Stephen Conroy Manifested the Supremacy of the Human Spirit

By Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ardstiúrthóir CCÉ

The death of Stephen Conroy of Camross has left a void in cultural Ireland that will never be filled. Stephen led by example and sincerity. His was an enthusiasm that was infectious. He loved his native place and his country with a passion.

I was privileged to number Stephen among my closest friends. In Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, I experienced at first hand what one person could do to inspire a whole community: Stephen did this with exceptional success. In Camross, as was evident at the recent Fleadh Cheoil held there, we witnessed an energised and united community - a community that, under Stephen’s leadership, had embraced with determination the native music, song and dance of Ireland.

The hundreds of young people who have passed through the music classes organised by Stephen will mourn his passing and revere his memory. These classes, which are held in the little Teach Cheoil which adjoins the Conroy homestead, have acquired national, indeed international, status. Here was the university of the flagstone of which Stephen was the visionary, the professor. He spoke of this and his young charges with unmitigated animation and admiration.

Stephen and his wife Mary were an unique and generous couple with open hearts and an open door. The visitor, as I and many other experienced on several occasions, was king in the Conroy household. One received a céad míle fáilte which wrapped you in the warmth of heartfelt friendship.

Stephen’s prowess as a set-dancer was legendary. He was known and feted throughout the length and breadth of the country and outside the shores of Ireland. He introduced many grateful set-dancers to this invigorating and satisfying social pastime.

When it came to management of Comhaltas concert tours at home and abroad, Stephen was the supremo. He was Tour Manager of several tours in Ireland, Britain and North America. He was looking forward so eagerly to managing this year’s concert tour of North America next October. This was not to be. The good Lord, to whom Stephen was so spiritually close, had other plans for the indomitable and noble son of Laois and brought him home to his loving wife Mary in Heaven.

Whether running the successful Summer Seisiún; publishing CDs of the musical treasures of Camross; promoting his young talented proteges (many of whom have graced the stage in Cashel’s Brú Ború); or motivating a whole generation to embrace the cultural soul of the nation, Stephen Conroy was a giant of distinction and renown. He was a beacon of hope and a steady hand on the turbulent seas of change which batters the shores of our lives.

Stephen was, above all else, a true family man. He loved his wife Mary; children Catherine and Francis; and his grandchildren. He spoke of them with unadulterated affection. Mary left before him to prepare his journey into Heaven. Catherine and Francis have inherited his great gifts of generosity, love of community, pride of place and country, and especially an unshakeable faith and confidence in a loving and merciful God.

Stephen, ever grateful for his own blessings, used his undeniable skills to help others. He was ready and willing to organise support for many worthy causes. He was not prepared to bask in the comfort of his own achievements while others suffered. In the best tradition of the ‘meitheal’ concept he gave the helping hand wherever and whenever this was most needed.

Stephen Conroy has left us a rich legacy for all to inherit; a legacy of concern and compassion; of service and frienship; of patriotism and camaraderie. Hopefully, we will be worthy of such qualities and emulate them in fond remembrance of a man whom by example and strength of character once again manifested the supremacy of the human spirit.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal le Máire i measc na naomh.