Paddy Sheehan, 58, was the public face of the Dursey Island cable car since the early 1990s, and was one of its most outspoken champions.
He died suddenly at his Beara home in West Cork on Sunday, just hours after an early-morning mercy mission to take a vet to the island.
His first cousin, Martin Sheehan, who farms on Dursey Island, said the community has been left devastated by his sudden death. “It’s a terrible blow to his family and to the place.
“I met him on Saturday as he was taking sheep off a mountain on Dursey for dipping. He was fit as a fiddle, he never had a pain or ache in his life. This is just such a shock.”
Paddy Sheehan, born and raised in the area, began operating the Cork County Council-run Dursey Island cable car in the early 1990s. Having farmed on the island, he was well aware of the value and importance of the cable car to those who lived and worked there.
“He knew the hardships they faced, and he knew the cable car was a lifeline to the place,” Martin said.
Paddy had extensive experience in the catering business, which included running a chip van and managing the former Cametringane Hotel in Castle-townbere, before he and wife Anges opened and ran Windy Point House B&B in Dursey.
Martin said his cousin’s knowledge of the island, and his catering background, helped him appreciate the island’s tourism potential, and the importance of maintaining a fit-for-purpose cable car. He said Paddy became like a part-time tourist ambassador, having led calls for significant investment in the cable car ever before it became a signature landmark of the Wild Atlantic Way.
“I was on the cable car the other day, and there had been 20 visitors on and off the island,” said Martin. “I think we had about 17,500 visitors last year alone. The Wild Atlantic Way really made a massive impact. If you could double the capacity of the cable car, you’d fill it easily, and Paddy knew that.”
Paddy was also once a winner of the Homemaker of the Year competition and was presented with his prize by Gay Byrne. Martin said it was proof his cousin was a pioneer of his times. “He really was a man for all seasons,” he said.
Early on Sunday morning, he ferried vet Brian Murphy to the island. He met Mr Murphy at 1.30am and took him by cable car to the island, where the vet performed an emergency C-section on a calving cow. He stayed on the island and took Mr Murphy back to the mainland at 4.30am.
“He would have done things like that on several occasions,” Martin said.
Paddy Sheehan is survived by his wife, Agnes, and children Damien and Madeline.
His remains will be removed from Harrington’s funeral home in Castletownbere at 7pm tomorrow.
Burial takes place after 12 noon requiem Mass in St Michael’s Church in Cahermore on Thursday.