Children's TV pioneer made indelible mark on programming
At UCD she completed a double honours MA by thesis in French and Irish. She taught French and Irish for a little while at St Louis Rathmines and St Margaret’s Hall.
She then joined the Place Names Commission along with another future RTÉ colleague, Ciarán MacMathúna, and was assigned to Co Donegal, but found she did not have the temperament for research.
She joined Radio Éireann in the mid-1950s as assistant to the head of children’s programmes. When RTÉ was established in 1962, she was appointed as its first head of children’s television programmes.
The new service in its early years saw a huge emphasis on education and children. With funding from the Department of Education, Teilifís Scoile was instrumental in updating teaching methods and curricula. She later recalled many pupils’ only access to a TV set was in school and their only experience of seeing a laboratory was the one they saw in the studio.
Innovations included using actors such as Siobhán McKenna and Hilton Edwards in dramatisations of Shakespeare, aerial footage for geography series and animation for mathematics. She also believed there could never be enough home-made programmes for children.
“Television brings the outside world home. To the extent that it affirms the culture, a child’s self-esteem is enhanced and their grasp of reality strengthened,” she wrote.
A colleague recalled her reputation as a “strong woman”. She once rang director general Vincent Finn (with whom she was very friendly) at home during the weekend and gave him a piece of her mind on an issue. Asked by the colleague on Monday if that call was wise, she replied: “Probably not but I certainly felt much better after it!”
While lecturing in the communications centre in Booterstown, where the Radharc programmes were made, she met her future husband, Ryszard Piskorski, with whom she had a son, Stefan.
When funding was withdrawn for RTÉ programming by the Department of Education in the 1970s, she felt her department was marginalised and the wealth of skills built up allowed to lie fallow.
After her retirement she was very active in Age and Opportunity and Parlaimint na mBan, a forum for women through the Irish language. She also edited many of her mother’s writings and, with her fine voice, could recall at family get-togethers all the verses of obscure ballads and “come all yes” celebrating rural life in Co Meath.
She is survived by her husband, Ryszard, and son, Stefan.