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Farewell to ‘Big Mick’: Neighbours clap generous, gentle giant on final journey

Cab driver Michael O'Shea completed The Knowledge in record time

26 April, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Michael O’Shea was applauded by his neighbours while a bag-piper played

HE was known as “Big Mick”, because he stood 6ft 3ins in his socks, but Michael O’Shea, who has passed away aged 54, was large in every sense.

His generosity and kindness were legendary in the Highgate Newtown neighbourhood, as was his fun-loving character and the lifelong friendships he nurtured.

And his funeral, which took place on Friday, saw hundreds of friends and family carefully line Dartmouth Park Hill where he lived to say their goodbyes. Because of current restrictions on funeral services due to the Covid-19 crisis, the O’Shea family were unable to lay Michael to rest in a Catholic church.

Instead, neighbours gave him a standing ovation as he set out on his last journey, and the family organised an online wake.

The crematorium service at East Finchley, limited to 10 people, was streamed on the web and watched across the world – an irony, said his son Harry.

Michael O’Shea with wife Jackie

“Michael hated technology and struggled to move with the times, but it was technology that allowed the man to get the send-off he truly deserved,” he said.

Michael was born in 1966, the youngest of five siblings of Breda and Michael, who were originally from Tipperary.

When Michael was six, they bought the Charles I pub in Northdown Street, King’s Cross. He would meet the love of his life, his wife Jackie, when they were both 14. His opening gambit was to throw an egg at her. It made an impression, as they soon became inseparable.

After leaving school, Michael became a postman and then joined the building trade. He also did “The Knowledge”, completing the black cab taxi driver exams in a year and 11 months, a record at the time.

The couple had three sons, Michael, Bradley and Harry, and their dad was a devoted and loving father. He encouraged them with their rugby and football, and instilled his values of a strong moral compass, empathy, integrity and kindness.

His half-time team talks to his boys when they were playing sports consisted of constructive advice, though often that was to take out the biggest or fastest opponent on the other side. Michael was a keen footballer himself.

He played for Alexandra Palace FC in the 1980s and led them to their first league title in Haringey in 35 years. When he finally retired – having played for the veterans team as well – he took charge of the youthful Ally Pally second team, with his son Michael on the pitch, and oversaw a league and cup double. Off the pitch and on the terraces, his club of choice was less successful.

A die-hard West Ham fan, his family recall how disappointed he was when Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard struck a late winner in the FA Cup final in 2006 against the Hammers.

Years later, Gerrard flagged his cab down.

Usually, Michael would leave celebrities alone when they settled down on the back seat – he had fares from the likes of George Best, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Windsor and Lennox Lewis – but when Gerrard got in, he couldn’t resist telling the footballer that he was a Hammer and he had never forgiven him for that late goal.

Gerrard laughed, and at the end of the trip, with £10 on the meter, he handed over £30, explaining it was £10 for the fare, and £20 to apologise for the goal.

Many neighbours benefited from Michael’s generosity. He would get a knock on the door and be asked for a lift to a hospital or train station. He never refused, even at the end of a long day – and of course, he never charged. As the coronavirus pandemic gripped London, Michael delivered groceries to those in need.

The cause of death has not yet been established, but tests revealed it was not Covid-19. He never forgot his childhood summers back in Tipperary, and loved travelling back to Ireland. But north London was always close to his heart – each evening he would stroll over the Heath, walking his husky dog, Polo.

A gentle giant, a much-loved husband, father, grandfather and friend, Michael leaves behind many happy memories and individual acts of kindness which reveal how he genuinely lived up to his nickname of “Big Mick”.

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