Every town needs its storytellers, its raconteurs who can fill a silence with a story plucked from the ether, who can use the power of words to shape situations, to create pictures in minds, to instil the emotions of laughter and to lift the tastebuds of imaginations. Every town and community needs to have an image of itself shaped through its wordsmiths who polish the mirror and hold it up to ourselves. On Tuesday night, Galway lost one of its best exponents of this art when John Cunningham passed away.
As Galway passed from being a town to a city, it was people like John who chronicled that transformation with journalism of the highest quality from a man who was company of the highest quality.
While politicians have been beating a path to pay tribute to him over the past 24 hours, it was often with trepidation that they picked up his Deputy column on a Thursday and peeked inside to see if their best laid plans were unveiled for all to see. Maybe it was because he had a Tuam curiousity and a neck for asking the awkward question, but John Cunningham was able to spot a story a mile off and was not afraid about which feathers he would ruffle to get it.
He did this by applying lashings of commonsense onto a basic curiouslty and it is those principles that he passed on to the many students who arrive in front of him with naivety, and left rounded writers and broadcasters.
John was one of the last iconic editors who bridged the gap between the leap in technology that has transformed the media industry worldwide and endangered many of the traditional practices which it mimicked in its innovation. But John didn’t need his Twitter. Observing him in action over the years, mainly at great political gatherings, which were commonplace in Galway in days before our politician s were neutered, when local councils were not robbed of the experience of Ministers and senators and when things could actually be done, rather than merely be talked about, John was there, setting up his own social network, cornering some grassroot member who would gladly tell the story for the privilege of being seen with The Deputy, the political kingmaker.
John never really retired, he just moved from one role to another and was an active supporter of the Galway Science and Technology Festival which was blessed to have a communicator like himself as its spokesman.
Twice yearly, John and I would meet in a sort of clandestine arrangement away from prying eyes scoffing scones in the back of the GBC where we would discuss different aspects of vastly different media, like a bear and a rabbit, outlining each other’s difficulties with fur. I will miss those meetings, but above all, I will miss a Galway that does not have John Cunningham in its midst.
To his family, we extend our sympathies on the loss of the man who brought so much to their door, who filled their lives with awonderment for living and whomehe loved so much. And also to his colleagues in the Connacht Tribune. Newsroom are tight places, sort of familial, sort of dysfunctional, sort of crazy, and to a coterie of journalists and wordsmiths in the Tribune, John was a glue that held them together. Farewell, master wordsmith.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.