I was saddened to hear of the passing last week of a highly-regarded Roscommon-born newspaperman, the charismatic Vinnie Mahon. He was remembered this week as a key behind-the-scenes influence during a period of immense growth at the Irish Independent – and also as the founder of the very successful Roscommon Drama Festival.
I had the pleasure of meeting Vinnie a few times and can vouch for his deep love for his native county. He started out in journalism with the Roscommon Champion and later worked as Chief Sub-Editor with the Irish Independent for close to three decades.
Vincent (Vinnie) Mahon (81) died in Dublin on Wednesday, June 27th last, following a period of illness. He was, as the Irish Independent put it, “old school” and “a newspaperman to his fingertips”.
Fondly remembered by his many friends in his native Roscommon town, the late Vinnie Mahon was described this week as “Mr. Roscommon Drama Festival”.
Past and current members of Roscommon Drama Group were this week fulsome in their praise of the vision, energy and drive shown by Vinnie in the early years of the Roscommon Drama Festival.
Benny Mulhern and Tom Smyth spoke of their late friend’s great legacy as the driving force behind the Drama Festival.
Tom Smyth recalls: “We had been going to drama festivals in places like Ballinrobe and Tubbercurry. Vinnie said: ‘Why can’t we do this and be as good?’”
In 1960, Vinnie organised a meeting in the CYMS Club in Roscommon – and a drama group was formed. Later, he organised an annual Drama Festival, with the first one being held in the old Royal Cinema.
Vinnie was the first secretary, while the first chairman was well-known pharmacist Simon McGuinness.
They were good times. Benny: “When visiting groups had finished performing, we’d all go to the Harrison Hall for a singsong and refreshments!”
Both men wished to emphasise that Roscommon Drama Festival simply wouldn’t have been started were it not for the vision, determination and people skills of Vinnie Mahon.
Career-wise, Vinnie started out in journalism with the Quigley family at the Roscommon Champion.
The Irish Independent reported last weekend: “His first article was published in the ‘Roscommon Champion’ at the age of 12…he barged his way up through the ranks as only he might. He was cut from a cloth that remained rough around the edges but had a unique style and quality”.
At the Irish Independent, which he joined in the 1970s, Vinnie rose to the role of Chief Sub-Editor. The newspaper had a golden era under the editorship of the late Vinnie Doyle. Donal Keenan, another Roscommon town native and a prominent national journalist and author, said this week that “in many ways, Vinnie (Mahon) was Vinny Doyle’s right-hand man”.
Donal described Vinnie Mahon as “an old school journalist…like in those old movies, when you see a journalist behind a desk…who never gets out on the street…those guys are central to the mechanics of a newspaper. Vinnie was like that; he was very highly valued by successive editors.
“He had old school values, he absolutely loved print, he was the classic newspaperman”.
Speaking to the Roscommon People on Tuesday, Donal recalled that he worked with Vinnie in the old Irish Independent offices in Middle Abbey Street for a period.
“Any time I met him in a corridor he’d always stop and talk about Roscommon. He loved Roscommon. He’d ask about the football team or he’d chat about some character back home like his good friend Nicholas Smyth”.
On the few occasions that I met Vinnie Mahon, he relished talking about newspapers – and Roscommon. He was a proud Roscommon man, a great newspaperman and, indeed, ‘Mr. Roscommon Drama Festival’.
The late Vincent (Vinnie) Mahon of Kingswood and formerly of Lanesboro Street, Roscommon is mourned by his wife Bridie, son Ted, daughter Eileen, brothers Gerard, Cyril and Des, further relatives and many friends, to whom sincere sympathy is extended. May he rest in peace.
In a statement, Roscommon Drama Group said: “We were saddened to hear of the death of Vinnie Mahon, who was responsible for starting Roscommon Drama Festival in 1960. His vision and hard work established an event that has become synonymous with Roscommon. We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Bridie, daughter Eileen, son Ted and extended family and friends”.