A tribute to Tony Horner – Motorsport writer and photographer, by Brian McDaid
It was hard to know which was the most moving, the final song ‘The Parting Glass’ at the funeral mass at the Long Tower Chapel within the Derry walls this week or the sound of the yellow Mk 2 Escort Mexico saying farewell to the late Tony Horner as he made his final journey. Both were beautiful and were so Tony in different ways.
I first met Tony standing on the side of a ditch in Donegal many years ago, as you do when you follow the Donegal Rally. Over these last few days talking to Tony’s family I didn’t realise just how fast time passed by and how much things had changed in the way things are done. My first meetings with the late Tony Horner were as two photographers covering a sport that we were both mad about, that was rallying. That was in the 90s long before there was such a thing as a digital camera, it was the days of fast shutter speeds and fast films.
Tony increased his interest in photography when he took up the offer of early retirement from DuPont in Derry. Tony loved getting out to Donegal and heading to Rockhill Caravan Park where he had a mobile home. Knockalla was one of his favourite spots up at the first hairpin, be it on the Donegal International Rally or on the annual Hillclimb.
Tony was at his happiest in one of the wee cut-ins along the hillside ready to capture the action as the rally cars landed sideways into the corner. Tony would send in a few photos to the papers but as always in those days it was hit or miss that the papers would use them.
He soon realised that if he had a wee report to go along with the photos he took he would increase the chances of the photos being used.
Tony invested in a word processor and started writing reports on the events that he covered photographically.
Talking to his son Paul this week he recalled the late nights Tony put in getting a report ready to go along with the photos for the newspapers in Donegal like the Donegal Democrat, Derry People and Donegal News and in particular the Donegal People’s Press which gave good coverage to Tony’s efforts weekly.
Returning from Tony’s wake house this week crossing the Craigavon bridge, I thought about how much that things had changed as I travelled the same road as Tony would have gone. Now it just presses the send button on a computer and an email lands in an inbox from anywhere to anywhere in the world. In Tony’s day when the Donegal People’s Press was printed at the Derry Journal offices Tony’s photos and report would pass as many as four times over the border, twice with Tony first as undeveloped films then secondly as photos and reports on their way back over the border to the Donegal People’s Press Office on the Port Road in Letterkenny. There it would be edited before that week’s news and sports copy and photographs would be taken back across the border into Derry where the pages would be made up and the paper printed at the journal offices on the Buncrana Rd before the Donegal People’s Press would head back across the border to Donegal for the fourth time!
Those were the ways in the days before digital photography and broadband arrived. Back in those days, Tony could and did develop his own black and white films and got his colour stuff done in labs, when he was under pressure to get prints ready for an early deadline. But sadly when the digital age took over Tony like so many found the transition from film just not the same.
Digital was instant, film needed more planning and more of a journey to arrive at a print. Even though the family bought laptops and iPads for Tony he never warmed to the new technology. It’s hard to believe that’s it twenty years since the digital era took over and Tony reports and photos faded from print. That’s what Tony enjoyed, the journey getting there and trying to search for a photo of Tony Horner’s online for this column, the only motorsport result came up for me was Christian Horner from the F1 fame and I thought about how Tony would have laughed his head off and would jest. “ Aye that’s right – me and Christian”
The last time I saw Tony was on the wettest Saturday last year as he made his way up the Knockalla on the Saturday of the Hillclimb, I heard him before I saw him, that unmistakable Derry accent, chatting away to marshals that were located along the stage. I was on the other side of the road from him, and he didn’t see me where I was taking shelter under a tree. I planned to go up and see him further up the hill, but sadly delays on the Hillclimb meant that I had to head on to another job. And didn’t get a chance to go up and say hello. Before Christmas I framed an old page of the Donegal People’s Press of a soccer cup game for someone coverage and on the reverse of the page there was part of an old rally report by Tony Horner. It was a harvest rally that he reported on giving a lot of drivers a mention of their achievements. As it happens just a few weeks before Tony Horner passed from this earth the wee paper that carried his reports the Donegal People’s Press all them years ago came to an end and ceased its print run.
A single picture of a yellow sunbeam hangs on the wall in the room where Tony was laid out, it’s a picture of Tony behind the wheel in a rally, he navigated for Tom Brown a good few times as well.
At. 9.48 on Wednesday morning the bells of St Columba’s LongTower Church announced the arrival of Tony Horner’s funeral – a church where he was baptised overlooking his first home place along the Lone Moor Road the congregation were told of his family moving to a Malin Gardens when’s he was a wane and of days heading to Clonmany to visit his Auntie Aggie and enjoying eating duck eggs.
And of days in later life heading down to Kerrykeel and reading Yeats and of course heading to the Knockalla Hillclimb. The music was beautiful at the funeral mass on Wednesday morning in Derry and the choice of The Parting Glass as the final song was so Tony, bringing us away in our memory to happier times enjoying pints of stout at places like the corner bar in Kerrykeel.
And then there was the image of that beautiful yellow Ford Escort Mexico leading the cortege and that beautiful sound that only escort makes as it lit up the road in front of them through its rear mini lite wheels as a final salute to Tony Horner who always described himself as a blow-in when he came to Kerrykeel where he made his home away from home writing and capturing rally cars in the hills of Donegal.
Of all the money that e’er I had I spent it in good company
and all the harm that e’er I did alas, it was to none but me
And all I’ve done for want of wit to memory now I can’t recall
so fill to me the parting glass goodnight and joy be to you all
So fill to me the parting glass and gather as the evening falls
And gently rise and softly call goodnight and joy be to you all.
Rest easy Tony