- 20 Mar 01
Niall Stanage pays tribute to a remarkable young woman whose passion for music made her one of the most widely respected and genuinely loved people in the history of Irish music
The facts are grimly familiar now. Uaneen Fitzsimons, TV presenter, DJ, lover of music and of life, died on Wednesday 22nd November. The car in which she was travelling collided with an articulated truck at Ballaghmore, near Boris-in-Ossory, Co. Laois. She was 29.
Limerick promoter Joe Clarke, who was at the wheel of the car, is recovering from multiple fractures and other injuries. The lorry driver was not seriously hurt.
These sparse details cannot begin to convey the shock and grief that followed the news of Uaneen s death. The music business may often be superficial, but the affection in which Uaneen Fitzsimons was held went far deeper than that. She was adored.
Many people first learnt what had happened from faltering phone conversations with stunned acquaintances. The internet was soon host to e-mailed tributes from friends and fans. Across Ireland, and further afield, people gathered close, trying in vain to comprehend what had happened. The life of a woman synonymous with energy and vitality had come to a bewilderingly abrupt end.
Thoughts turned then, as they have done many times since, to Uaneen s family. Her affection for them was tangible to all who knew her. Their hearts must be broken.
Uaneen was born in the small Co. Down fishing
village of Ardglass, where her parents, Mary and Brian, still live. She was music-mad, even as a teenager. Her first involvement with broadcasting came at BBC Northern Ireland. She completed stints in the newsroom and in the current affairs department before finding her niche on Mike Edgar s Across The Line radio show.
After a year with BBC1, she moved to Dublin, where she began a degree in Communication Studies at DCU. In 1997, she joined RTE Cork as presenter and researcher for No Disco.
The programme had been pioneered by Donal Dineen, whose low-key presentational manner was a key element in its initial success. Uaneen took up the baton with verve her style was unique, but she shared with Donal the twin strengths of passion and integrity.
During her period at the helm, she featured acts including Radiohead, Nick Cave, David Gray, Super Furry Animals, Massive Attack and Primal Scream. But neither No Disco nor Uaneen were servants to hype. Week after week she broadcast great tracks, whether they came from megastars or minnows. If she liked it, it got played. Her enthusiasm was infectious, her taste impeccable.
The same qualities were brought to her 2FM radio show. Her presence at the centre of Ireland s music media sometimes obscured the fact that she was a relative novice in radio broadcasting. Yet her confidence grew by the hour, and the show quickly became a highlight of the national airwaves, awash with great tunes, and presented with fluent, gentle authority.
In the midst of this hectic schedule she managed to contribute a typically upbeat column to hotpress for a time. The most recent hotpress awards and the Uncovered gig in May of this year were also greatly boosted by her involvement. Other TV work included presenting a number of shows from Liss Ard, the Live At The Quays series, and documentaries on The Big Day Out and the Green Energy Festival.
Professionally, Uaneen Fitzsimons excelled; on a personal level, she shone all the more lustrously. I was just one among the many beneficiaries of Uaneen s simplest but most valuable gift: she made people feel good. Her positivity seemed to encompass everyone and everything. Her presence was a tonic, an antidote to jadedness and cynicism.
Memories of her flit through my head a dinner party at the home of hotpress writer Peter Murphy, full of laughter and talk and music and more laughter, Uaneen regaling everyone with high tales of high times. . .a comically brief meeting in Dublin city centre, when her words came in torrents of excitement she was on her way to meet Lloyd Cole, a hero of her adolescence an earnest conversation in the early hours at Lillie s one of the first times I met her, in the Mean Fiddler, when she raved ecstatically about a recent Radiohead show at The Olympia.
The band s albums were among the offerings placed in her coffin.
Everyone is still struggling to make sense of it all. It s so hard to truly believe that there won t be any more chance meetings, that we won t spot that flame-haired head bobbing manically at crowded gigs, that we won t switch on the radio or TV and hear her extolling the virtues of some newly-beloved band.
Uaneen Fitzsimons was buried in Ardglass on the Saturday after her death. Her hometown s entire population seemed to be present, as did almost everyone in the Irish music community. (When I began writing this article, I tried listing names. The inevitability of leaving many out persuaded me not to.) St Nicholas Church and an adjacent hall were both packed. More mourners waited in the open air.
If a funeral was ever poetic, it was this one, each moment swollen with grace, dignity and love. Family and friends spoke proudly and bravely. The eulogy from Fr. Tom Healy, who had recently christened Uaneen s first godchild, was straightforward and sincere.
Tears fell freely as Relish performed The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face . Paddy Casey, accompanied by The Frames Colm Mac Con Iomaire on violin, gave a moving rendition of Van Morrison s Sweet Thing .
Uaneen s coffin was brought to the graveside amid the sounds of sobbing and a recording of Jeff Buckley singing Hallelujah . Mourners clung to one another. Sunflowers were dropped into her grave. It was heart-rending and yet, somehow, affirming.
Uaneen Fitzsimons was a radiant human being. She was generous with her time and her warmth; she was generous in her soul. She had the most wondrous smile and the brightest eyes and the most vibrant presence. She touched people, and those same people now must grapple with the loss of her.
To her parents, her siblings Sharon, Ciaran and Shane, and all of her extended family, one can only offer sympathy, and the reassurance that she will never, ever be forgotten.
We miss her very much.