RIP Johnny O'Boyle: The man who first brought GAA games to British screens

RIP Johnny O'Boyle: The man who first brought GAA games to British screens

THE PIONEERING Irishman who first brought televised GAA games to the masses in Britain has passed away at home in Ruislip following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Johnny O’Boyle - who was christened Patrick - will be remembered by many as the man who, along with co-directors of Gaelic Telesport Pat Whelan and Paddy Coyne, brought the All-Ireland games to British screens via closed circuit TV in the 1970s.

After launching the initiative in London in the pre-Setanta days of 1973, the games were later transmitted to cinemas and halls around the country, including venues in Coventry, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, before the signal was also beamed to the US and Australia.

But the Co Kerry-man, a native of Listowel who was born on St Patrick’s Day in 1928, added many more strings to his bow after arriving in England at the age of 18.

“Dad was a larger than life character who touched so many hearts with his warmth, enthusiasm and humour. A wonderful singer who was also a boxer, a comedian and a band leader who, when times were hard, could turn his hand to a bit of plumbing and building,” his daughter Dana London told The Irish Post.

Diagnosed with cancer 14 years ago, Johnny died at home in Ruislip this month, just days after reaching his 87th birthday.

“Dad died just before midnight on March 19,” Ms London confirmed.

“As he was driven away in a private ambulance the next morning the new moon was in Pisces - his star sign - and we experienced a solar eclipse, the like of which hadn't been seen for 19 years, which somehow seems wholly appropriate and fitting for a man of his character.”

Having enlisted in the Irish army as a teenager – using his older brother John’s birth certificate, he headed for England at the age of 18, where he signed up for the Royal Air Force.

He would later find lodgings in Kilburn, north London, where he went on to become something of a local amateur boxing star.

“Dad survived 140 fights before turning his attention to a career on stage,” Ms London explained.

“The family has received many warm messages of condolence from his friends in the boxing fraternity this week,” she added.

But it was his lengthy career in the entertainment industry - which saw Johnny tour the world with the The Johnny O'Boyle Show Band and as a professional comedian – that kept him most active in later life.

More recently the man described as an “an indubitable spirit” by his family continued to entertain those who loved him - largely from the Ruislip home he shared with his second wife, the former Irish folk singer Joan Courtney.

“A bon viveur and raconteur, Dad loved nothing more than to entertain in his garden,” his daughter added.

“Family parties were legendary and there are many treasured memories of him at the BBQ, tongs in one hand, glass of wine in the other, regaling everyone with his outrageous stories.”

Johnny O'Boyle leaves behind his wife Joan, daughters Dana, Fiona and Shivaun, five grandchildren, great-grandchildren, wider family and many friends around the world.

His funeral will be held at 11 am on Tuesday, April 7 at Breakspear Crematorium in Ruislip.