Born: August 23, 1942;

Died: December 1, 2020.

AT A very early stage in his working life Michael O’Mahony, who has died at the age of 78, joined the Fire Brigades Union. He rose to become the Chairman of D Division within Strathclyde FBU and a leading light in the 1977 national firefighters’ dispute.

As the union itself has remarked, the Labour government of the time never really believed that the dispute would happen, but it did.

And for nine weeks in the midwinter, striking firefighters huddled round braziers outside fire stations, putting the case for improved conditions of pay and other important aspects of what is, after all, a dangerous profession. All of this was driven by need not greed. Soldiers equipped with Green Goddesses – Civil Defence tenders – responded to many fires.

The long dispute led to Michael being welded to the firm belief that there was a place for trade unions to be properly recognised at every level and that this could only happen with him and others like him playing an active part.

As a result of the dispute he became a key figure and very active in the Firefighters’ Benevolent Fund, an issue he was passionate about. He was assiduous in getting firefighters’ widows their rights, spending time and endless effort employing solicitors and making representations and heartfelt pleas on the widows’ behalf.

Through his FBU activity, Michael became prominent in the Irvine and District Trades Council, a full affiliate of the STUC, where his reports of the disputes within the fire service became keenly listened to by the other delegates and opened up debate that was always appreciated. As he had the gift of the gab, they could at times be a little bit long, but certainly not boring.

When the Trades Council was setting up the Trades Union Club at Heathfield House, an old Town Council building, in Irvine, Michael was delegated the job as Master Painter of the offices and whilst undertaking the job (unpaid, it has to be said), he kept all those involved in stitches with his endless jokes and funny stories.

As a consequence of this activity he joined the Labour Party, where he again was known for his wit and good humour, though with a serious side that was appreciated at meetings and also at the pub afterwards, where he enjoyed his pint along with the rest of us.

Michael O’Mahony was born in Glasgow in the middle of the Second World War. He was one of nine children. His father was a shipwright and his mother a full-time housewife.

He began working in 1958, as an apprentice painter in Byres Road, in Glasgow’s West End. He later relocated from Glasgow to Irvine, in Ayrshire, where he worked for W & R Hamilton as a painter.

Eager to make a change in career he applied to become a firefighter, and joined the fire service in 1966, initially at Ardrossan station then at Irvine North in Kilwinning, and on to Kilmarnock station. When he retired in 1996, he had become Station Officer at Irvine South fire station, in Dreghorn.

During his service he took on the responsibility of undertaking staff training at Cowcaddens station, Glasgow, combining this with his other responsibilities, which, of course, were all done to the highest standards.

He was a genuine character, constantly winding up his colleagues and telling the most amazing stories – which, had they not been told by Michael, could possibly have led to discipline charges being pressed.

His superiors were mainly the butt of his stories, but they knew that when he had that twinkle in his eyes as he told them, they were going to be in trouble.

He also served as a member of North Ayrshire and Arran Health Council, and made his presence felt.

Indeed, he was particularly proud of being responsible for the buses being rerouted to have a stop outside the main door of Crosshouse Hospital. In addition he was appointed a Prisons Visitor, a position he undertook for many years; but at an early stage he realised it was dangerous to accept food from the prison lags as he had been informed it could have been “interfered with”.

For all the good work undertaken throughout his career as a firefighter Michael was awarded the MBE in 1995, travelling to London to be presented with the award by the Queen at Buckingham Palace. He was immensely proud of this honour, and it was one that he thoroughly deserved.

He had numerous hobbies, too. He was a very proud car-owner, and his vehicles were always immaculately clean and polished, something he took care of in between his firefighting duties.

He was an avid player of dominoes, which he enjoyed at the local Celtic Club; and latterly he took a keen interest in growing tomatoes in his greenhouse.

They were, of course, always prize-winners.

Michael is survived by his wife Marie (whom he married in February 1963), his daughter Marie and her husband Neil, his son Michael, and his grandchildren Robert, Ryan and Vicky, all of whom he doted upon.

He is also survived by his sisters, Eileen and Helen, and his brothers, Finbar and George.