Tributes were paid yesterday to the former Connacht Tribune editor John Cunningham, who passed away on Tuesday.
Mr Cunningham, who was a native of Tuam, was editor of the Connacht Tribune from 1984 to 2007. He wrote regular columns for the paper following his retirement, and continued to do so throughout his illness, with his last column appearing in the paper last week.
Mr Cunningham’s career began as a journalist in the Tribune in 1964, where he later became news editor before leaving in 1982 for a brief stint as editor of the Waterford News And Star. He returned to Galway two years later to take over at the helm of the Tribune.
Mr Cunningham was a respected journalist and political commentator, and regularly contributed to political discussions on RTE. He was also a member of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and served as an adjunct lecturer in journalism for 18 years in NUI Galway, where he received an honorary MA in 2006 for his contribution to local and national journalism.
President Michael D Higgins was among those to pay tribute to Mr Cunningham, who died on Tuesday. “John was a highly respected journalist and editor who made a major contribution to people's lives in the west of Ireland,” President Higgins said. “He will be remembered as someone who took a genuine interest in local events and represented all with balance and fairness. His work in training young journalists at NUI was of immense importance and his contributions to RTE over the years, on regional events, were as enjoyable as they were incisive. He will be sadly missed by his family and friends.”
Dep Brian Walsh described Mr Cunningham as “a man of immense political insight with a remarkable depth of knowledge that informed his commentary throughout his career”.
“His passion for politics was inspiring, and his kindness of character most endearing,” Dep Walsh added. “He was held in the highest esteem and great affection was felt for him amongst those affiliated with every single shade of the political spectrum.
“A measure of that affection was a visit to Galway by Enda Kenny last year, during which I informed the Taoiseach that John was not well,” he revealed. “He had absolutely no hesitation in departing from his meticulously planned schedule in order to call to see John at Galway Hospice.
“I accompanied the Taoiseach on that occasion and I recall him engaged in warm and weighty conversation with John for up to an hour as his political staff failed miserably to prise him away and return him belatedly to his schedule of events.
“Leaving the hospice that day, Enda Kenny spoke of his respect for John and he again paid tribute to him in the Dáil chamber on Wednesday. That his sentiments were echoed by the Leader of the Opposition Mícheál Martin is a reflection of the esteem in which he was held across the political divide.
“I will miss John as a confidant from whom I often sought both political and personal advice. I recall meeting him in 2006 at Lynch’s Café at a time when I faced a dilemma in the face of pressure to run in the general election the following year at a time when Fiona was expecting our first child.
“He affirmed for me that the time was not right, that family would always come before politics, and that further opportunities would lie ahead down the road. His words shaped the course of my future and, by the time I descended the stairs and walked on to Shop Street, my mind had been irreversibly made up.
“John’s sad and untimely death is an immeasurable loss to his profession, his many friends, and his family. He has left us with a legacy that can never be unwritten and memories of a friendship that will never be replaced. On behalf of Galway West Fine Gael, I offer my sincere sympathies to his wife and family and his friends and colleagues.”
Dep Eamon Ó Cuív, Galway West TD and deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, said Mr Cunningham was “one of the best and fairest journalists [he] ever met”.
“He was a man of absolute integrity and honesty, and was very conscious of the importance of ethics in journalism,” Dep Ó Cuív added.
“During his long editorship, the Connacht Tribune maintained the highest standards of interesting journalism without sensationalism. The very success of the paper showed that this is what the public want, and that there is no need to deviate from high standards to court extra sales. John’s ‘Deputy’ column was compulsive reading for anybody with an interest in Galway politics. His knowledge of local politics from the inside and his understanding of the life of public representatives ensured that what he wrote was always fair, deep, and incisive.
“As a friend, John was engaging, witty, and good company. Over the years we talked many times on the phone and met on many occasions. I always felt refreshed after our discussions which often ranged over a wide range of subjects. Only a few weeks ago, he rang me about a piece he was writing and was looking for some insight into the background of the story.”
Dep Michael Kitt also paid tribute to Mr Cunningham. “John has been at the heart of politics and media in Galway for more than two decades,” Dep Kitt said. “A prolific journalist, he was unmatched in his understanding of local politics and his sense of responsibility to his readers. Despite his illness he remained dedicated to his work and continued to write for the paper that he edited for more than 23 years until last week.
“Galway has lost one of its greatest ever journalists, much loved by those he worked with, those he interviewed, and those he wrote for. He will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his family Nuala and their four children at this time.”
NUI Galway president Dr Jim Browne said Mr Cunningham was “an inspirational figure in Irish journalism”.
“In his career with the Connacht Tribune and as an adjunct lecturer in NUI Galway he fostered the talents of some of the leading figures in the worlds of Irish media and journalism,” Dr Browne added.
Mr Cunningham is survived by his wife Nuala and their sons Shane, Gary, Ivor, and Enda.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.