The former Irish Times columnist Michael Viney has died at the age of 90.
The journalist, broadcaster, painter and natural-history author wrote his first article for The Irish Times in May 1962, about leaving London, where he worked for the Evening Standard newspaper, to spend a sabbatical year living in a cottage in Connemara.
“I’m going to write and I’m going to see if I’m a painter,” he said. “I’ll supplement my larder by fishing ... I can cook, anyway ... I’ll be a different person in a year’s time.”
It was the start of a relationship with The Irish Times and its readers that lasted more than 60 years. In 1977, after covering social affairs for the newspaper, he moved with his wife, Ethna, and their daughter, Michele, from Dublin to Thallabawn, in Co Mayo, to live as self-sufficiently as they could in a house on an acre of land by the Atlantic Ocean.
Speaking to Fintan O’Toole in September 2022, Viney said: “I’m an atheist: nothing comes after. Accepting the role of chance, in both human and natural worlds, is something I’ve learned to live with.
“A bit of Zen might have soothed one’s cosmic insignificance, but I preferred the science of Gaia, the late James Lovelock’s inspirational concept of the Earth as a living organism.”
Environment and science editor Kevin O’Sullivan, a former editor of The Irish Times, said Viney was above all “an environmentalist of global standing”, who was acutely conscious of the impact of humans on Planet Earth – especially on its biodiversity and ecosystems – while also recognising their capacity to do good, whether through restoring nature, tackling the climate crisis or living sustainably.
He added: “His journalism was reinforced by his immense understanding of science and a remarkable ability to communicate with clarity; not just the written word but also the spoken word; the medium of film and his compelling art that captured the essence of species inhabiting our world.”
On Wednesday, President Michael D Higgins said Viney “made a monumental contribution to making people across Ireland aware of the richness of natural life”.
“His work too in journalism, along with that of his equally talented wife Ethna Viney, brought a joy to so many people across the generations, be it on landscape or technology.
“Together with his weekly writing and accompanying drawings in his ‘Another Life’ column, it is appropriate too that he is being remembered for his work travelling through Northern Ireland in 1964 as well as, in particular, his pioneering examination of the barbarisms being inflicted on young people in industrial and reformatory schools. As has already been noted, these will remain a vital historical record of the fact that many of these wrongs were committed in full public view, and sadly with the complicity of inaction on the part of so many.
“He will be deeply missed.”