By Phil Murphy (also former Editor)
THE DEATH has occurred of Gerry Breen, former editor and long time contributor to Ireland’s Own. He spent most of his life in journalism and was a very highly regarded newsman for decades with People Newspapers, Wexford, publishers of Ireland’s Own since 1902, before he concluded his career as editor of the magazine.
Although he would have been 88 at the end of February, his death was sudden and totally unexpected as he passed away peacefully in his sleep. He had been in the office the previous day to collect his weekly copy of the newspaper and magazine to which he had devoted so much of his long and productive life.
Gerry left school at age 13 and a career in journalism seemed a remote possibility. But it was typical of the determination that was to be his hallmark that he continued his education while working by taking on every night class available to him. He began in People Newspapers in the mid 1950s and ended up as editor of the largest group in Irish provincial journalism.
He recalled cycling all over south county Wexford in the mid-1950s to cover small GAA matches at venues where facilities were non-existent for everybody. While the players had to change beside the ditch, the reporters had to do their best to record and protect their notes in rain and shine, then back to the office on the bike for the whole thing to be written up on cumbersome typewriters.
The report then went to the Linotype operators who had to type it up again in molten metal slugs that were then shaped into pages line by line. These methods had been largely unchanged for several centuries up to the introduction of computers, and all was changed forever.
Few businesses have undergone so much transformational changes in the last half century as newspaper production. Gerry may not have necessarily liked all the new methods, but he recognised their inevitability and he continually keep himself fully abreast of the latest developments.
He was noted for his meticulous approach and his dedication to accuracy and fair play. As a guide and counsellor to many young journalists over the years he imparted these values to them and many of them went on to work with the national media.
When the time came for Gerry to step down from the papers, he was very pleased to become editor of Ireland’s Own; he loved the magazine and saw it as part of his mission to preserve its special ethos and place in Irish life.
At the same time, he oversaw many changes at the magazine such as the introduction of colour throughout where black and white was the norm, and the number of pages and special issues was greatly increased.
That was Gerry Breen the busy working man. He also immersed himself in community activities in his native Wexford. He loved classical music and opera and performed with local societies, but he was also very happy to be part of any informal sing-songs that sprang up.
He was a man of strong faith and was very involved with helping out church and school, including Meals on Wheels and anything where volunteers were needed.
In the past decade he took on the task of editing and producing the Rosslare Historical Journal. Needless to say, he did a superb job on this also as he recognised the importance of recording significant events past and present and creating an archive for those who will come after him.
While all his work was important to Gerry, his number one priority was always his family. Local Wexford girl Marie Kelly was his beloved wife for 57 years and they had six children who have all been a credit to them – Colm, Áine, Brendan, Cíarán, Nollaig and Carol – and they produced many grandchildren all of whom were treasured by Marie and Gerry.
He is also survived by his brother, Laurence, and his wife Brigid. RIP