FOND FAREWELL: Remembering some of the impressive Irish men and women who died in 2021

FOND FAREWELL: Remembering some of the impressive Irish men and women who died in 2021

AS 2021 draws to a close we remember some of those who left us in 2021.

From musicians and poets, comedians and writers, theatre people, business people, politicians and political activists, and not forgetting a stunt man and a bishop…

Tony Birtill

Teacher, journalist, Irish language academic and writer

Born in Walton, Liverpool, Tony Birtill was a mainstay of the Liverpool-Irish community and one of the foremost authorities on the history of the Irish diaspora in the city. He taught Irish at the Liverpool Irish Centre and was a contributor to the Irish online magazine Beo, — as well as The Irish Post.

*Tony Birtill died on October 21 in Liverpool.

Noel Bridgeman


Noel ‘Nollaig’ Bridgeman is generally regarded as one of the finest drummers Ireland has produced. Born in 1946 in Dublin, he is best known as drummer and co-founder of the blues rock band Skid Row, which included Phil Lynnot and Gary Moore in its line-up.

After Skid Row, Bridgeman became a much in-demand session drummer, playing and recording with acts such as Jackson Browne, Sharon Shannon, Steve Earle, Mary Black and The Corrs.

* Noel Bridgeman died of cancer on March 23 aged 74.

Austin Currie

Civil rights campaigner, politician

Joseph Austin Currie was central to the civil rights movement in the late 1960s that eventually brought change to Northern Ireland. He subsequently served as an MP (Nationalist) for East Tyrone in the Stormont Parliament until it was suspended by the UK government.

A founder member of the SDLP, Currie relocated to the Republic after repeated physical attacks from loyalist paramilitaries. As TD (Fine Gael) for Dublin West, he served as Minister of State for Justice with Responsibility for Children’s Rights.

* Austin Currie was born in Coalisland, Co. Tyrone in 1939. He died in Co. Kildare on November 9, 2021 aged 82. He is survived by his wife Anita, and five children. His daughter Emer, serves as a senator in Seanad Éireann.

Gerry Kelly

Union activist, teacher, songwriter

Gerry Kelly came to national prominence during the building workers’ strike in England in 1972. He was subsequently blacklisted, only winning compensation in 2016. Brought up in Birmingham, Kelly left school at 16, and began working in the construction industry. He subsequently helped win his fellow workers improved working condition, and helped abolish the notorious “lump” payment system.

Blacklisted from the building trade, he qualified as an English teacher at the Polytechnic of North London.

Gerry Kelly was a stalwart of the London music scene, writing songs, playing guitar, and amassing a collection of Irish rebel ballads.

* Gerry Kelly died of cancer on February 15, 2021, aged 69. He is survived by partner Sue O’Shea and his son Brendan.

Gerry Kelly (PIC: Brendan Kelly)

Brendan Kennelly

Poet, academic

Brendan Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, Co. Kerry, one of eight children.

After being brought up in the pub in north Kerry, Kennelly proved to have a facility with words and languages. He was awarded a scholarship to Trinity College Dublin, also spending a year studying at Leeds University.

His poetry quickly brought him to national prominence.

Kennelly married Margaret (Peggy) O'Brien in 1969 and had one child, Doodle Kennelly.

The marriage ended in divorce, which Kennelly attributed to his drinking habits. He ultimately became teetotal around 1985.

Doodle, his daughter, died suddenly in April 2021, six months before Brendan.

* Brendan Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, Co. Kerry, on April 17, 1936. He died on 17 October 2021 aged 85, in Listowel.

Phil Lonergan

Stunt man

Galway man Phil Lonergan was a vastly experienced stuntman over three decades. His appearances included several Bond films, the HBO series Game of Thrones, Vikings, The Guard, Black Widow, Gangs of London and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

* Phil Lonergan died suddenly on October 28, 2021, in Galway.

Danny McAlinden


Danny ‘Dangerous’ McAlinden won both the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles. Born in Newry, Co. Down the McAlinden family moved to Edinburgh when he was a child, relocating to Coventry when he was 15.

After beating Jack Bodell, fights with both Joe Bugner and George Foreman were mooted for McAlinden; even a showdown with Muhammad Ali seemed possible.

But prior to these meetings he was beaten by the relatively unknown Morrie Jackson. Further defeats ultimately arrested his career, and he hung up his gloves at the age of 33.

* Born on June 1, 1947, Danny McAlinden died in March 2021 at the age of 73. He had been diagnosed with cancer.

Máire Mhac an tSaoi

Academic, poet, writer

Máire Mhac an tSaoi was key in transforming Irish language poetry in the 1940s and 50s.

Born Máire MacEntee in Dublin in 1922, her father Seán MacEntee, a Belfast man, was a veteran of the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War, as well as a founding member of Fianna Fáil.

Mhac an tSaoi’s mother, Tipperary-born Margaret Browne (or de Brún), was a teacher of Irish.

In 1962, Mhac an tSaoi married politician and historian Conor Cruise O'Brien. She became stepmother to his two children from a previous marriage; the O'Briens later adopted two children of their own.

* Máire Mhac an tSaoi was born in Dublin in April 1922; she died in October 2021 aged 99.

Danny McAlinden, right, passed away this year

Pat McNulty


Pat McNulty, an influential figure in Irish traditional music in Scotland , was for a very long time the only uilleann piper in Glasgow, never mind the best. But McNulty’s efforts to preserve piping, and his love for Irish music in general — allied to an open and friendly personality — led to his inspiring a new generation of musicians.

He became the first uilleann piper ever to play with a concert orchestra, appearing in the BBC Proms in 1969.

* Pat McNulty was born in Glasgow 1934. He died in 2021 aged 86.

Paddy Moloney

Musician, composer, record producer

For six decades Paddy Moloney was one of the pivotal figures in Irish traditional music, and one of those responsible for taking a music that was almost moribund by the 1950s to worldwide popularity.

Moloney co-founded and led the Chieftains, playing on all 44 albums, and was particularly associated with the revival of the uilleann pipes.

* Paddy Moloney was born on August 1, 1938 in Dublin. He died suddenly on October 11, 2021 in Dublin.  He is survived by his wife Rita O’Reilly and three children.

Sister Nuala O’Connor

Nun, community worker

Sr. Nuala O’Connor, who served tirelessly in Manchester’s Irish community, was a member of the Good Shepherd Religious Order, taking her vows 74 years ago.

Sister Nuala worked in various community projects. Her work within the Order, including pastoral care, Traveller family support and helping in many Irish cultural activities, took her to many convents around England and Scotland.

* Sister Nuala O’Connor was born in Ballina, Co. Mayo. She died May 2021 aged 88.

Detta O’Cathain

Economist, businesswoman and politician

Born in Cork, Detta O'Cathain, Baroness O'Cathain OBE, left Ireland for London in the mid-1960s, where she became a highly successful businesswoman.

She served on the boards of Midland Bank, Tesco and British Airways and from 1984 to 1989 was also managing director of the Milk Marketing Board of England and Wales.

Detta O’Cathain spent a turbulent five years as managing director of the Barbican Centre in London. She was accused of instituting an authoritarian rule and lost the support of several key people.

O’Cathain had a complex relationship with Ireland. She believed that her Irish upbringing and education gave her the values that would remain throughout her life, but that she had to leave the country to fulfil her ambitions. She said: “Britain gave me all my opportunities and allowed me to have the wonderfully life that I have had. If I had stayed in Ireland I would have remained a Grade Three clerk in Aer Lingus.''

In 1989 O’Cathain’s husband William Bishop, 20 years her senior, suffered a stroke. He was left paralysed and died in 2001.

* Baroness O’Cathain was born in Cork in February 2, 1938, and died April 23, 2021.

The late Detta O'Cathain

Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue

Catholic prelate

Cork man Patrick O’Donoghue served as the fifth Bishop of Lancaster from 2001 to 2009.

O'Donoghue was an opponent of attempts to secularise the culture of Catholic schools. He instructed schools in his diocese to halt promotion of contraceptives, remove "anti-Catholic" books from their libraries and discard ideas contrary to the Catholic Church's official teachings. These traditionalist views engendered both local and national objections.

Bishop O'Donoghue retired from the Lancaster diocese in 2009, moving back to Ireland as an assistant priest to the parish of Bantry, Co. Cork.

* The bishop was born in May 1934 in Mourne Abbey in Co. Cork, and died on January 24  2021 aged 87.

Tom O’Connor


Thomas Patrick O'Connor was born in Bootle, Lancashire. He attended St Mary's College, Crosby, and later graduated from Saint Mary's College, Twickenham.

He became a mathematics and music teacher at the St Joan of Arc School, Bootle, where he was also assistant headmaster. But his vocation as a teacher waned as his comedy act — plied mainly in the working men’s clubs of the north of England — became ever more popular. Television soon beckoned, and O’Connor gave up his day job. His television career increasingly focused on being a gameshow host — which the quick-witted O’Connor was exceptionally good at.

* Tom O’Connor was born on October 31, 1939. He died July 18, 2021 in Slough aged 81. He is survived by his wife Patricia Finan and four children.

Rynagh O'Grady


Rynagh O’Grady will best be remembered by international audiences as one half of the husband and wife couple in Father Ted who argue bitterly, but act happily married when talking to the priests.

O’Grady trained in the Abbey Theatre School and first appeared on their stage in 1969. She also appeared regularly in films including Far and Away and A Love Divided.

* Rynagh O’Grady was born April 18, 1951 and died on February 7.

Maggie O’Malley

Maggie O' Malley died on August 18 in Manchester at the age of 105 after suffering a short illness.

Born on February 13, 1916 near Lahardane in Co. Mayo, Maggie arrived in England in 1951 aged 35.

She made her home in Manchester, and with her husband, raised a son and daughter – and boasted seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

*Maggie O’Malley died on August 18, 2021

Carmel Quinn

Actress, singer

Dublin woman Carmel Quinn enjoyed a very successful showbusiness career, after immigrating to the US in 1954. Quinn began singing in Dublin with local bands. In America she soon became a regular on US networks.

Her annual Saint Patrick's Day Concerts at Carnegie Hall sold out for more than two decades, and she appeared in numerous television commercials. Her hits included The Whistling Gypsy Rover.

Quinn was married to Irish ballroom impresario Bill Fuller with whom she had four children. The marriage ended in divorce.

* Carmel Quinn was born in Dublin on July 31, 1925. She died of pneumonia in New Jersey in March 2021 at the age of 95.

Liam Reilly

Singer, songwriter

Liam Reilly fronted the band Bagatelle for more than 40 years, writing the hits Summer in Dublin and Second Violin. Reilly also came joint second at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1990 with the song Somewhere in Europe. He also wrote Streets of New York, made popular by the Wolfe Tones.

* Liam Reilly was born in Dundalk on January 29, 1955. He died suddenly on January 1, 2021 aged 65.

Lucinda Riley

Author and actress

Lucinda Kate Riley was born in Drumbeg, Co. Down. Aged five, her family moved to Leicestershire where Lucinda was brought up.

Riley’s first career was in acting — her best known role was Tracey in Auf Wiedersehen Pet. She then turned to writing popular fiction, winning numerous awards.

* Lucinda Riley was born on February 1965. She died of cancer on June 11, 2021 aged 56. She is survived by her husband Stephen Riley, two children by her first marriage, two by a second marriage and three stepchildren.

Businessman Sir Gerry Robinson died in October 2021

Gerry Robinson

Businessman, television presenter and administrator

Gerrard Jude Robinson was born in Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal, the ninth of ten children born to Anthony and Elizabeth Robinson, an Irish father and a Scottish mother. They moved to England in Gerry’s early teens.

His career path to becoming Chairman of the Arts Council England was idiosyncratic — he originally trained as Catholic priest, qualified as an accountant, had a spell at Matchbox Toys before becoming CEO of Granada and Allied Domecq.

* Gerry Robinson was born in Co. Donegal. He died in Letterkenny on October 14, 2021, at the age of 82.