- 10 Apr 21
Shay Healy was a man of many parts: wit, raconteur, broadcaster, journalist, songwriter, creator of musicals and more. But he was best known as the man whose song 'What's Another Year' delivered a stunning Eurovision victory for Johnny Logan and Ireland in 1980. He will be a great loss to the music and entertainment community in Ireland.
Shay Healy has died. The sad news came through this morning, and the music industry bushfire went into overdrive. Shay was a hugely popular and well-loved character. Born in March 1943, Shay was 78 years of age.
Shay first emerged as a serious player during the ballad boom, writing topical and often very funny songs which earned him a reputation as a songwriter and wordsmith. He connected with the managers involved in the showband scene at the time and worked in cabaret, and as an MC. He also developed a career as a journalist and writer, working with Spotlight magazine, where he was the folk correspondent.
He became the editor of Starlight, the tabloid magazine which followed the demise of Spotlight. But the times had caught up with that musical world and Starlight was not long for this planet.
Originally a cameraman in RTÉ, Shay comfortably moved to the other side of the house, working as a presenter. However, Shay made his big showbiz breakthrough when he won the National Song Contest in March 1980, with a young Johnny Logan singing ‘What’s Another Year?’. The song went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest, launching Shay’s career onto an entirely different level.
He was no ‘one song wonder’. In 1983, he won the Castlebar Song Contest with ’Edge of the Universe’, sung by Linda Martin. He had also dabbled successfully in musical theatre, co-scripting a musical based on the life of Elvis Presley with Niall Toibin, entitled The King – which hit the boards within two months of Elvis’ death in 1977.
Later, his musical The Wiremen – a labour of love inspired by the rural electrification scheme – was premiered in 2005 at the Gaiety Theatre, in a show that was produced by John McColgan. It didn’t quite catch fire commercially, or provide Shay with what he often referred to as “the pension” – the kind of song or work that continues to earn royalties for the writer long into the future, which was always a kind of holy grail for Shay.
Shay Healy was also a hugely accomplished broadcaster. Many would consider Nighthawks, his late-night show on RTÉ, as one of the finest programmes ever mounted by the boffins in Montrose – and with good reason. Set up as a kind of diner, with Shay as maitre'd, it featured fascinating interviews, brilliant musical performances, a fun satirical attitude and more besides. It was on Nighthawks – which ran from 1988 to 1992 – that the former Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice Sean Doherty revealed that, some of the Cabinet, of which he was a member, knew in 1982 about the illegal tapping of the telephones of journalists during the various heaves against the Fianna Fáil leader Charlie Haughey. The revelation led to the resignation of the then-Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey.
The President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins – a long-time columnist with Hot Press – was a guest on the show – and it may even have been on the same night as Doherty made his revelations!
“Shay Healy was a great character,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said. “He was hugely talented in all sorts of different ways and went about life with great energy and a brilliant sense of fun. There was that can-do 'renaissance man' aspect to his career, as a songwriter, broadcaster, presenter, journalist, satirist and writer of musicals.
"It was brilliant, back in 1980, to see him win the Eurovision Song Contest, which gave him a period during which he was able to really enjoy himself doing what he loved, and being part of the entertainment biz and rock 'n' roll high life – where he naturally belonged.
“Shay was full of ideas, always dreaming up new schemes and looking for the next pot of gold. In creative terms, that came with Nighthawks, which really was a great show. I could never understand why RTÉ decided to end it, but it stood then – and still stands – as a monument to Shay’s originality and talent.
“I remember first hearing the news that Shay had been hit with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, in 2004. But he was sanguine about it when I spoke to him, and very positive about the way in which he set about managing it – and indeed managing his life with it. It reinforced very strongly the impression that he always succeeded in creating: of a hugely talented, generous, kind and determined man, for whom optimism was a byword.
“It is a very sad day for anyone who knew Shay and loved him. He had so many friends and admirers in music and entertainment in Ireland. He will be sadly missed by one and all."
At different stages of his career, Shay Healy also presented Reach For The Stars (1971), Hullaballoo (1977), The Birthday Show (1993-1995), and Beastly Behaviour (1998-1999).
His autobiography On The Road was published in 2005. He was married to Dympna Errity, who died in 2017. Shay is survived by his and Dympna's two sons, Fionáin and Oisín.