks eventually led to the resignation of Charles Haughey as Taoiseach.

He left RTÉ in 1995 and founded his own production company, before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2004.

shay-healy-in-dublin-92-pic-eamonn-farrellphotocall-ireland Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland! Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland! / Photocall Ireland!

Legendary Waterford hurling figure Austin Flynn passed away on 27 April. Flynn was full-back on the last Waterford side to win the All-Ireland in 1959. He also won three Munster medals, a National League and Oireachtas title during an inter-county career that spanned from 1952 to ’67.

On 2 May, actor Tom Hickey, who starred in the Irish drama series The Riordans, died at the age of 71.

As well as appearing on stage, Hickey starred in numerous films including My Left Foot, Inside I’m Dancing, Breakfast on Pluto, Garage, and What Richard Did.

irish-actor-tom-hickey-pic-paul-dalyphotocall-ireland Paul Daly / Photocall Ireland/RN Paul Daly / Photocall Ireland/RN / Photocall Ireland/RN

On 3 May, former Shelbourne, Finn Harps and Waterford player Alan Keely died at the age of 38.

Keely, who was the son of former Shels boss, Dermot Keely, played in the League Of Ireland for almost 10 years.

Prominent Northern Irish businessman Denis Lynn died in a quad bike crash at the age of 63 on 4 May. Lynn founded Finnebrogue Artisan in 1985.

Former Ireland international Alan McLoughlin passed away aged 54 on the same date. 

McLoughlin won 42 caps for Ireland between 1990 and 1999, and is best remembered by Irish fans for scoring the crucial goal against Northern Ireland that secured the Republic’s qualification for the 1994 World Cup.

alan-mcloughlin-and-carton-palmer Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

On 4 July, bassist Rick Laird passed away at the age of 80.

A founding member of the New York jazz fusion band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Laird played with jazz greats before retiring from music in his 40s.

Ron Hoover / YouTube

Former Republic of Ireland international forward Charlie Gallagher died aged 80 on 11 July. Gallagher, whose parents hailed from Donegal, became the first Scottish-born player to represent Ireland when he made his debut in a game against Turkey in 1967. 

On 16 July, commentator and author Desmond Fennell died at the age of 92. President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Fennell following his death saying he would be remembered by many for his contribution towards the establishment of Raidió na Gaeltachta.

desmond-fennell-reporters-authors-portrait-landscape Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Monaghan U20 Gaelic football captain Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh died aged 19 on 16 July. He tragically died in a collision hours after he had captained Monaghan’s U20 side to victory in an Ulster championship semi-final against Donegal.

On 21 July, former senior minister and founder of the Progressive Democrats Desmond O’Malley died at the age of 82. 

The Limerick man was a former Fianna Fáil minister who was expelled from the party following a number of unsuccessful heaves against Charlie Haughey. He formed the PDs in 1985 and since their foundation, every government in the State has been a coalition government.

desmond-o-malley Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Actor and dancer Ray McBride passed away following a long illness on 27 July aged 69. McBride was well known for his work in Druid ensemble pieces in the 80s, and for roles in films such as Angela’s Ashes and Into the West.

clarebannerman / YouTube

On 10 August, Armagh all-star and Ulster championship-winning captain Colm McKinstry passed away. McKinstry, of the Clan na Gael club in Lurgan, established himself as one of the most famous ever players to line out for the Orchard county after joining the senior panel in 1968.

On 29 August, journalist Rodney Rice died at the age of 76 following a short illness. Rice was a reporter, producer and presenter with RTÉ for more than 40 years. He was best known for presenting RTÉ Radio 1′s Saturday View for 25 years.

image-ref-no-2009051 / Rice family / Rice family / Rice family

On 3 September, Pat Hume, the widow of former SDLP leader John Hume, died following a short illness. Pat worked alongside her husband from the beginning of the civil rights movement in Derry in the 1960s.

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On 5 September, veteran RTÉ broadcaster Donncha Ó Dúlaing died at the age of 88. Ó Dúlaing, from Doneraile in Co Cork, was known for his cultural and traditional music programmes.

His broadcasting career spanned over 50 years across radio and television and included the popular series Radio One programmes Highways and Byways and Fáilte Isteach.

donnachas-world Sam Boal / RN Sam Boal / RN / RN

Limerick artist Thomas Ryan died aged 92 on 14 September. The former President of the Royal Hibernian Academy is best known for his many portraits of presidents and taoisigh as well as historical scenes and landscapes.

Former Labour minister Mervyn Taylor passed away aged 89 on 23 September. Taylor was first elected to the Dáil for the constituency of Dublin South-West in 1981 and became Ireland’s first Cabinet minister of the Jewish faith in 1993.


On 26 September Paddy Prendergast, who was full-back on the last Mayo team to be crowned All-Ireland senior football champions, passed away at the age of 95. Prendergast lined out in defence for Mayo when they defeated Meath in the 1951 All-Ireland senior final.

Cervical Cancer advocate and HPV vaccination campaigner Eileen Rushe died aged 35 on 28 September. She had settled a case against the HSE in March of this year after Louth County Hospital in Dundalk failed to properly investigate and treat her illness.

The Termonfeckin native was diagnosed with cervical cancer in December 2018. After being declared cancer-free in June 2019, the disease returned aggressively last year, spreading to her spine, lungs and brain.

Eileen Rushe 1

On 1 October, Antrim-born folk musician Robin Morton died aged 81. Morton is best known as a leading figure within the Scottish folk music scene and a founding member of the Scottish-Irish band the Boys of the Lough.

Paddy Moloney, the founder of The Chieftains and an iconic figure in Irish traditional music, died aged 83 on 12 October.

The piper, composer and producer from Donnycarney in Dublin grew up in a musical family and played various instruments including the tin whistle and uilleann pipes. He was a student of legendary piper Leo Rowsome. Moloney originally formed The Chieftains in 1962.

In their nearly six-decade career, they have been six-time Grammy Award winners and have been recognised internationally for reinventing Irish music and for transcending musical boundaries. Over the decades they collaborated or performed with artists as diverse as Emmylou Harris, The Dubliners, Tom Jones and The Rolling Stones.

the-traditional-irish-band-the-chieftains-performs-a-live-concert-at-the-danish-folk-blues-and-country-music-festival-tonder-festival-2014-here-musician-paddy-moloney-is-seen-live-on-stage-denmark Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

On 17 October, Irish language poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi passed away at the age of 99.

Credited with helping to revolutionise the Irish language in the 1940s and 1950s, Mhac an tSaoi published five collections of poetry, releasing her first, Margadh na Saoire, in 1956. She served in the Irish diplomatic corps from 1947 to 1962, and was married to Conor Cruise O’Brien, who died in 2008.

On the same day, celebrated poet and novelist Brendan Kennelly died aged 85. Kennelly wrote over 20 books of poetry, along with plays, novels and criticism.

Some of his most famous works include Cromwell (1983/87), Poetry me Arse (1995) and more recently Reservoir Voices (2009). He was also a Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College Dublin for 30 years until his retirement in 2005.

Listowel Writers' Week / YouTube

On 1 November, former RTE radio DJ and television host Simon Young died aged 62.

The well-known presenter, real name Thomas Meade, started his career in the 1970s on pirate radio before moving over to the State broadcaster. He was best known for his work in the 1980s and 1990s on RTE television and radio, presenting The Beatbox and for appearances on Dempsey’s Den.


On 2 November, Irish-born singer and songwriter Declan Mulligan died at the age of 83. He is best known as an original member of the Beau Brummels – a band that was considered a foundation for what became known as the San Francisco sound in the 1960s.

Dublin GAA legend Des ‘Snitchy’ Ferguson died at the age of 91 on November 3. The former dual star won two All-Ireland senior football championships with the Dubs — in 1958 and 1963. A woodwork teacher, the St Vincent’s club man later moved to Meath and was one of the founding members of Gaeil Colmcille.

On 9 November, Austin Currie, who served as an MP for East Tyrone and as a TD for Dublin West, died aged 82.

The politician was one of the founding members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in the 1970s. In the 1980s, Currie moved to Dublin and was elected for Fine Gael in the 1989 General Election. He served as minister for state in the rainbow coalition from 1994 to 1997.


On 10 November, composer and former head of music at RTÉ, John Kinsella, died aged 89. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Concert Hall in 2019.

Cork hurling great Seanie O’Leary, a four-time All-Ireland senior winner with the county, died aged 69 on 1 December.

O’Leary was part of four All-Ireland senior hurling final wins, starting corner-forward in the three-in-a-row success between 1976-78, and the centenary victory in 1984.

sean-oleary-2051984 INPHO INPHO

On 2 DecemberJames ‘Jas’ Murphy, who was Kerry’s oldest surviving All-Ireland winning captain, passed away aged 98. The Tralee-born garda captained Kerry in their 1953 All-Ireland football final victory over Armagh.

Former Labour Party TD and Lord Mayor of Cork Toddy O’Sullivan passed away at the age of 86 on 12 December. He served as a TD for Cork North and South Central between 1981 and 1997 and for five years as a minister of State.

On 13 December, former Labour Party Minister and Wicklow TD Liam Kavanagh died aged 86. He was first elected to Dáil Éireann in the 1969 general election and retained his seat up until the 1997 general election. Kavanagh also served as an MEP from 1979 to 1981.

CROP LIAM KAVANAGH TD_19802 (L to R) Alan Dukes of Fine Gael with Liam Kavanagh outside Aras an Uachtarain, after a reshuffle of the Fine Gael Labour Government in 1986. Eamonn Farrell / RN Eamonn Farrell / RN / RN

One of Ireland’s most celebrated poets Thomas Kinsella passed away aged 93 on 22 December.

Born in Inchicore in 1928, Kinsella was best known for works such as the Táin, Butcher’s Dozen, Mirror in February and Another September, as well as his translation of Táin Bó Cúailnge.

Kinsella was granted the Honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin on 24 May 2007 and the Lord Mayor said his pride in his home city had shone through his work. President Michael D Higgins said Kinsella’s reputation at home and abroad was one of being of a school that sought excellence that did not know borders.

thomas-kinsella Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The former managing director of Bewley’s tea and coffee company and the great-grandson of the company’s founder Patrick Bewley died aged 77 on 27 December.

Bewley, who passed away after a long illness, was involved in the Dublin institution for 53 years. Patrick then joined Bewley’s at 21, working behind the counter making coffee for six months, later moving to front-of-house, serving beans and ground coffee to the public. He then became the manager of the Westmoreland Street Bewley’s café before serving as managing director of the company from 1977 to 2003.


On 28 December, former RTÉ sports commentator and producer Jim Sherwin died at the age of 81. 

A long and successful career as a broadcaster saw him serve as RTÉ’s main commentator at eight Olympic Games. He also commentated for more than 20 years on tennis, including grand slam events such as Wimbledon and the French Open.

He was particularly synonymous with the station’s rugby coverage, which he helped to front from 1970 to 2003.

jim-sherwin INPHO INPHO

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