In September, Cork mourned the late, great Billa O’Connell, who passed away at the age of 91.
The singer and entertainer had a career spanning 70 years, regularly dazzling audiences at the Cork Opera House. The Taoiseach described Billa as “iconic” and “quintessential Cork” in paying tribute.
Paddy Moloney, the founder of the Chieftains and a giant of Irish traditional music, died in October at the age of 83.
Mick Jagger said Moloney was the “greatest uileann piper on the planet”, while President Michael D Higgins noted his “extraordinary skills as an instrumentalist” and hailed his role in “bringing a greater appreciation of Irish music and culture internationally”.
Eurovision songwriter Shay Healy died on 9 April 2021. Mr Healy had written What’s Another Year, which Johnny Logan sang to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980.
Bagatelle singer and songwriter Liam Reilly died in January of this year, at the age of 65. Irish musician Gerry Madigan recalled pitching the song Summer in Dublin to The Late Late Show in 1980 and said it helped to showcase Liam’s ability to a wider audience.
“He gave the world such amazing songs, shared his talent generously, and those songs and his music will go on forever – the music never dies,” Mr Madigan said.
In the political sphere, tributes came in across that spectrum to Des O’Malley, the former leader and founder of the Progressive Democrats who died in July at the age of 82.
Described as a man of “huge integrity,” his former party colleague Mary Harney said that “at a very troubled time in our country, his bravery was rare”.
Former Labour TD and Cork Lord Mayor Toddy O’Sullivan died earlier this month at the age of 87. Labour leader Alan Kelly said “Cork has lost a true gentleman, and someone who has always worked hard for his city”.
Another Labour figure, Mervyn Taylor, died in September this year at the age of 89. Tributes came from across the political spectrum, and he will be remembered as the man who brought through the divorce referendum in 1995 that “helped change Ireland for the better” according to Mr Kelly.
Ireland lost two of its finest ever poets in October 2021.
Máire Mhac an tSaoi, the Irish language poet and pioneering scholar, died at the age of 99, while poet and novelist Brendan Kennelly died aged 85.
President Higgins called Ms Mhac an tSaoi “one of our most gifted, creative writers” and said that Mr Kennelly “brought so much resonance, insight, and the revelation of the joy of intimacy to the performance of his poems and to gatherings in so many parts of Ireland”.
Pat Hume, the widow of the late SDLP leader John Hume who had passed a year earlier, died in September. Tributes recognised the role she had played in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
Hillary Clinton described her as a “gracious, determined force behind the achievement of peace in Ireland”.
Another SDLP stalwart Austin Currie died in November of this year at the age of 82. One of the co-founders of the SDLP, the Northern Ireland civil rights activist had also been a Fine Gael TD.
His family said: “Our Daddy was wise, brave and loving and we thank him for the values that he lived by and instilled in us. He was our guiding star who put the principles of peace, social justice and equality first.
Also in September, cervical cancer campaigner Eileen Rushe died at the age of 35. She died at St Francis Hospice in Blanchardstown in Dublin, surrounded by her family. The Irish Cancer Society described her as inspirational, and said she was a “truly wonderful person who left a profound impression on all who had the privilege of knowing her”.
Joan Lucey, who’d been suing the HSE and two labs over her smear slides, died in February at the age of 73. The Kerrywoman had been suffering from cervical cancer, and family said her dying wish was to “hold the HSE accountable”.
Former RTÉ radio DJ and TV host Simon Young died at the age of 62 after a long illness. Young, whose real name was Thomas Meade, started his career in the 70s on pirate radio before moving to the State broadcaster.
Journalist Rodney Rice passed away in August of this year, at the age of 76, and tributes were led by the President and Taoiseach.
Best known for presenting RTÉ Radio’s The Saturday View for over 20 years, President Higgins in particular praised him for being “one of the earliest, bravest and most consistent voices in opposing Apartheid in South Africa”.
His fellow RTÉ broadcaster Donncha Ó Dúlaing also died this year, at the age of 88, in September. The Corkman had been on the airwaves for over 50 years, and the Taoiseach praised his ability to bring “joy to his loyal listeners over the decades”.
In December, tributes poured in from around the world to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died at the age of 91.
President Higgins said Archbishop Tutu was a “man of profound wisdom and as a character that emphasised hope and possibility”.
In April 2021, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth bid farewell to her husband Prince Philip. He was 99.
A full State funeral was held for the Duke of Edinburgh, the longest serving royal consort in British history.
Gaining notoriety later in life, Britain bid a fond farewell to Captain Tom Moore, who died at the age of 100 after testing positive for Covid-19. His efforts had helped to raise over £30 million for the NHS after Covid first hit in March 2020. He died in early January.
Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding passed away from cancer in September of this year, at the age of 39.
Her mother Marie said: “Many of you will know of Sarah’s battle with cancer and that she fought so strongly from her diagnosis until her last day… I know she won’t want to be remembered for her fight against this terrible disease – she was a bright shining star and I hope that’s how she can be remembered instead.”
Popular British comedian Sean Lock died at the age of 58 in August of this year. The TV star died from cancer. Known for his deadpan humour, tributes hailed an “incredible comic brain” and a “truly unique voice”.
The unique sound of The Rolling Stones may not have existed if it hadn’t been for the iconic drummer Charlie Watts who died in August of this year at the age of 80.
Phil Spector, the American music producer who’d worked with the likes of the Beatles and Tina Turner, died in January at the age of 81. He died in jail in California, where he’d been serving a prison sentence for murder.
In April, American rapper and actor DMX died. The 50-year-old, whose real name was Earl Simmons, had suffered a heart attack just a few days earlier. His family said his music “inspired countless fans and his iconic legacy will live on forever”.
Iconic US talk show host Larry King died in January, at the age of 87, due to complications from Covid-19.
Mr King was best known for his long-running CNN show, and had spent 63 of his years as a broadcaster, interviewing world leaders and celebrities over a number of decades.
Beloved comedian Norm McDonald died in September. He was 61. The former Saturday Night Live writer and performer had had cancer for nine years. David Letterman had described McDonald as funny “in a way that some people inhale and exhale”.
The founder of Hustler magazine Larry Flynt died in February at the age of 78. The self-proclaimed “smut peddler who cares” had won a landmark US Supreme Court case over free speech rights and the protection of satire.
Michael Collins, the NASA astronaut who piloted the Apollo 11 spacecraft during the Moon landing in 1969, died in April of this year at the age of 90.
Beloved actor Christopher Plummer died in February at the age of 91. His career spanning many decades, Mr Plummer had starred in 1965’s The Sound of Music and went on to star in more modern films such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Knives Out.
The world of film also lost legendary director Richard Donner, who died in July at the age of 91. Mr Donner had directed films such as the 1978 Superman film, The Goonies, Scrooged and the Lethal Weapon series.
Actor Helen McCrory, who’d starred in the likes of the Harry Potter films and Peaky Blinders, died in April at aged 52 from cancer. Her husband, and fellow actor, Damien Lewis described her as a “beautiful and mighty woman” who “died as she lived – fearlessly”.
Hal Holbrook, a veteran actor and certainly one of those “oh that guy” actors, died in January at the age of 95. He’d appeared in movies ranging from The Fog, to Wall Street, to The Firm to Lincoln.
Sex And The City actor Willie Garson died in September at the age of 57.
Michael K Williams, who starred as Omar Little in The Wire, died in September at the age of 54. He was described as a “fine man and a rare talent”.
Jessica Walter, perhaps best known for her role as Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development, died in March at the age of 80.
Another well-known figure from our TV screens, particularly for a certain generation, was Saved By The Bell actor Dustin Diamond who died aged 44 in February. Co-star Mark-Paul Gosselaar hailed him as a “true comedic genius”.
There were a number of deaths in the US political sphere in 2021.
Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld died in June at the age of 88. He is best remembered for helping to lead the US into war in Afghanistan and Iraq when George W Bush was President of the United States.
Colin Powell, another senior Bush figure, died in October from Covid-19 complications. The former Secretary of State was described by his family as a “remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American”.
Walter Mondale, vice president in the Carter administration, died aged 93, while former Republican presidential candidate and senator Bob Dole died in December at the age of 98.
Among the all-time greats of Cork GAA, Seánie O’Leary, died this month at the age of 69. Team-mate Denis Coughlan paid tribute to Seánie’s character, describing him as “the life and soul of the dressing room” as well as to his hurling prowess — he scored 30 goals in 36 senior championship games while racking up nine Munster titles, four All-Irelands, and three All Stars.
John O’Keeffe also died this year, at the age of 95. He was club captain in 1948 when Millstreet got the better of St Vincent’s to win their only County Championship crown. He also captained Cork to the Munster championship in the same year.
Tim Hayes died in April this year at the age of 74. The Clonakilty footballer won one Munster title in his time on the senior panel, and won two Munster championships at U21 level.
Donal Sheehan, who died in July aged 81, had one Munster hurling title and one All-Ireland to his name.
Theo English, heralded as one of Tipp’s finest hurlers, died in January at the age of 90 with seven Munster titles and five All-Ireland’s to his name.
Limerick’s Ned Rea died at the age of 77. The Faughs man had won one All-Ireland and two Munster titles.
James McCartan Sr was another fine GAA player who passed away in 2021. The Down footballer won six Ulster titles and was a major figure in the All-Ireland victories of 1960 and 1961.
Jerry Kiernan, Irish long-distance runner and coach, died at the age of 67 in January. Also a popular broadcast commentator, tributes were paid to Mr Kiernan from across the sporting spectrum, including a powerful and emotional tribute from Ciara Mageean on the Second Captains podcast.
Germany lost one of its greatest ever footballers in August, when Gerd Muller passed away.
Nicknamed Der Bomber, the 75-year-old had won the World Cup and European Championship with West Germany, as well as the European Cup three times with Bayern Munich.
England also lost a star striker this year, as the legendary Spurs forward Jimmy Greaves died at the age of 81. Following his career, which involved him heartbreakingly missing out on appearing in England’s only World Cup Final, he became a popular TV personality with the show Saint and Greavsie.
Even for those who aren’t fans of the sport, it’s highly likely that the voice of F1 commentator Murray Walker was instantly recognisable for many. He died in March of this year, at the age of 97.
Also in the world of F1, Williams racing founder Frank Williams died in November at the age of 79.