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Tributes Paid to Marine Journalist and Activist Arthur Reynolds

19th March 2023
Irish Marine Journalist and Activist Arthur Reynolds
Irish Marine Journalist and Activist Arthur Reynolds

Tributes have been paid to marine journalist and former BIM board member Arthur Reynolds, who died peacefully at the age of 93 in Blackrock, Dublin, earlier this month.

Reynolds, who is originally from Dublin, was a keen sailor and a long-time advocate of the fishing industry.

During his career, he was a senior sub-editor at The Irish Times, while publishing the monthly magazine, The Irish Skipper, which he founded in 1964. 

He was also publisher from the mid-1970s of a separate magazine for marine leisure, Ireland Afloat, and a long-time member of the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club (DMYC).

Former Tánaiste and  Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said he was “saddened to hear the news of Arthur’s death”.

“ I have known him over several decades, as a journalist, a man of the sea, a supportive constituent, and a friend, “Mr Gilmore said on

Maritime artist Pete Hogan said that “Arthur was a supporter and mentor to me over many years”.

Arthur Reynolds with Lorna Siggins (on phone) and Breeda Murphy (on helm) during a circumnavigation of Ireland for The Irish Times in 1995 (Photo Frank Miller who was also on the crew)

Arthur Reynolds with Lorna Siggins (on phone) and Breeda Murphy (on helm) during a circumnavigation of Ireland for The Irish Times in 1995 (Photo Frank Miller who was also on the crew)

“He encouraged me and commissioned me to paint many marine paintings over the years, both his own yachts and other peoples. May he rest in peace,” Hogan and his family said.

Muriel and Ken Ryan of Dalkey described him as a “well-known figure on the waterfront” and “an absolute gentleman”.

“Can you imagine the boisterous welcome that he will get " up above " from the former members of the DMYC that have already left us, to name a few -, Frank Ryan, Geoff Bowers, Bob Geldof, Norman Binns, Roy Starkey, Joyce O'Brien and so many more”, they wrote.

Former marine minister Pat The Cope Gallagher expressed “deepest sympathy to Arthur’s relatives and friends”, said he  “knew him well during my time in marine”, and said he was “never afraid to express an opinion”.

Brian Byrne, based in Texas, USA, as a senior IT manager, said Reynolds was “a mentor that inspired my path through local sailing, onto the Asgard II sail training ship, and into the merchant marine”. 

"I met Arthur as a boy in the 1980s as he needed extra hands packing and mailing the Irish Skipper from his office in Lansdowne Road,” Byrne recalled.

“I sailed and toiled (!) with Arthur aboard Gulliver around the Irish, English and French coasts for many years with him, punctuated by endless hours scrubbing decks and boat bottoms under his regime (complete with tea and biscuits!),” he said.

“I often look back on these happy times, and am forever grateful for the wonderful teaching, fun and wisdom afforded to me by this generous man. He taught me to use a halyard and a hammer, the value of a pound and of a friendship. I would not be the man or father that I am without his influence,” Byrne said.

There have also been tributes from former Irish Times colleagues, a number of whom attended his cremation at a humanist service in Mount Jerome, Dublin, on March 15th.

Reynolds attributed his interest in the sea and its potential to maritime historian Dr John de Courcy Ireland, one of his teachers at school. He was also inspired by his uncle Willie Walters who survived not one but two shipwrecks.

He was also a sculptor and a storyteller, a keen traveller and a gardener who also built two houses.  Having sailed all his life, he and his third wife, Borghild Lieng, undertook several sea passages on the Norwegian sail training ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl when he was in his eighties.

 He was born in Leeson Street, Dublin, on Christmas Day, 1929, the only son of an Irish mother and an English father who, as an electrical engineer and pioneer radio manufacturer, introduced several electrical innovations to Ireland, including x-ray, and had interests in early cinemas.

He spent ten years at St Patrick’s Cathedral grammar school in Dublin. Selected for the school choir, his talent for singing meant that he was kept from classes and he felt that his education suffered.  It turned him against music for a time, until he developed a love for Irish traditional music much later. He didn’t sit the Intermediate or Leaving Certificate exams.

He took up angling and would ride on coal barges along the canals, and he also ran a number of enterprises while still a student. These included selling minnows to angling shops, used light bulbs to a factory in Bray, gull eggs to restaurants, and horse manure to Dublin homes when the then government urged people to grow their own vegetables.

 Dr John de Courcy Ireland, one of his school teachers, was a major early influence. It was through de Courcy Ireland that Reynolds’s lifelong involvement in left-wing politics began, and he met Justin Keating, former Labour energy minister, through the Promethean Society, a left-wing student group.

His first job was selling cars in a garage owned by racing motorcyclist Stanley Woods. As a result of a model he made of one of these cars, he pursued an education for a time in art and spent a year at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

 He moved to London, where he became secretary of the Hampstead branch of the Communist Party. He then became involved in journalism, selling advertising for The Daily Worker newspaper. He was active in the Connolly Association, and campaigned for the return of the Hugh Lane paintings to Ireland – speaking at Hyde Park Corner on the issue.

Fintan Reynolds with his father Arthur on Dun Laoghaire's West pier

Fintan Reynolds with his father Arthur on Dun Laoghaire's West pier

It was through a shared interest in left-wing politics that he met Stephanie Rayner in London in 1954. After they married, they moved with Stephanie’s daughter, Anne, to Dublin, where he secured a job in the Irish Press, and the couple had a son, Fintan.  

 In 1955, just 18 months after joining The Irish Press, Reynolds was “bought out”, as he put it, by The Irish Times at an above-rate salary. In 1959, he built a house in Coliemore Road, Dalkey, largely with his own hands, on a site considered impossible for construction.

The house, still standing,  was built on five pillars for £3,000 (Irish pounds). It took four years to complete and made one of the highest prices for a three-bed home in Ireland when it sold in 1970.

He believed the fishing industry represented Ireland’s best economic hope – Ireland’s “blue fields” as he termed it. Frustrated with slow progress after 19 years of political involvement, he started a magazine dedicated to development of the Irish fishing industry.

After an initial four-year start-up period, The Irish Skipper turned out to be a sound financial success.  He had already established a reputation for reporting on marine affairs in The Irish Times, where his full-time post was then in production, in charge of the paper’s city edition.

He joined the Labour Party, and was a correspondent for the Russian news agency TASS for a time before it appointed its own staff correspondents.  

The Irish Skipper had become a voice for the commercial fishing industry at a time of considerable expansion of the Irish fleet. The publication opposed Ireland’s decision to join the EU in 1973, mainly because of the impact on some of the richest waters in Europe off this coast and the unsatisfactory handling by Irish negotiators of accession terms in relation to fisheries.

Reynolds felt the magazine’s stance was vindicated when Ireland, with 16 per cent of EU waters at that time, was awarded just over four per cent of the annual catch.

He acted as  a mediator when a dispute broke out between trawlers from the Republic and from Northern Ireland fishing off Dunmore East, Co Waterford, for herring.   He also supported a plan in 1972 for a  multi-million euro oil refinery in Dublin Bay, arguing that it might offer Ireland a degree of energy independence and release Irish fishermen from the tyranny of rising fuel prices.

He sat on talks with the Government, including then minister Charles J Haughey, about the refinery, but said that at a late critical stage, Haughey “killed off” the idea.  Reynolds said later he believed vested interests did not want to lose valuable shipping and insurance business attached to transporting refined oil to Ireland from Milford Haven in Wales.

The proposal had been opposed by the Dublin Bay Preservation Association, whose spokesman, Seán “Dublin Bay “ Loftus became an environmental campaigner and a politician.

While working at his two journalism jobs, Reynolds built a house in south Wicklow which he had designed at the Bolton Street school of architecture in Dublin. He had maintained his interest in art and became a keen collector, with his second wife, Mairead Dunlevy, the National Museum of Ireland curator,  after his divorce from Stephanie in 1968. 

He also contributed to RTÉ Radio 1, including Sunday Miscellany, and wrote on maritime issues for Ireland of The Welcomes and the French maritime journal, Le Chasse Marée.

At his humanist funeral in Mount Jerome last week, close friend and former Irish Times Moscow, Washington and Beijing correspondent Conor O’Clery recalled how Reynolds had encouraged him to apply for his first reporter’s posting as Northern editor of the newspaper.

 O’Clery had been working in The Irish Times for a year as a sub-editor and felt he was under-qualified, but Reynolds persuaded him to go for the job, which both editor Douglas Gageby and news editor Donal Foley appointed him to.  O’Clery said Reynolds also gave him sound advice on buying a house when he couldn’t afford one.

O’Clery recalled how he had once asked Reynolds how he could call himself a communist while living in a fine big house on Dublin’s salubrious Lansdowne Road.

 Reynolds replied, with a laugh, “Because I want everyone to live in a fine big house.” 

Reynolds took early retirement from The Irish Times, due to stomach trouble after he had an ulcer removed.  Even during that operation, he produced an edition of The Irish Skipper from his hospital bed. At its peak, the magazine had 13,000 readers, ranging from former taoiseach Charles J Haughey to the US State department.

After 27 years, he sold his maritime publishing company – the magazine continued under new owners, and marked its 50th anniversary in 2014. In 1996, he was appointed by then Fine Gael marine minister Seán Barrett to the board of the State sea fisheries board BIM.

Reynolds was an active member of  the DMYC and sailed extensively in a Ruffian named Diolinda (after his uncle Willie Walter’s ship), and two cruisers he had built, Blue Fin and Gulliver, with close friend Ivor Davies.

In 1995, he circumnavigated Ireland in yacht Gulliver with journalist Lorna Siggins, photographer Frank Miller and crew Ivor Davies and Breeda Murphy for a four-part series commissioned by The Irish Times features editor Caroline Walsh.

He travelled, wrote the occasional Irishman’s Diary for this newspaper, contributed material to the “Y” column written by former editor Douglas Gageby, and took a keen interest in Irish traditional music. He attended Comhaltas Ceoltóirí  Éireann weekly music sessions in Blackrock.

In his later years, he moved to Bergen in Norway where he married Borghild Lieng, a Labour party city councillor. The couple undertook many adventures in their camper van, at one point driving all the way up the Norwegian coast to the Lofoten islands.

After the sudden death of  Borghild in February 2021, he moved back to Ireland to Rosepark Independent Living in Blackrock. Failing sight meant he could no longer read newspapers, but an invitation by Rosepark manager Aidan McNamara to give  Sunday storytelling sessions allowed Arthur to indulge in, and share, his love of people and humour.

Close friends in Norway, who sent a message which was read by humanist celebrant Bryan Nolan, said that “Arthur brought with him an unforgettable joy of living, a great wit and wittiness”.

“He also passed on to us an unfathomable amount of knowledge and stories of Irish society and way of living, frequently coupled with mischievous jokes and great laughs. What a wonderful companion he was,” they said.

“And he enjoyed drawing comparison between Irish and Norwegian politics, especially in fisheries, of course, and oil industries. So knowledgeable, so keen on discussions – preferably with a provocative twist and a political proclamation. Arthur brought Ireland and the Irish into our lives. What a great voyage it was,” they said.

Arthur Reynolds is survived by his son Fintan, step-daughter Anne (Childs), close friends and grandchildren Jessica, John, Katherine and Stephanie and and godson Cian Siggins.

Read more in The Irish Times here and Sunday Independent here

Published in News Update Team

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