I wasn’t to know it back then, but a moment grabbing a burger and coffee in the late hours in the corner of the Supermac’s restaurant in Headford was the last occasion I had an encounter with a politician I have known all of my working life.
On that night in February 2020, the count had just concluded for the Galway East constituency in the Presentation Convent Hall across the way; the victors had been declared, the losers consoled and it was time for a quick bite, before the writing up of all the drama would commence.
There in that corner, I met Noel Treacy for the last time. Almost 30 years after I first met him as a politician. Back then, when I worked in the Tuam Herald, when we’d be firing out breaking stories as deadlines approached on many Tuesday nights, Noel made his way through the open gates of the printworks at the side and invited himself into our newsroom, where for an hour or so, he would converse on politics and sport, and his favourite topic, that of people, before heading off to whatever local event he would be addressing.
To Noel, people were fascinating. Who you were, who were your people, what people did he know who knew your people, and the people you should meet and the people you shouldn’t. Humanity was the lifeblood of his profession. and it was fitting that he made a contribution to Galway both as a political orator and as a sporting administrator.
He held nothing against me for my Mayoness — indeed, he knew who my people were because his sister Marian worked in the Bank in Ballinrobe, where my father was porter for a quarter of a century.
Over the next few decades, Noel and his colleagues in Galway East were the meat and drink of the weekly life of a young reporter. In the days before email, there were weekly conversations about this and that and the other; their thoughts on this, their reaction to that.
We soldiered together in wellies on flooded fields, in homes and farms destroyed by weather; we sat through interminable meetings on stories that might never have a solution; most on the drudge of rural life and how to drag it into modernity.
On a few occasions, he snuck me into parts of Dail Eireann where I shouldn’t have been, including that famous day when Albert took over from Haughey and the country and western revolution was commencing. Afterwards, with mobile phone coverage sporadic at the time, himself and Micheal Kitt conspired to get me into the inner sanctums to do live radio reports from what was a historic day.
He loved this image he portrayed, as if he was purposefully playing a caricature of himself. His Galway East colleagues spoke of him last night and paid tribute to his remarkable memory for names and connections, and how he had never done a nasty deed in order to gain a political advantage. He was a tour de force, already ready with a solution, a soundbite, a wonderful quote.
He lived life with a powerful energy, indeed, even in those latter times of his illness when I met him, his tiring body still had that drive within it. The wave across a crowded room, the way he held his documents pressed to his chest; the manner in which he never needed notes to fill a slot, to give an unscheduled interview.
Now the famous boom lies silent, but the memory of covering this man will stay with me forever. The way he faced the challenge of his illness was a mirror image of the way he faced life. A momentary glance for thought, then the shoulders thrown back and away he’d go. Always courteous, always enquiring, always Noel.
To his family, Mary, his children Joan, Emer, Lisa and Rory, his grandchildren and to all his extended family and friends, we thank them for sharing him with the public for all this time. He made such a contribution to the lives of his constituents. Truly, a man you don’t meet every day.