Loss of a Legend

January 18, 2016

By Christine Keighery

In a week where the world mourned the death of the legendary David Bowie, the people of Newry were plunged into grief at the passing of their very own legend –  Gabby Curran.

Tributes poured in for the much loved, larger-than-life character who lost his battle with cancer last Thursday morning.  News of his passing prompted an outpouring of grief and sympathies for the family of the man described by some as “an icon of Newry.”

On Saturday at noon, the city came to a standstill for his moving send-off as Newry people turned out in force to bid their final farewell to the hugely popular character. Gabby’s image displayed on the city’s big screen seemed to gaze down on his funeral cortege, led by a Scania lorry in honour of his truck driving days, as it made its way along Hill Street for Requiem Mass in Newry Cathedral.

Remembered during Mass for the countless lives he touched and the people he helped; as a happy, joyful man who loved life and always had a story to tell, a resounding applause echoed throughout the historic church for several minutes as his coffin was carried out for the journey to his final resting place in St Mary’s cemetery.

The 63 year old father-of-five was well known to music lovers throughout the country and his love of showband music in particular led to an encylopedic knowledge of the era and its stars which was in a league of its own. Gabby made many friends in the scene and attended the 40th Anniversary of the Miami Showband massacre last year.

His tireless work for the community began at an early age with his involvement in the civil rights movement and he was active in the republican movement in the early 1970s. The love for his community remained with him throughout his life and he initiated and took part in various charitable drives over the years. Most recently he raised thousands for Macmillan Cancer via a coffee morning in the Canal Court as a way of giving back to the charity who had helped him during his cancer battle.

His love of big trucks led him to a truck driving role for many years.  He was one of the first people in Ireland to drive a big American style truck and it became somewhat of an attraction for lorry drivers around the country who flocked to see the big rig. When he fell ill last year Gabby’s trucker friends rallied to set up a fundraiser held in his honour.

The avid music fan and raconteur was a regular contributor to radio phone-in programmes and a familiar face at music gigs everywhere.  He combined his interest in radio by DJ-ing in several pirate radio stations around the border over the years and in September 2013 he set up the Newry Community Radio station which provided listeners with the best in music mixed with chat from a state-of-the-art studio at the White Gates Community Centre in Newry.    Gabby used the medium to promote local talent of all kinds. One local musician who received such support from Gabby described him as “a genuine altruist in every sense of the word”.  Well known guitarist and singer, Mickey Murphy said he was “so sad” to hear about the passing of his good friend and added,

“He was always very supportive to me as an artist over the years and we had some great laughs, especially the day he took me and a group of other local musicians to Áras an Uachtaráin to meet the President. It was a surreal event typical of his larger than life character.”

That Presidential visit was also remembered by another of Gabby’s friends, Patricia Gorman Feehan, who posted a photo of the event to her Facebook page to recall the “very special day, one of many that Gabby organised for local musicians.”

“I remember at the time Gabby said ‘Isn’t it better to celebrate what these wonderful people have achieved with them instead of talking about them at their grave’” she said.

Gabby’s musical connections led him to meet a number of famous faces over the years and he was well known as “a friend to the stars.”  Collecting autographs became a hobby of his and he had a wealth of celebrity stories and anecdotes that he loved to share.  His brother, former Newry councillor Brendan Curran, revealed that Gabby knew film star Maureen O’Hara and was a regular visitor to her house in Cork.

“He bought old posters off the internet and got her to sign them.

“He was hoping to get a ransom for them and now they festoon the walls of his house” said Brendan.

Mr Curran said his brother “knew everybody in Newry and he knew everything about them” and his loss will be sorely felt.”

Throughout the week, social media was awash with tributes and stories about the man described as someone “who truly loved life.” Stunned and saddened by his death, friends remembered him as “one of a kind” and “a pure gentleman.”

“An icon of Newry has gone to the great gig in the sky,” wrote one friend while another remembered him as someone who “definitely didn’t go through life unnoticed. The world will be a smaller place without you.”

As the city stood still on Saturday to witness the final journey of Gabby Curran, there was a palpable feeling of loss and an unspoken knowledge that Newry would never see his like again.