Des Lynam recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and Seán Creedon looks back on the life and career of the Co. Clare boy who grew up to present Match of the Day, Grandstand and Countdown.
Down through the years many Irish-born people have made it big in the entertainment business in England. I’m thinking of names like Eamonn Andrews, Terry Wogan, Val Doonican, The Bachelors, Dave Allen and Graham Norton.
I’m not forgetting Des Lynam. Not everybody in Ireland would realise that Lynam was born in County Clare as he had ‘lost’ his Clare accent by the time he got to present long-running programmes like Grandstand, Match of the Day, The Aintree Grand National and Wimbledon on BBC.
Lynam was without doubt one of the best sports broadcasters in Britain, truly unflappable, with a great sense of occasion and impeccable comic timing.
Desmond Michael Lynam was born in Ennis on September 17, 1942. His mother, Gertrude Veronica Malone, was from the town, while his father Edward Lynam hailed from Borris-in-Ossory in Laois.
Both of his parents came from large families; Gertrude came from a family of eight, while there were 15 children in the Lynam family. Des’s paternal grandfather, Joseph Lynam, was a signalman on the railway, while his maternal grandfather, Packo Malone, was a farrier who played hurling and Gaelic football for the Banner.
Both parents had moved to England to train as nurses in Bournemouth. They moved to Brighton where his father had become a senior mental health nurse at the Brighton General Hospital. But Edward was called up for National Service and was sent to Northern Ireland. So his mother went back home to Ennis where she gave birth to Des. Then his father was posted to the Far East, and Des didn’t meet his dad until he was four years old.
In his book I Should Have Been at Work (HarperCollins, 2005), Des described the moment his dad returned from the Far East. He said:
‘‘Then one day, a good-looking man in a grey pin-striped suit and a trilby hat arrived at the front door, picked me up in arms and kissed me on the cheek. This was an invasion of privacy, and he was paying a rather undue amount of attention to my mother as well. I cried my eyes out.’’
While in Ennis, Des’s mother also gave birth to a girl name Anne, but she died of meningitis after six weeks, and the family returned to Brighton where they were allocated a council house.
Des attended a St John the Baptist Catholic church in Brighton, where his classmates couldn’t understand his strong Irish accent. Being a Catholic school there was religious instruction for about an hour each day. Des said he kept hearing about the Immaculate Conception many years before he knew what immaculate or conception meant, never mind the two of them together.
In September 1954, Des moved to Varndean Grammar School where his new classmates told him all about local soccer club, Brighton and Hove Albion. And he has been a fan of the Seagulls ever since.