If the fictional author JR Hartley is the name most associated with fly fishing in England, his counterpart in Ireland was almost certainly the very real figure of Peter O’Reilly.
The Cavan man, who has died aged 78, published a series of bestselling books on angling which have become bibles for those dedicated to the sport in Ireland.
He was also much in demand as a teacher of the mysterious art of fly casting and accompanied celebrity anglers such as his good friend Jack Charlton, Ian Botham and Eric Clapton on fishing trips as well as visiting dignitaries to Ireland.
Born at Maudabawn, Co Cavan, where he learned to fish on the river Annalee, O’Reilly was a talented footballer and runner at St Patrick’s College in Cavan before taking up a post as game angling officer with the Central Fisheries Board.
He travelled to all corners of Ireland, from the Bann in Coleraine to the Blackwater in Co Kerry, talking to fishery managers and local anglers as he gathered a wealth of information on the unique characteristics of the island’s loughs and rivers.
He began writing for Trout and Salmon magazine in the 1980s and was persuaded to write four books: Loughs of Ireland: a flyfisher’s guide, Rivers of Ireland, Flies of Ireland and Flyfishing in Ireland.
O’Reilly also ran a fly fishing school near his home in Navan, Co Meath, represented Ireland in the sport and briefed foreign journalists on Ireland’s fisheries on behalf of Fáilte Ireland.
His publisher Merlin Unwin told The Irish Times he was “without doubt the most knowledgeable man in Ireland” about fly fishing.
“He was a meticulous, tactful and perceptive author, generous with his fishing and fly-tying advice and, throughout the 35 years of our author/publisher friendship, he was always a delight to work with.”
His widow Rose also said he was a passionate conservationist.
“Peter always reminded us that the Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. Whatever he does to the web of life he does to himself… Respect, preserve and protect it; every part is sacred.”
Peter O’Reilly died on December 6 2018 and is also survived by a son, Patrick.