I first met Brendan O’Neill in the summer of 1970. I was still a secondary student and had landed a summer job in the Reading Room of the Cork Examiner (now the Irish Examiner).
Over the next few months I gravitated towards Brendan, drawn by his quiet demeanor and his interest in writing. He it was who introduced me to Donal Foley’s Man Bites Dog column in the Irish Times, a paper we didn’t buy in the Hickey household at the time.
The Reading Room was then the proofreading section, where everything printed in the paper from stock prices to news, sport and advertising, were checked and corrected before publication. As copyholders, us young lads were paired with older readers: five pairs on days, five on nights. There was a certain tension between us given the generational divide, so Brendan being quieter, like myself, was a natural fit for me. Even then you could see he was more level-headed than the rest of, more literate, less exuberant too. He was also two years older than me.
Pretty soon the months flew by and it was time for me to head back to my final year at school. I left with a half-promise that I might find a permanent job there because I knew I loved this world of newspapers and I wanted to make my career there.
So I left and promptly lost touch with Brendan. It would be almost two years before I again found myself in the Reading Room and reacquainted myself with Brendan. After what seemed like an age, but was probably only about 12-18 months, Brendan was transferred to the Editorial Department, and the world of sub-editors. There was very little interaction betweens subs and copy holders, and I kind of lost touch with Brendan yet again. It wasn’t until January 1977 that I finally landed my dream job in the Editorial, renewing my friendship with Brendan.
Pretty soon we could be found taking breaks together in Le Chateau, Kealy’s, or The Grand Circle, talking about books, running our eyes over the women, pontificating about the world in general and having a good laugh. I still have this image of Brendan holding a pint with one hand, the other ensconced in his pocket, his eyes scanning the bar for some talent!
Occasionally we’d have a meal in the Maharajah as breaks were pretty relaxed back then. After a couple of pints Brendan might just light up a cigarette – he didn’t smoke otherwise – and could surprise you with a burst of invective. Once asked to edit a list of tax defaulters, he looked at the endless reams of paper and said to the Editor Fergus O’Callaghan, “I’m not editing a f…ing telephone directory.” Exit a flustered editor who ended up having to do the job himself.
Brendan didn’t suffer fools gladly, and could be quite straight with his opinions at times – but then I can be a frightful bore, and he was only stating the obvious. I was in awe of him, of his coolness at work, his professionalism as a sub.
When Liam Moher took over as chief sub, he quickly brought Brendan and myself under his wing, and had us promoted to assistant chief sub editors. He then allowed us, under his supervision, to design our own front pages, which was a pretty big deal at the time.
Brendan and I played musical chairs with jobs. For a time I was his boss, then he became mine, then the roles reversed. It never affected our friendship. All through those years we never had a major row. However, he does think I’m a bit of a right-winger, and I scold him for his a la carte socialism. It’s a standing joke.
He was at my wedding, of course, and it was a surprise to me that I beat him to the altar. Trish and I were at his wedding to Anne not long afterwards. I’m glad to say that all four of us are wonderful friends. We watched each other’s children grow up and shared many highs and lows. We’ve also shared many fantastic nights out, filled with laughter and great conversations. We were always there for one another. Always.
When I left the Examiner Editorial in October 2000 for day work we never lost touch, arranging to meet up monthly for a meal and a few drinks. Of course all four of us would meet for the occasional night out.
Unsurprisingly, we both took redundancy at the same time, and marked the occasion with a lunch together. We promised to stay in touch afterwards, and we have every month.
Strangely enough we never holidayed together until recent years, but made up for lost time with trips to Berlin, Barcelona and Lanzarote a few times. In fact that first venture to Lanzarote with them was to celebrate his 60th birthday.
In a few weeks Brendan will mark his 65th birthday and we’ll all be together again in Lanzarote toasting a wonderful guy and my best friend. Those 46 years have flown by, but to know we are still friends is one of the joys of my life.