Award-winning RTÉ western editor closes a 46-year career

Sat, Dec 31, 2011, 00:00

HE HAS reported from Mayo to Montserrat to Mogadishu and compass points beyond, and his voice is indelibly linked with the Atlantic seaboard.

However, RTÉ’s longest-serving regional correspondent, Jim Fahy, intends to file his last news report today when he retires as western editor.

The Galway journalist has won up to 40 awards for his work, ranging from his Looking Westradio series to his international television documentaries.

“The best print journalist I ever worked with,” is how former print colleague Jim Carney, sports and agriculture correspondent at the Tuam Herald, describes him. Former Irish Timeswestern correspondent Michael Finlan recalls that Fahy was “always at the top of his game” with regular scoops. Former Roscommon Herald journalist Cormac MacConnell says he was “impossible to mark”.

Fahy, who was reared in the east Galway village of Kilrickle, originally wanted to be a pilot, but his application to Aer Lingus was turned down on eyesight grounds. His next calling was journalism, and he was hired by Jarlath Burke, then editor of the Tuam Herald,in 1965.

The young reporter developed a successful social diary for the Tuam Herald, “Nitescene”, and MacConnell recalls that he coined the phrase “Cupid’s Bus” for the coaches that took female civil servants working in Dublin back to the west every weekend.

One of his early scoops involved reporting on a meeting at a secret location of the Gluaiseacht Chearta Sibhialta civil rights movement, when the Tuam Heraldbyline declared: “from Jim Fahy, somewhere in Connemara, last night”.

Mayo journalist Tom Shiel recalls how he created his own job with RTÉ, “roaming the highways and byways with a big and cumbersome reel-to-reel tape recorder”.

His ground-breaking Looking Westseries of some 450 radio programmes recorded the lives of storytellers and musicians and wise elders in remote locations.

Memorable early television reports of Fahy’s included the exchange with the late Msgr James Horan standing by bulldozers in a Mayo bog in 1981. When Fahy asked him what he was up to he said he was “building an airport” but hoped “the Department of Transport doesn’t hear about it”. The exchange has been immortalised in the book and musical about Knock by Terry Reilly, On a Wing and a Prayer.

Fahy “hunted alone” on big stories, Shiel remembers. One such example was the Garda/Army search for businessman Don Tidey, who had been kidnapped by the Provisional IRA in 1983. Fahy stumbled upon the joint operation in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, having been out driving small roads at night with a local reporter.

His taste for travel dated to 1976 when he made a series of radio interviews with producer Dick Warner. The pair caught up with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and travelled across Africa from Uganda to the former Rhodesia where they interviewed Irish bishop Donal Lamont, who had been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for giving medical aid to black guerrillas.

Fahy declined to attend a Jacobs Award ceremony [where he won an award] in 1984 when it was stipulated he could only wear a dress-suit. He subsequently won dozens of awards at home, and also at international festivals for his television documentaries with producer Caroline Bleahen.

The documentaries profiled the role of Irish aid workers in Belarus, Haiti and Somalia, and he fulfilled a lifelong dream to travel to the island of New Ireland off Papua New Guinea.

“He showed himself to be possibly the best interviewer in RTÉ,” Finlan recalls. “Unlike some who seem to like the sound of their own voice, Jim always brought a polite reticence, recognising that the most important person in the dialogue was the one who was giving him the interview.”