Yesterday's Sunday Times reported on the coincidence between Tony Leen's report from Ceann Trá in the immediate aftermath of Páidí Ó Sé's death in December and Hugh McIlvanney's dispatch on the passing of Jock Stein in 1985. On Monday, December 17, Leen, one of Ireland's better sport journalists, published a long piece on Ó Sé's life that was also an homage to the great Scottish sportswriter whereby, in a modern parlance, Leen 'sampled' McIlvanney's typically elevated prose in order to draw a parallel between similar statures of PO and Stein in their respected home places. After a few weeks of chatter on Irish web forums over this, and yesterday's Sunday Times article, the Examiner has decided to edit the piece to credit McIlvanney in places where his words were borrowed.
The intro had read:
"The larcenous nature of death, its habit of breaking in on us when we are least prepared and stealing the irreplaceable, has seldom been more painfully experienced than on the roads and boithríns around West Kerry last night."
The Examiner have also credited McIlvanney's piece after a reference to Kerry people and "their highly-developed capacity for the elegiac mood, not least when there is a bottle or two about." Stein had wrote that "Scots have a highly developed capacity for the elegiac mood, especially when there is a bottle about."
The piece now reads:
In his iconic 1985 Observer tribute to Stein, McIlvanny wrote of the highly-developed Scottish capacity for the elegiac mood, not least when there is a bottle or two about. But the tall and true stories last night about an unique GAA legend indicated that West Kerry could accommodate such idiosyncrasies too.
There's also a credit to McIlvanney in the conclusion of the piece. McIlvanney closes his piece with an extended quote from Stein on working in a coal mine as a teenager.
"Down there for eight hours you're away from God's fresh air and sunshine and there's nothing that can compensate for that. There's nothing as dark as the darkness down a pit, the blackness that closes in on you if your lamp goes out. You'd think you would see some kind of shapes but you can see nothing, nothing but the inside of your head. I think everybody should go down the pit at least once to learn what darkness is..."
Leen had also riffed on the idea of 'real darkness' in his original piece, saying it was experienced throughout Ireland that weekend of Páidí's death:
But there were many others in all corners of Ireland yesterday who didn’t have to witness an especially black night in Ventry to know the meaning of real darkness.
These similarities were not mentioned in the Sunday Times story but the Examiner piece now concludes:
But as Mcilvanny might say, there were many others in all corners of Ireland yesterday who didn’t have to witness an especially black night in Ventry to know the meaning of real darkness.
The edits correct the "error to omission" that Leen that described in yesterday's Sunday Times. Leen, for his part, has never denied using McIlvanney's words when confronted on it over social media and even pointed readers to the similarities in the ending.
Other similarities between Leen and McIlvanney's pieces (McIlvanney says: "No one was ever likely to mistake him for saint, or even a repository of bland altruism. He could look after himself and his own in the market place or anywhere else.", while Leen writes of Páidí that "no-one was ever likely to mistake him for a saint, and he could look after himself and his own, on the pitch or in the marketplace."; McIlvanney writes that "a dynamic, combative quality to most of [Stein's] conversation...but when the subject was mining and miners, a tone of wistful reverie invaded his voice."; Leen says that there was a "mischievous, combative quality to most of [Ó Sé's] conversations — certainly the many I shared with him since I first thrust a notebook in his face, almost 30 years ago — but when the topic was Kerry football, as it invariably was, he was seldom less than deadly serious and respectful.") have not been revised.
Interestingly, McIlvanney's piece on Stein features the writer borrowing a line from his brother's novel. Here's how McIlvanney deals with recycling the words of others.
Even the common misery of unemployment has not halted the fragmentation of a sense of community that once seemed indestructible.
In an age when, if I may quote a line from my brother William's latest novel, it is as if 'every man and his family were a private company', Stein was the unpretentious embodiment of that older, better code that was until not so long ago the compensatory inheritance of all who were born of the labouring poor.
There are many other poignant moments in Leen's piece - talk of his father Con serving Páidí at the Garda Club on Harrington Street or of Páidí discovering "Tomás, Darragh, Marc, [Dara] Ó Cinnéide and Aodhan McGearailt in deep conversation" on "the morning of a final" and saying to them: "Fuck it, would ye scatter around the place at least." - that are entirely his own.
The lesson here for aspiring sports journalists is if you want to pay tribute to your heroes, just work in a mention of said hero somewhere in the piece.
You can read Leen's original article here.