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In memoriam: Remembering those we lost in 2020

We take a look back at some of the many greats we lost this year.

pjimage (12) PA / Rollingnews PA / Rollingnews / Rollingnews

IT WAS A year in which we lost many people. From those who brought joy and happiness to our screens and airwaves for decades, to the loved ones lost to Covid-19. 

Bereavement is always difficult, but this year it’s been even harder with rituals restricted since early March. The daily updates on case and death numbers have become a routine part of life in recent months. But behind every number are family members and friends who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

We bid our final farewells to many people who brought us solace in time of sorrow, be that through sport, art or entertainment. 

We remember those famous faces and more here. 

Broadcaster Marian Finucane passed away at the age of 69 on 2 January. 

Born in 1950, the presenter of The Marian Finucane Show started at RTÉ as a continuity announcer in the 1970s.

A qualified architect, she became a programme presenter working on programmes concerned with contemporary social issues, especially those concerning women, notably on the programme Women Today. Her television work also included Consumer Choice and Crime Line. She was the first presenter of Liveline.

Finucane covered many topics over her career but one of the things she is best known for is paving the way for female broadcasters in a very male-dominated industry as well as covering issues that affected many people, particularly women, but which were rarely if ever spoken about in a public forum in Ireland.

coffee-morning-charities Graham Hughes / Photocall Ireland! Graham Hughes / Photocall Ireland! / Photocall Ireland!

On 7 January, veteran broadcaster Larry Gogan died at the age of 85.

The DJ was one of the most-loved figures on Irish radio and is synonymous with his 2FM programme The Golden Hour and his Just a Minute Quiz.

Gogan had a six-decade career in Irish radio working across both RTÉ Radio One and 2FM and latterly digital station RTÉ Gold. He presented his final show on 2FM in January of last year after 40 years at the station.

larry-gogan-disk-jockeys Fran Veale / Photocall Ireland! Fran Veale / Photocall Ireland! / Photocall Ireland!

Matt Murphy, who married his best friend for tax reasons in 2017 passed away on 14 January aged 85. 

He hit headlines when told RTÉ Radio One’s Liveline programme that he was set to marry his pal Michael O’Sullivan.

Although neither man is gay, Matt said they were getting married so that he could leave Michael his house when he died and his friend wouldn’t have to pay inheritance tax. The pair tied the knot on 22 December 2017.

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On 24 January, the former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and civil rights campaigner Seamus Mallon died aged 83. 

Mallon was a campaigner during the civil rights movement and a founder of the SDLP in the 1960s. He would play a key role in the peace process culminating with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

He served in the role of deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive alongside Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble who held the role of first minister from 1998 to 2001.

general-election-seamus-mallon PA PA

Independent Tipperary general election candidate Marese Skehan died on 3 February 

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy made a special order allowing the election to proceed on the same day as other constituencies after Skehan’s death almost posted voting in the county. 

A home help coordinator, Skehan was a member of a well-known family from Cabra Road in Thurles. She clashed with the Catholic Church on several occasions, notably in her bid to have women ordained to the priesthood.

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Journalist and broadcaster Keelin Shanley passed away at the age of 51 on 8 February. 

Shanley had been a stalwart of RTÉ news coverage since she joined the broadcaster, with stints on the stations’ pillars Prime Time and Morning Ireland. She also presented her own television show Morning Edition for two years before returning to radio, and eventually taking over as co-anchor on the Six One news on RTÉ One. 

Her posthumously released memoir A Light That Never Goes Out, charting Shanley’s career in journalism and details her lengthy battle with cancer, won an RTÉ Radio 1 Listeners’ Choice Award at the An Post Irish Book Award last month. 

keelin-shanley-3-390x285 Steve Langan / RTÉ Steve Langan / RTÉ / RTÉ

On 14 February, former Ireland international Jimmy Conway passed away aged 73. 

The Dublin native played for Bohemians during the 60s before moving to Fulham in 1966 where he enjoyed a 10-year career.

Jimmy, who earned 20 caps for Ireland under Mick Meagan, Liam Tuohy and John Giles, had been suffering from dementia for over a decade. 

Dublin camogie legend Úna O’Connor died at the age of 83 on 4 March. 

Having won 13 All-Ireland senior titles, O’Connor is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time and was named on the Camogie Team of the Century.

O’Connor opened her inter-county career by helping Dublin win three All-Ireland titles in-a-row, landing her first at the age of 15 in 1953.

On 11 March, Joan Lawrie, the mother of murdered journalist Lyra McKee, died a month before the anniversary of her daughter’s shooting.

Lyra had been her mother’s main carer. 

Former Irish Open champion and Ryder Cup golfer John O’Leary passed away at the age of 70 following an illness on 26 March. 

The Dubliner, who won the Irish Open in 1982, was selected for Great Britain and Ireland team for the Ryder Cup in 1975.

john-oleary-irish-open-1982 © INPHO / Billy Stickland © INPHO / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

On 28 March, former Roscommon footballer Conor Connelly passed away at the age of 44. 

The Creggs clubman was wing-forward in the Roscommon team that won the Connacht championship in 2001, and represented his county on either side of the turn of the century.

Connelly had worked as a solicitor since 2004. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

On 29 March, former Labour party councillor and hero of Dublin’s Liberties, John Gallagher passed away aged 86 from Covid-19. 

A former Deputy Lord Mayor of the city, Gallagher was a veteran of the Save Wood Quay campaign and many other battles to preserve the heritage of the city, in particular the south inner-city which he knew so well.

conor-connelly-3051999 Andrew Paton / INPHO Andrew Paton / INPHO / INPHO

On 3 April, Connemara-based author, artist and cartographer Tim Robinson died in London aged 85 from coronavirus.

Robinson was best known for his award-winning Connemara trilogy of non-fiction works, Listening to the Wind, The Last Pool of Darkness and A Little Gaelic Kingdom.

Mayo woman Rose Mitchell passed away with Covid-19 on 4 April in a nursing home Chiswick in London, where she had lived for the past 50-60 years, at the age of 81. 

Her sister Dorothy wrote the poem ‘My Sister Is Not A Statistic’ as Rose and others deserved more than to “go quietly”. The poem had a global reach and was broadcast across RTÉ, BBC, and PBS.

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RTÉ Radio 1 / SoundCloud

Children’s rights activist and the first chair of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, Norah Gibbons died aged 67 on 9 April.  

Gibbons was a notable figure within the area of children’s rights in Ireland holding posts including director of advocacy at children’s charity Barnardos, along with her role as a member of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

90328569 Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

On 17 April, Jim Kenny and Catherine Hickey passed away from Covid-19. 

Jim and Catherine were both support workers at St Luke’s General Hospital in Kilkenny.

Jim’s local GAA club St Patrick’s in Ballyragget described him as a “kind and true gentleman, a great supporter of all things in the parish”. 

Those paying tribute to Catherine were universal in their description of her as a “true lady” who’ll be a massive loss to her family, friends and staff at St Luke’s.

Poetry Ireland / YouTube

Celebrated poet Evan Boland passed away aged 75 on 27 April. 

Born in Dublin in 1944, Boland published her first collection of poems in 1962.

Her work was a staple on Irish Leaving Cert English curriculum for many years, and she had been working at Stanford University for the past 20 years. She was formerly a writer-in-residence at Trinity College Dublin and UCD.


On 29 April, former Clare county board and Munster GAA council chairman Noel Walsh passed away.

He managed the senior inter-county side three times, and also spent 20 years as a selector, including during the Banner’s unforgettable 1992 Munster triumph.

He became chairman of the Munster council in 1995, later becoming a vocal supporter in the drive to abolish Rule 42 which prevented Croke Park hosting rugby and international football during the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road.

noel-walsh INPHO INPHO

On 7 MayChristopher (Christy) Dignam Senior, father of Aslan singer Christy Dignam, died after contracting Covid-19. 

He had been living in a nursing home with dementia when he contracted the virus, and died not long after being diagnosed.


Former Mayo minor player Daragh Sloyan passed away on 20 May aged 35.

Sloyan represented Mayo minors in 2002 and 2003, alongside current senior veterans Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle, while he was part of the U21 squad in 2004.

He is survived by his wife and four children. 

On 28 May, singer and entertainer Brendan Bowyer died aged 81.

Bowyer died at his home in Las Vegas surrounded by his wife Stella, his three children and his two grandchildren.

He was best known for fronting the Royal Showband and The Big Eight, and he had five number one hits in Ireland.  It was during his time with the Royal Showband that he first performed what many consider his signature tune, The Hucklebuck. 

PavilionTheatreDL / YouTube

Former Kilkenny and Clara Hurler Lester Ryan died following a traffic accident on 6 June. 

The 61-year-old passed away as a result of an accident involving his bicycle and a tractor close to his home in Gowran, Kilkenny.

Ryan played for Kilkenny in the 1980s and ’90s, winning three Leinster titles alongside his brother Harry. 

Screenshot 2020-12-17 at 01.04.30 KilkennyCamogieInstagram KilkennyCamogieInstagram

On 8 June, former Republic of Ireland and Manchester United defender Tony Dunne died at the age of 78.

The Dubliner was part of Sir Matt Busby’s United team who captured the European Cup in 1968, and made over 500 appearances for the club. He also helped the side to league glory in 1965 and 1967 during his 13 years at Old Trafford.

Dunne joined United from Shelbourne in 1960 and was named the Irish Footballer of the Year in 1969. He earned 33 caps for Ireland after making his international debut in 1962.

soccer-manchester-united-tony-dunne PA PA

Jack Charlton, the former Ireland manager who guided the country to Euro 88, Italia 90 and USA 94, died at the age 85 on 11 July.  

Charlton had been diagnosed with lymphoma in the last year and was also battling dementia.

One of football’s most popular and larger-than-life characters, he had spells in charge of Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, Newcastle before taking over Ireland, who he guided to their first major finals at Euro 88 and two more in the space of 10 years.

There was an outpouring of grief and love from both sides of the Irish Sea following Jack’s passing. One group of Irish fans recreated the famous scenes at the Walkinstown Roundabout in Dublin after Ireland’s historic victory over Romania at Italia ’90 30 years on.

soccerex-london-forum-wembley-stadium EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

On 15 July, Stardust campaigner Christine Keegan passed away. Her two daughters died in the 1981 nightclub fire. 

Christine and her daughter Antoinette have for many years been a key part of the campaign for justice, keeping the tragedy within the public sphere and helping to secure support for their calls for fresh inquiries.

stardust 89 Sam Boal Sam Boal

Cork All-Ireland winner Kieran O’Connor passed away at the age of 41 following a long illness on 15 July. 

A member of the Cork squad that lifted Sam Maguire in 2010, he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in October 2017.

kieran-oconnor Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

On 19 July, CervicalCheck campaigner Ruth Morrissey passed away at the age of 39. 

The Limerick woman won a case against the HSE and two laboratories that examined her cervical smear tests. She was first diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. After recovering initially, her cancer returned in 2018 and became terminal 

ruth-morrissey-wins-cervicalcheck-case LEAH FARRELL LEAH FARRELL

Dr Syed Waqqar Ali, a doctor at Dublin’s Mater Hospital, passed away on 22 July after spending three months in ICU following his Covid-19 diagnosis.

Dr Ali’s daughter Dr Samar Fatima Ali described her father as  “incredibly dedicated to his profession and he lost his life to his profession, there are no words for the battle he fought every day”. 

At the time of his death, he was the eighth health care worker to die with Covid-19 in Ireland. He is survived by his wife and five children, three boys and two girls. 

_113581949_drali Umar al Qadri Umar al Qadri

On 3 August, politician and Irish peace icon John Hume died aged 83.

The SDLP founder, who spent his life and career campaigning for civil rights, passed away after years of suffering from dementia.

The Derry native served as an elected representative in the city for 36 years and was one of the foremost figures advocating non-violence throughout decades of violence in Northern Ireland

Hume was one of the primary architects of the Good Friday Agreement and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1998.

mark-durkan-addresses-the-sdlp-conference PA PA

Former Labour Party Secretary-General, TD and MEP Brendan Halligan died aged 84 on 9 August. 

Halligan was an economist before becoming involved in politics in 1967 and played a key role in the revival of the Labour Party. 

He served as General Secretary of the party until 1980 and was TD for Dublin South-West from 1976-1977. He also served as an MEP from 1983 to 1984.

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Elizabeth Dwyer, the Dublin-born mother of singer Morrissey, died on 14 August following an illness. 

On 15 September, nine-time Irish champion jockey and multiple Classic-winning rider Pat Smullen died at the age of 43.

Born in County Offaly, on May 22, 1977, Smullen, the son of a farmer and who became involved with horses at the age of 11, went on to form a formidable alliance with master trainer Dermot Weld, taking over in 1999 from another riding great – Mick Kinane.

Among their greatest triumphs was the Derby at Epsom in 2016 with Harzand. The pair went on to secure the Irish Derby and cement the legacy of a rider who enjoyed his first victory at Dundalk on June 11, 1993.

Smullen leaves wife Frances and their three children – Hannah, Paddy and Sarah.

pat-smullen James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Poet Derek Mahon, whose poem Everything Is Going To Be All Right brought people solace after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, died aged 78 on 2 October. 

Born in Belfast in 1941, the multiple-award-winning Mahon studied at Trinity College and lived in France, the US, Canada and London before settling back in Ireland. He was a member of Aosdána. 

Among his awards were the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry (1990), the Irish Times-Aer Lingus Poetry Prize (1991), the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize and the David Cohen Prize for Literature (2007).  

The Gallery Press / YouTube

Disability activist and author Paddy Doyle passed away on 12 October at the age of 69. 

Doyle was the author of The God Squad, a best-selling novel inspired by his time in St Michael’s Industrial School in Cappoquin in Waterford, which provided an account of institutional abuse.

He also had a rare neurological condition known as dystonia, which is characterised by sustained muscle contractions.

90177163 /Photocall Ireland /Photocall Ireland

On 1 November, Margaret Lynch, who became well-known after writing a letter from lockdown to her great-grandson on RTÉ, passed away at the age of 100. 

Margaret also hit the headlines when she turned 100 back in April. When asked for the secret to her long life, she offered a simple formula: “Keep eating your porridge. Go for walks. That’s about it”.

After Margaret’s passing, her family told RTÉ that she finally got to hold grandson Daniel during the summer after restrictions eased: “For her finally to be able to sit down and hold him, it was very emotional, it meant a lot to all of us.”

Veteran foreign correspondent Robert Fisk died aged 74 on 2 November.  

The celebrated journalist, best-known for his work in the Middle East, passed away at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin after becoming ill days previous. 

Born in Kent in 1946, Fisk later took Irish citizenship and lived in Dalkey. 

journalist-robert-fisk-being-interviewed-byeamon-d Photocall Ireland! Photocall Ireland!

On 17 November, Owen and Bredge Ward, both aged 69, died in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry with Covid-19 just 12 hours apart.

The couple, who were from Strabane, had been married for 48 years and had six children and nine grandchildren.

Patricia Carrick, who received a State apology over her missed cervical cancer diagnosis died on 25 November. 

The mother-of-four had gone for a smear test in 2016 but was told there were no abnormalities found. She was later diagnosed with cervical cancer, and was informed her diagnosis was terminal just a few months ago.

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Former Start pathologist professor John Harbison died on 18 December. 

He became the state’s first forensic pathologist in 1974, retiring in 2003. 

During his 30 year career, he was involved in a number of high profile cases including those of Sophie Toscan Du Plantier, the Kerry babies, and Father Niall Molloy. 

john-harbison-john-carthy-shooting Gareth Chaney / Rollingnews Gareth Chaney / Rollingnews / Rollingnews

 Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílis

The IHF has developed a section on its website that specifically deals with grief during the pandemic, and it includes advice and information to help people of all ages who are grieving. 

Its national freephone bereavement service can be reached on 1800 80 70 77 from 10am to 1pm, Monday to Friday.

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