herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

career

MY DREAM WAS to be a ship's captain, but fate Pulled me towards a life in print

My journey into journalism

At home some years ago, to do a piece of work that couldn't be done elsewhere, my intention was to keep away from all my old haunts and stay in the new hotel, The River Island. There, with peace, the work could be done. Little did I know: within half an hour the bar was mobbed. The word had got round that the "great man" was home.

Most of my audience were my former students. Indeed you couldn't call them an audience because they did all the talking.

It amazed me that nearly all the boys and girls had one ambition: they wished to be journalists and print journalists at that. They were given a promise that they could read the next number of the Evening Herald and they would find the advice there.

Now my experience in journalism is best explained. It wasn't my slightest ambition after doing the Leaving Cert: my dream was to be a ship's captain. Michael O'Connell, the famous footballer, had a similar ambition. He started out on the course but gave up, probably like me he knew that on a long voyage you would miss a lot of activity at home -- such as games and politics.

And so there was a dream left: to go to England and become a professional Rugby League player. In my first year in college, several offers came to me but I decided to go on with my education. And that was another dream gone away.

Then after two years at home, working at various jobs in the two islands, I was drifting and harbouring vague ideas of becoming a film director but fate intervened.

A famous politician, Charlie Lenihan, decided that our town needed a publication of its own: a daily paper wouldn't make sense, a Sunday was even less feasible; he decided to start what you could call a monthly magazine; it was called The Taxpayers' News.

He invited me to be the editor: it was a grandiloquent title but it meant little. I would be employed to correct mistakes and spelling and grammatical errors. However, after a few numbers it was clear to me that my own job should be more than that and so my career as a real journalist began, by writing about whatever themes came into my mind.

When Charlie passed away, The Kerryman invited me to write his obituary. Then they asked me to contribute every week and so my new role was deeper into journalism. My articles covered a wide field, including politics, economics, the theatre, fair days and music festivals.

They were dangerous times in the country and especially in Kerry: the editor, Seamus McConville, and his assistant, Tony Meade, showed courage beyond the call of duty in publishing articles that were critical of the subversives, mostly written by me. We got almost daily threats of bombing and had a few narrow escapes. A man came to the office one day with enough gelignite to blow up several buildings. It was a church holiday and The Kerryman was locked up on both sides. And so the friendly man took his gelignite away.

After about 10 years with The Kerryman, at the same time I was also writing for The Evening Press. That had become a full-time job and it was impossible to carry on both but because I was living in Dublin, my connection with The Kerryman had to be allowed go, much to my sorrow.



friendliness

In The Kerryman there was nothing but friendliness and cooperation -- in Burgh Quay it was a different story. Especially in The Evening Press there was hostility, open and veiled. Michael O'Toole, God rest him, was a great friend to me in those troubled times: he advised me to go on working and forget about the enmity and that it would all blow over.

I thought, too, of an old Chinese saying: be as kind as you can to your enemy and he will become ashamed. It wasn't fully true -- some of the hostility remained till the very end but the show went on, especially when the circulation went up.

Some of the objections to me were based on the fact that I wasn't in the NUJ, but I had been for over 10 years and came from a great trade union background.

Sport was never my field in my time in The Kerryman: that field was in the safe hands of John Barry and Eamon Horan and John Barrett, God rest him. Ironically, in The Evening Press it was expected of me to write about sport only.

It would have been my preference to write about literature and the associated arts also and so I asked Sean McCann, as good a feature editor as any paper could imagine, to give me a bit of space every other week so that I could write about literature and other themes apart from sport. He agreed and so began the feature known as Tributaries. It went well. After a few years, a man wrote to me and said: "You gave me my third level education." That meant more to me than all the awards that came to me for sports writing.

The show went on until a Thursday afternoon in 1995 when a number of my colleagues made industrial history by voting themselves out of work against my advice, which told them that the next strike would be the last one.

They didn't foresee the consequences: three of my colleagues took their own lives in a short time and others lost interest in living and faded away.

They died prematurely.

FOGRA; Congratulations go to phographer Ray McManus and his staff in Sportsfile, on his latest international award. It was well deserved

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