On the 25th of June 2015 Darragh O’Donoghue passed on after a brief illness. Darragh was an accomplished scientist and one of the driving forces behind the Southern African Large Telescope, but more importantly he was a beloved husband and father, and a great colleague and friend to many throughout the world.
Let us share our memories of Darragh, and may we always remember the shining example he has given us. The world is a vastly emptier place without him.
From the first time I met you, Darragh, you surprised me with a depth and honesty of speech few would offer any but a trusted friend. Over the years since, I was privileged to interact with you in many contexts – SALT advisory bodies, instrumentation discussions, social gatherings – and you were always one of the wisest, most down-to-earth, most real voices in every conversation. In this terrible forced goodbye, I feel that I have lost a friendship both precious and nascent. So much remained to be explored and to be learned. Yet I realize now that I must be grateful. My heart and mind will be larger forever because of you.
Here’s a non-scientific excerpt from a long piece that Dave Kilkenny wrote for a scientific conference in July, at which he was asked to pay tribute to Darragh:
About 25 years ago, when my son Martin was 4 or 5, my wife and I were discussing dinner for that evening. Martin asked who was coming and, on being told it was Darragh and his family remarked “Oh Darragh – he’s a fine fellow”. We were amused by this odd expression and Darragh has since been – quite appropriately – “the fine fellow” to our family.
He was a brilliant teacher, with endless patience and a great love of analogy – my favourite was the description of theoreticians as a herd of cattle contained by a data fence. Good data keep the theoreticians within sensible boundaries; poor or no data allow the theoreticians to wander all over the landscape – and once they get out, it’s extraordinarily difficult to get them back in.
He was kind, generous, helpful, devoted to his wife and kids, an impish wit, a great collaborator and a wonderful friend. He was an all-round “fine fellow”
The Nguni peoples of Southern Africa have a proverb – in Zulu “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu” which translates ”A person is a person through other people”. We are affected – for good or bad, greater or lesser – by all the people we meet. I believe it’s true and in this context, I think those of us who knew Darragh were very fortunate.
Poem for Darragh
By John Booth
(with quotes from Craig Sass, Mary Oliver, and Jane Booth)
Dear dear Darragh
Where have you gone?
We used to talk about that
Now only one of us knows
But the question is still, which one?
“Searching for the Darragh in us.”
Good one, Craig
Asking, “What would Darragh do?”
Could one have a better question
To point the way?
Singing your tracker song
Where else? Up on the tracker
Your fear of heights, overcome
Your mastery of lyrics, not quite yet
Serenading the birthday girl in the rain
With another new song
The two of us, sopping wet but hopeful
The applause, convincing
It seemed to work
Homing pigeon macho in the old city
Lost and found
I hope you can find your way
To wherever you’re going now…
But what about the rest of us?
You spent your life asking questions
Now you have answered the best one
“What will you do, with your one wild and precious life?”
So now we must answer, what will we do with ours?
We ask, why you?, but really we are asking, why us?
Why are we the ones left to wonder, and to hurt?
But we learned the answer years ago
“We’re so lucky, to be so sad.”
If you have ever seen a one-man-band make a hilarious attempt to play 10 or 20 instruments at once, then you know what it was like to be in the company of Darragh O’Donoghue. He was astronomer, engineer, optical designer, lawyer, psychiatrist, storyteller, and best friend. He combined his virtuoso skills with a keen sense of the absurd, and of all his many gifts, the greatest was that he never lost sight of how ridiculous the human condition is, and how very human was his own condition.
He did not respect authority, he gave no deference to titles, he admired hard, honest work, and he listened to his friends with genuine interest and sympathy. He did not care for fame, although he did not mind attention and would sometimes go to outrageous lengths to get it. I’m afraid I encouraged him in this. Repeatedly.
I miss him desperately, and I am sorry I cannot be there to celebrate his life with you. Please drink a toast on my behalf.
Some memories of Darragh
Darragh and I arrived at the University of Cape Town in the same year, 1977, he as a new PhD student and I as a new postdoc. For 20 years we talked, worked, lunched, socialised and at times travelled together. There are so many stories; here are some that I fondly remember from our long friendship.
The Hague, 1994
In 1994 the International Astronomical Union held its triennial General Assembly in The Hague in the Netherlands. Darragh, Peter Martinez and I decided to stay in a relatively expensive hotel conveniently close to the meeting venue, sharing a triple room to save money. We arrived to find that the room was small: there were twin beds with a roll-out bed on the floor, a large lounge chair, and no room to stand. We immediately shoved the chair out into the hallway to make more room, and organised ourselves as best we could. Peter was in the bed closest to the door, Darragh was in the middle, and I was on the roll-out on the floor next to Darragh. We were all set for our two-week meeting, and excited about all the astronomy to come.
That first night not long after lights out Darragh began to snore. Now, this was not just any snoring; this was Darragh snoring! He was a champion snorer – imagine a plane powering up. So I let out a loud stage whisper (I was trying to keep from disturbing Peter, but of course he was not sleeping), “Darragh!”, I croaked, “stop snoring!”
I tried, “DARRAGH!! STOP SNORING!”
I nudged Darragh’s arm.
I grabbed Darragh’s arm and gave it a good shake.
He jerked it away from me, rolled over towards Peter’s side, and continued unabated.
So I got up, dressed, and went down to the front desk to get a second pillow. With homemade earplugs (damp tissues) and the spare pillow over my head, I managed to sleep through the accompaniment.
The next morning the three of us discussed the night’s entertainment. Darragh was well aware that he snored and said, “At home when I snore, Liz just whispers to me and I roll over and stop snoring.” He was very surprised to hear that I had shaken his arm and got no reaction.
The following night when Darragh began snoring, I whispered, “Darragh – roll over, you’re snoring”. He rolled right over without waking up and all was quiet. The three of us found it interesting that, after our discussion, the message was easily received.
The next night all was very quiet in our room. Darragh never came back! He came through the door around 07:00 in the morning, had a shower and was ready for the day’s meeting. Obviously, Peter and I queried his wild behaviour of staying out all night, and we heard this story:
The evening before Darragh had gone to an Irish Pub (of course!) with other astronomers – I think instigated by Katalin Olah from Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, who loves everything Irish. Darragh had sensibly headed for home before midnight, walking through the winding lanes of The Hague. And therein lay the problem. While The Hague is not very big, the lanes go in all directions and it is easy to get lost. Darragh got lost. By the time he got back to our room it was well after midnight. He wanted to study the schedule for the next day – IAU General Assemblies are complicated; it can take a PhD just to figure out the schedule to decide which talks to attend. Politely (and, as all of you know, Darragh was kindly and polite), Darragh sat down in the lounge chair we had shoved out of the room on the first night to gain a bit of space, began to study the programme for the next day, and fell soundly asleep until just before he came through the door in the morning. Now, I am sure that had Darragh snored out in the hallway, we would have heard him, so sitting up to sleep is one way to suppress snoring.
Another discussion ensued. The three of us decided that paying for this expensive, rather small room was not good value-for-money. Peter found another hotel just a few blocks away, less luxurious in style, but with a much bigger room, three beds (mine on a narrow porch by the windows with a wall between me and the twin beds of Darragh and Peter, and at a far lower price. It was a great improvement.
The two weeks whizzed by. Each of us went our own ways to different sessions during the day, and to different social events in the evenings. When we all gathered back in the room – later and later as the days passed – we talked into the early hours of all that had happened during the day. And we all got up early to be at the first sessions the next day. We were good.
Peter is the only one who knows the truth of this last story of our stay in The Hague. Peter does not need to sleep very much. He was sitting up in his bed thinking late one night (actually, early one morning) when Darragh and I were sound asleep. Darragh was in full chorus and I was sleeping soundly through it (and quietly; I do snore, too, sometimes, but was not doing so then). Suddenly! Darragh sat straight up in bed, looked over (through the wall) towards my bed, and said loudly, “DON! STOP SNORING!” He then turned to Peter and said forcefully, “Peter! Problem solved!” At which point Darragh collapsed back down in deep sleep. In fact, he had never woken at all, and neither had I.
I remember most fondly those two weeks Darragh, Peter and I shared our hotel rooms in The Hague, as, I am sure, does Peter. We enjoyed each others’ company, had lots of laughs, talked lots of astronomy … in fact, in microcosm, we did what all of Darragh’s astronomical friends did throughout our long, but now too short, friendship. I miss him, as I know all of you do.
I was not the only member of my family who was fond of Darragh. About 30 years ago Darragh had a trip to San Diego where he stayed for a short while with my mother. She died also too young in 1989, but for the few years she had left after Darragh’s stay, she always asked after him in our regular exchange of letters (Yes, letters. On paper. Two-week turnaround time. It was a different era.) Darragh did not need to stay long to captivate my mother. She loved people in general, but Darragh was a particular hit with her, for reasons we all understand – the reasons we miss him so much.
Much of Darragh’s research was on white dwarf stars, the end remnants for about 90% of all stars with gas so dense that we refer to it as being in a degenerate state. Darragh and I collaborated on 14 publications, many of which were studies of pulsating white dwarf stars with the Whole Earth Telescope Consortium (WET), for which Darragh was highly active and a leader. One day at UCT, Darragh was having lunch in the Leslie Building with Paul Barratt, another postdoc in the astronomy department. A student sitting nearby was eavesdropping (or Darragh and Paul were speaking loudly – not unheard of). Finally, the student could stand it no longer. He came over to Darragh and Paul and said, “You guys are really weird! Are you in the psychology department?”
Darragh and Paul had been discussing “degenerate white dwarfs”.
The little red car who came home (once)
Darragh and Liz had an old red car that was distinctive. The boot would not stay latched, so was tied closed with a piece of rope. One day June and I were headed out over Sir Lowry’s Pass to the mountains for a day of walking. Just past the airport on the left verge of the N2 sat a little red car with its boot tied down. We looked at each other and (snap) said, “That looks like Darragh’s car! I wonder if it is.”
This was long before the time of cell phones, so we had no way to call and ask about the car. We spent the day in the mountains, then coming home late afternoon we passed the same spot and looked across the N2 to see that the car was still there. As soon as we got home I called Darragh and asked where his car was. He said, “I don’t know. It was stolen this morning.” I told him that we had seen a car that looked like it, or its twin, out on the N2. In short order the car was rescued. The thieves had run out of petrol and no harm had come to the car.
I am not certain, but my memory says that this was not the last time the car was stolen, and that one day it did not come home. It seems it was destined for involuntary recycling, but we were happy to have been able to put that day off on one occasion.
Rants and laughs
For a couple of decades I often went into Darragh’s office late morning to have a daily rant about something. It didn’t really matter much what the rant was about, it was a good way to start the day – setting some Earth-shaking problem to rights. Darragh was a great audience and often ended in gales of laughter, which got me going, too. Then we often shifted to talking science.
Now Darragh was one of the discoverers of an entire class of exotic, interesting pulsating stars now known as the sdBV stars, or sub-dwarf B variables. I walked into his office one morning and there on his desk was a light curve (a plot of the brightness of a star against time) of spectacular beauty (to an astronomer). I could see it was a pulsating star that was also an eclipsing binary star, a gem for stellar astrophysics. I said with considerable interest, “Darragh. What is that?!”
He grabbed the plot, quickly turned it upside down, and said, “I can’t tell you. It is secret and I have promised not to tell anyone.” Well, I put the pressure on. He refused. I kept wheedling. Finally, we agreed he would tell me and I would keep it secret until it was published. I am happy to say that I did not talk, and I got to enjoy a long discussion with much speculation that morning about the star. The star has the astronomically romantic name PG1336-018, and there are now 148 separate publications about it. It was 1998; Dave Kilkenny led that first study, along with Darragh, Chris Koen, Tony Lynas-Gray and Francois van Wyk. This is probably the first time they have heard that Darragh let the secret out, but only to me. Darragh and I trusted each other through so many talks over the years. I am tremendously sad to know that we will not do that again.
Liz, Alex and Andrea:
June and I know that the loss of Darragh has left an unimaginable hole in your lives. We are also sure that it is some small comfort to know how much he meant to us and to so many others. We, too, miss him greatly.
Thirteen years ago, on my very fist visit to the SAAO, I met this amazingly enthusiastic Irish guy who ultimately inspired me to come here and study astronomy and be a part of the SALT project. Since then I have had the privilege to work on many projects with him — from small tests in the lab to the SALT image quality fix — and throughout I was awed by his breadth of knowledge of almost any field; but most of all I had fun working with him. Appreciating his good humour and relentless drive to uncover the essence of any problem we were working on. Now, my hope is that each and every one of us find that little bit of Darragh in us going forward and in that way pay lasting tribute to a mentor, colleague and good friend.
A great man has left us and it is very difficult to imagine SALT and SAAO without Darragh. He was a brilliant scientist, a warm and friendly human being who respected and got along with most people.
It will be hard to find someone who can replace even half of what he was capable of. We lost a true genius.
We will seek solace in continuing your legacy, by following your example.
You leave a hole in our universe, but together we can combine the many lessons we learned from you to steer us into the future. May we all become better versions of ourselves while doing so.
PS: Thank you for “championing my cause”. You are a true hero.
I have so many fond memories of Darragh from the early HET days. One –
a hilarious comment from Darragh involving me, a very large wrench, and
a rat comes to mind. I was mostly working on the machinery side of
things; domes that would not turn, shutters that would stick. I
remember his enthusiasm for the optics side of the house, and he would
willingly talk, at length, at how he was figuring out what was wrong
with the HET optics. I knew we’d be O.K. with him on the case.
What I remember most about him was his humanity. When I decided to move
on to Keck, a few folks found it hard to simply congratulate someone for
making a professional move. But Darragh was different. He came to see
me at House 20 during this difficult transition period, and we had a
very nice conversation. That made a very large impression and I never
As my career took off I always remembered Darragh as one of the good
ones in astronomy, who accomplished great things and treated people the
right way. I am very sorry, for my own selfish reasons, that as I am
just back at McDonald, lost is the opportunity to reconnect with Darragh.
Darragh, my dear friend. Thank you for everything. You had a great impact on my time at the SAAO. It was a great privilege to know you.
There is a noble purpose for tears, and this is it. Behind the unassuming appearance and all of his humanity, this man held a sword and a shield and wore a small and ridiculous cape that fit him to a tee. He taught me, without trying to, that greatness and a remarkable existence, comes, in spite of all appearances, from an uncompromising drive for truth, a willingness to work hard for it, and a determination to risk whatever anyone might think. My dear friends and I would talk about him in the company of those who had never met him, and they would finally ask, who is this person?, and I would say, he is the worlds most unlikely superhero. That is a remarkable thing to say about someone you assume is going to be in your life for a very long time, but I was only reducing the data. In retrospect, I count it in my good favor that I was, at the very least, able to cook him a fine meal and occupy him in late hours of conversation over fine whiskey, and I planned with great anticipation when we would be able to do it again. In the end, he is massless and timeless and he will continue to enrich me. I shall never forget him.
A world without Darragh is a poorer place, but he was a guiding light
so bright and strong that the imprint of his character will remain
with me for the rest of my life. He was the most imaginative,
fearless, and brilliant of colleagues. No conceptual box could
constrain him; he reveled in fathoming the unknown and doing the
undoable. I personally benefited from his insights on life and
science, the depth of which continue to astound me. He was honest and
humble, caring and supportive, dedicated and loyal. I don’t know
anyone else who I can describe in all of these ways. He was a moral
compass for those who knew him. His voice, words, and wisdom I will
never forget but greatly miss.
Like many, I first met Darragh over dinner at Sutherland, South Africa, and then at the snooker table or over tea during those long South African winter nights when cold fronts and ridge cloud distracted us from proper work. It was always good news when we were scheduled at the same time. Darragh was always interested in our observations .. though often sceptical of our “quasi-periodic” pulsations. Such was his grace that he expressed his doubt in a positive and constructive way, giving me space to be critical of my own work and hence to understand it better. If we ever really understand strange-mode pulsations in luminous stars, Darragh played a major role in forming those ideas. He leaves a big space behind him … but his joy and principles live on in those who were privileged to know him.
Darragh was one of those rare people who could, with a chance meeting, turn a cloudy moment into ray of sunshine. Always friendly, always warm, always humerous, always smart. SAAO and SA astronomy have lost a corner stone.
On this sad occasion we should take this opportunity to reflect on and
celebrate Darragh’s life and achievements. I am proud to have been able
to count such a remarkable individual as a friend and long-time (>30
yrs!) collaborator, who was a pleasure to know and work with. His
generosity of spirit and self-less dedication to South African astronomy
produced superb pieces of work across a breathtakingly wide range of
astronomy, from pulsating stars to interacting binaries and accretion
physics to advanced optical instrumentation and telescope design – a
range that was still broadening, which makes me sad to think of what he
might still have been able to do.
Darragh was the inspiration for my move to SAAO more than 10 years ago,
and key to the small group of dedicated staff at the Observatory which
it is so fortunate to have. While Darragh’s brilliant contributions to
SALT’s technical challenges have been rightly already lauded by others,
I would like to highlight his critical contributions to the greatest
challenge that I faced during my time as SAAO Director. This occurred
as a result of completely unnecessary, heavy-handed government
bureaucracy intent on making damaging changes to the way that SAAO
operated, and with wider implications to the then high-profile
competition between South Africa and Australia to host the SKA. This
led to my facing a widely-reported disciplinary hearing that threatened
the very fabric of SAAO. Without hesitation, Darragh recognised the
importance of fighting such changes, and willingly took on the
demanding, and ultimately highly stressful, task of defending me
throughout the 6 weeks of those gruelling hearings. This was the most
difficult experience of my life, and I was deeply moved by Darragh’s
dedication and support, which involved him in great personal sacrifice.
Darragh brought his characteristic direct focus and complete immersion
in the task, just as in his most difficult scientific problems. This
made him an extraordinarily powerful advocate, and he was able to
ultimately completely destroy the charges that were laid against me,
under circumstances where we were told by many friends and colleagues
that we had no chance of winning. But it was a legal battle that we
had to win for the future of South African astronomy, as well as for the
wider governance of South African science. Darragh did win, and thereby
helped transform the very way in which South African astronomy is now
governed. This achievement should stand as a wonderful testament to one
of South Africa’s most outstanding physical scientists.
My thoughts are with you all
During my 65 years, the number of people I have met who have demonstrated a outstanding use of their minds and hearts can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Darragh is among them. A truly remarkable man.
It is always enjoyable to work for such a great leader who not only is dedicated to helping where and when he can, no matter what time of day or night, but also to do this in such a friendly manner. This I saw in Darragh.
It was an honor to have known such a great person and he will be missed. RIP
Darragh was a great servant for astronomy in South Africa. He epitomised everything that is great in science the world over: whenever there is a problem, you roll up your sleeves to fix it, no matter what the challenge. And fix it he certainly did with SALT when it mattered. Darragh once told me that he had forgotten what it meant to do routine things like go to the bank when he totally immersed himself during those difficult commissioning years that involved more fixing than correcting. Great people never stop learning, and when he needed to learn something new, he simply made every effort to understand, leaving no stone unturned as he did in getting on top of South African labour law and NRF employment policies in support of Phil Charles in defence of an unwarranted attack. Darragh was a principled man, and he dared stand up for what he believed in. Phil’s victory was Darragh’s victory, and all of astronomy in South Africa benefitted from a more focussed attention placed on the governance of this strategically important discipline. SALT can never be the same again without Darragh, and yet we must pick ourselves up because of Darragh and make this telescope the success that Darragh always imagined. There is a lot of work ahead of us, to try to fill the many gaping holes that have been left behind with Darragh’s untimely passing. We might not individually be able to match Darragh’s intellectual input to SALT, but together we can try to ensure that SALT continues with its upward trajectory. NRF stands ready to ensure that SALT is a productive telescope on a sustainable footing for a decade at least into the future.
Darragh I first met you in 2003 when I joined the SALT construction team. The robust rivalry between “the engineers” and “the astronomers” resulted in me not having much to do with you until one particular day when I found myself isolated and alone in your office, presenting my concept of the SALT PI Proposal Tool, for which I held the reigns at the time.
Such was your formidable reputation amongst “the engineers,” that it took me a few days to pluck up the courage to meet with you.
What I remember most of that encounter was you harping on about one question:
“What are your assumptions Roy?!”
For which I unfortunately didn’t have an answer, and so set about conjuring one.
From that day forward I came to consider you as somebody who most certainly was on my side, but who just as certainly wouldn’t accept sub-standard work. I was forced to up my game! Thank you for pushing me to become a more proficient team member.
Over the next few years I had the privilege of watching you perform 2 miracles. Fixing SALT and defending Phil Charles. Thanks to Lisa Crause’s superb story telling skills, I was fortunate to continue following the SALT IQ investigation from afar and was absolutely ecstatic when it was all done and dusted! Darragh, the dedication with which you lead that remarkable and difficult task really amazed me.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the (wo)man.”
Let’s keep this between us. I must also admit to just a little bit of revelling in your success with the latter task too.
Thank you for everything.
Now rest in peace, knowing that you are well loved and there are no more deadlines to be met.
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
One of the highlights of my visits to SAAO over the years has been the opportunity to share in the good company, humour and wisdom of Darragh O’Donoghue. He was a remarkable man in his talents and widely respected as a scientist and as a person. I was grateful for his support and encouragement as a young scientist. He will me missed.
I first met Darragh in the “computer room” at what was then UND, before he “became” an astronomer. I have many fond memories of Darragh from the intervening three decades, and particularly remember his great enthusiasm, always expressed in a calm and logical way.
His contribution to South African astronomy is enormous, and his legacy will endure well into the future.
Darragh was a lovely person,always friendly with a very nice personality.
He always came to the hostel ladies and would ask for his breakfast in AFRIKAANS.” GOEIE
MORE DAMES MAG EK ASSEBLIEF SPEK EN EIERS KRY.” That’s how we will always remember HIM.RIP and we miss you.
I knew Darragh since the middle 80’s.He was a GREAT SCIENTIST AND A GENTLEMAN.We both were into BLUES PINK FLOYD SANTANA and many more.Very often i lost at snooker to him.Many a night i was his operator at the 1.9m and we had lots of fun.A TRUE GENIUS but humble and always willing to help.RIP my friend we miss you.
I knew Darragh right from my early visits to SAAO in the late 80’s through to my last visit in 2014 where we shared dinner at the lodge and discussed with Lisa Crause the new SAAO spectrograph. He was a true gentelman astronomer; considerate, humble, witty, erudite, concerned, involved, crap at snooker (not really) and great fun to be with. He was always very kind to me right from the start and it was a privilege to know him. He would listen to any opinion and was always careful not to offend even if I said something stupid. I am deeply saddened by his passing but his enormous legacy will live on as a constant reminder of his capacity, innovation and humanity.
For the short while I knew you, you had a great impact on my life! I could learn from you; value and treasure the time I spend with you searching for information! Thanks for always being professional and for a big welcome smile! Will miss you!
Darragh, My Friend
I’ll miss our councelling sessions. I’ll miss being whipped on the pool table in SL. I’ll miss your sense of humor when I’m feeling like I’m loosing my head. What a great loss. RIP. An inspirational leader…
Will miss you and our regular greeting on the West Wing stairway. God bless you Darragh for the wonderful, always respectful person you were.
It was a privilege to have known Darragh, and I’m just sorry I never got to know him better. The world is a little less sunny and science a lot poorer without him.
Darragh was a friend of mine.
I am numbed and distraught at what has happened and with a feeling of
total despair and incomprehension at his life being taken in his prime.
I am one of many who have lost a colleague and a friend who made an
impact on our lives. He is missed and there will be forever a void where
We met as postdocs at UCT some 26 years ago and immediately became
friends, sharing many interests in common, astronomically, politically,
artistically, vineologically, comically. His wit and Irishness shone
through, but so too his steadfast commitment to honesty, scrutiny and
integrity. Darragh could turn his keen mind to anything and demonstrated
this over and over throughout his life and career. He was the epitomy of
a renaissance man.
Mostly, but not always, did we agree, but that was never an issue,
because with the minds scientists, never did such things impact on our
firm friendship. We each could accept differences of opinion, whether on
the sporting prowess of our respective nations, the abilities or not of
certain musicians and writers, or on astronomy, or other issues.
We shared a birth month and he was my witty and sardonic best man when
Jean and I married in 1995. We shared much together, particularly the
amazing journey of SALT, for which we were and are so proud of the
accomplishments of the many people who made it happen, many of whom he
mentored and encouraged. We watched our respective families grow up and
shared in the joys and the challenges of that.
Accepting that the worst of outcomes has come to pass, after having seen
a glimmer of hope, was utterly soul destroying. I know I speak for many
in sincerely thanking Lisa, and latterly John, for their amazing support
of Darragh’s family and for keeping his friends abreast of developments,
even when it must have been unbearable. It has been an emotionally
draining time for many and I hope there’s some space and time given to
the healing that needs to happen at SAAO and beyond.
Sitting here in France without my family, friends and colleagues to
share in this grief is really difficult. But this pales into
insignificance for what his family are going through and my heart goes
out to Liz and the family who have tragically lost their rock, their
compass, the man who loved them beyond measure. No words can take away
the pain. All we can do is share in their sorrow and give our thoughts
and prayers to them.
Darragh was my friend. Long will be the shadow he cast.
When I joined the SAAO, I was warned that Darragh was a hard man to please and that he was not a fan of IT. The man I grew to know and respect was none of those things. He was fearsomely intelligent and insightful and often listened to me patiently and intently, issuing sage advice when needed.
Darragh, I’ll miss chatting to you about all manner of things, the mischievous sparkle that you got in your eye when you saw something absurd or amusing in the world (which was often), your unique sense of humour and your genuine interest in your fellow human beings.
Darragh O’Donoghue! For those who knew him, nothing further need be said – for those who did not get to know him as well as I did, I share the following with you… We met some 11 years ago when I started working in the mechanical workshop at SAAO, we did not have much contact until I took the post of mechanical workshop manager, with Darragh being my manager. I worked with Darragh and the Instrument division on things like SALTICAM, a new polarimeter and various SALT projects. When Darragh took up his post at SALT, our contact was limited to conversations at tea, this was also under pressure since Darragh’s expertise was sought after and you had to engage him before someone else did. However, we did often share articles we thought each other would enjoy, some technical like “The history of the grating engine” and others which had some humour to offer, like: “Dear Eskom how many megawatts do you really have?”. I looked forward to working with him again and we started discussing the STGS (his new kind of spectrograph) and the focal reducer for the 74 inch. As we came to expect from Darragh, both of these are ingenious designs. Sadly, this was not to be. Darragh had so much more to offer the world and I can’t help feeling cheated, but I am grateful to have had the time that I had with him and for that I believe I am blessed. For his legacy, I commit to build the some of the best instruments the world has ever seen and to keep searching for the Darragh in me.
So long pal
A most luminous and delightful soul left us on 25 June. This beautiful Astronomy Picture Of The Day photo (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150625.html) of the city he called home and the southern sky that he relished exploring seems a fitting tribute to our beloved Darragh.
We’re so lucky to have known him and to have experienced his magic. We can only cherish our vivid memories and aim to live up to his uncompromising standards…
But the world will never be the same 😥