Women (and men) in media

Sat, May 4, 2013, 05:58

Sir, – I would like to thank Rosita Boland for her report about the Women in Media weekend in Ballybunion (Home News, April 30th) held in honour of the late Mary Cummins, and paying tribute also to Maeve Binchy (who had links with Ballybunion). But for the sake of the historical record, I would like to add a relevant point.

Miriam O’Callaghan said, rightly, in her short speech that women should encourage other women in the media, but it is a historical fact that the generation of women writers represented by Mary Cummins and Maeve Binchy were greatly encouraged and helped by men in the media. Mary Cummins was an inspirational feminist, but she would not have broken into journalism if it hadn’t been for Donal Foley of The Irish Times , who was outstanding about encouraging women to write, in the 1960s and 1970s: Mary Maher and Nell McCafferty were also among those he promoted and admired, as was Maeve Binchy herself, under the aegis of Douglas Gageby. Mary Holland, too, although she had experience at the Observer before coming to The Irish Times , always spoke about how supportive Donal Foley was of women writers. He was encouraging to me, too, even though I was working for a rival paper at the time. Donal had a way of expressing his confidence in a writer.

Other men in the Irish media at the time were genuinely proactive in promoting women: at the Irish Press group, Sean McCann opened up opportunities for a generation of women writers, including Clare Boylan, Nuala Fennell and Terry Prone, and Tim Pat Coogan was hugely supportive to me, to Rosita Sweetman and to Anne Harris, now editor of the Sunday Independent .

CP Scott famously said that “comment is free, but facts are sacred” and if some historian or archivist should be writing a thesis about women in media in our time, this is a fact that should not be omitted: that a generation of women in media were encouraged, helped, supported and promoted by men in media. I did say this in a speech at Ballybunion, and although I perfectly understand there isn’t room for everything in any newspaper report, nevertheless it is a point of historical truth and fairness that should be put on the record. – Yours, etc,


The Reform Club,

Pall Mall, London, England.