There is a tradition in Ireland not to speak ill of the dead. In the case of the late Michael or Micky McPhillips, this would be a very easy tradition to observe. Had one been so nasty as to try finding a few harsh words to say about him, it would have been an impossible task. Micky was someone who was always cheerful, helpful, sympathetic and knowledgeable. His tragic passing was a shock to all who knew him and of course, a dreadful and heartbreaking loss for his family.
One of a family of six reared in the Co Fermanagh town of Newtownbutler, he was a member of one of the best-known families the county. His brother Canon Jimmy is parish priest in Lisnaskea, another brother, Richie, is a former Stormont MLA, while brother Tony served several terms on the former Fermanagh District Council. The family has a long history of involvement in political activity going back well over a century. Micky himself recorded an account of the family’s contribution to public service over 120 years to when his grandfather Richard was elected to Clones urban council in 1899.
Micky managed his own business, McPhillips Digital Media and it was through this that I first got to know him. At the time I was working on a project to help former prisoners find employment post release. Our small company commissioned Micky to film a documentary being made for use by those unfamiliar with the process. Over the few months we worked together, I got to recognise his wide range of talents, the greatest of which was his enormous empathy for others.
Ever obliging and never complaining he was wonderful company, a fact recognised by all who met him. Although a professional cameraman, he had a deep and passionate interest in local history delivering lectures to audiences in his native Fermanagh as well as in counties Monaghan, Tyrone and Armagh. He specialised in interviewing the older generation and drew from them an invaluable record of the social and economic history of his native South Ulster, something that is not always easily accessible and will remain an asset for centuries to come.
Micky McPhillips was also a community activist in his home town and played a valuable role displaying a real sense of civic spirit that contributed greatly to the well-being of the residents of Newtownbutler. As well as his community work, he played an active role in the life of his parish and within its Church of The Immaculate Conception.
For such a gregarious person, it is very easy to see how difficult he found the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Compounding his wider unease was a concern that he might contract the ailment and pass it to his mother, to whom he was devoted.
Micky let us much too early and will be greatly missed by his family and a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. As the old Irish would say, ‘Ní bheidh a leitheid ann aris’, we’ll not see his like again.
Micheal McPhillips was the son of Margaret and the late Tommy McPhillips and brother to Richie, Eamon, Canon Jimmy, Tony and Cora.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Tommy McKearney is a left wing and trade union activist.
He is author of The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament.Follow on Twitter @Tommymckearney