Obituary by Dave O’Connell
Jim Fahy was a man of multiple paradoxes; a tall, imposing man who never sought to impose himself on anyone; an instantly recognizable face that only ever wanted to tell the story, never to be; a reporter for great international history… but just as happy to record the details of ordinary life.
Where there was no contradiction however, was in his commitment to his profession – his quest to bring the news to the masses, driven by a phenomenal work ethic, an insatiable desire to find the answers and a dedication to life to his role as RTÉ’s man in the West.
This dedication to his craft won him plaudits – his career was crowned with more than 40 awards for his work – but he always saw himself as the storyteller, never the story.
Like many of the best National Service broadcasters, he cut his teeth in the newspaper world – in Jim’s case, under the expert tutelage of Tuam Herald editor and owner JP Burke.
And he learned well from the Master, for in his 38 years as RTÉ’s first Western correspondent and Western editor, he set the standard for regional broadcasting, covering his journey with a curiosity and enthusiasm that never faded. never faded from the first to the last day.
His long-running series Looking West has rightly been named in recent days as his greatest legacy; those conversational documentaries that told – in first person and from memory – the story of Ireland through much of the past two centuries.
Always patient and stubborn, he would sit for hours and hours with those who could offer a direct line to the Famine – telling the stories they had heard from those who had lived through it.
Thus he opens a window, for example, into life in the Great Houses, chatting with those who dwell there – members of the aristocracy as well as servants – to gain insight into their lives and of the world around them.
He loved words – perhaps a throwback to his early days in print – but he also knew how to let a picture tell a story. And he also knew when to listen.
The past few days have also brought to mind his famous interview with the late Monsignor James Horan, set against the backdrop of JCB digging into the swampy mountain that would become Knock Airport, as he asked the question the world wanted – “Monsignor Horan, what exactly is going on here?”
“We’re building an airport…and we don’t have the money, but we hope to get it next week or the week after.”
You didn’t need an intrusion – just an ability to ask the question and step back to let the answer tell the story.
It has chronicled all of Galway’s great stories from the early 70s to 2011 – the rise and fall of Digital and the similar trajectory of Bishop Casey; All Ireland wins and loses; the Saw Doctors, Druid’s growth, the Arts Festival, the Races; the Brazilians in Gort; maritime tragedies; Christmas tears and farewells at Knock Airport; the Kiltartan floods and the Derrybrien mudslide; Michael D in the Dáil and the Áras – producing what good journalism is supposed to do…providing the first draft of the story.
The Kilreekill native who had long lived in Tuam was the station’s longest-serving regional correspondent when he retired in 2011. Truth be told, it wasn’t his decision; it was just the state broadcaster’s arbitrary policy of retiring people at age 65.
Typically, he wanted to disappear on the back of one last show – an article about Paul Fallon’s 1,000 mile charity run while at Oranmore on New Years Eve 2011, where he usually ran alongside, still posing questions as he tried to take his quiet leave.
But the great man was never going to be allowed to simply fade into the ether, and President Higgins led tributes to Jim in a personal message on Six One News that evening – saying how much he meant to us. miss and how Jim had accounted for everything. political, cultural and international events that had taken place in the West under his mandate as a journalist.
Fittingly, it was the speaker who once again led the tributes to Jim’s death this weekend, describing him as “one of Ireland’s finest broadcasters”.
“Jim will be most fondly remembered as the voice of RTÉ West of Ireland,” said Chairman Higgins.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin also took the time to remember “Jim Fahy’s distinct voice and eye for a story that revealed all facets of life in the West of Ireland, as well as the events major international events like 9/11”.
Because the man from Galway was one of the first European journalists to arrive in New York in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Galway and the West were his daily rhythm, but the world was his oyster.
He had interviewed Mother Teresa and visited Somalia with former President Mary Robinson in the late 1990s – a decade after producing a series of shows from London about this latest generation of young people to migrate to Britain .
Typical of the man, once retired he made no effort to stay in the limelight; instead, he enjoyed life with Christina, her children, and her grandchildren; he pursued his passion for sailing and reading – and while he left this world far too soon at just 75, he put a lifetime into every day.
The recurring tribute from so many of his colleagues – from RTÉ and the wider journalistic community – was the advice he generously lavished, the encouragement he ceaselessly offered and the praise he never failed to give when a job was well done.
He thrived on the big stories but never failed the little ones either; he moved in exalted circles but had a passion for the ordinary and the marginalized – a need to tell their story in his benevolent and inimitable way.
Jim Fahy died at his home in Gardenfield, outside Tuam, on Friday evening, surrounded as always by his beloved family. His requiem mass was held at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam on Monday, followed by burial in Kilbannon Cemetery.
He will miss his wife Christina the most, as will his son Shane, his daughter Aideen, his daughter-in-law Brenda, Aideen Colm’s fiancé, his cherished grandchildren Amy, Dylan, Hugh, Clodagh and Dara, his brother Pat and his wife Nora, his relatives, his friends – and everyone who knew him in the media world of which he was an integral part.