Four Years in the Cauldron review: Beaming the Trump years back home

RTÉ’s man in Washington Brian O’Donovan’s jaunty memoir of a frenetic time

How it started: Brian O’Donovan on his appointment as RTÉ’s Washington correspondent.
Four Years in the Cauldron: Telling the extraordinary story of America in crisis
Four Years in the Cauldron: Telling the extraordinary story of America in crisis
Author: Brian O’Donovan
ISBN-13: 978-1844885770
Publisher: Sandycove
Guideline Price: €17.99

Brian O’Donovan recalls a funny scene when his wife Joanna overheard fellow guests talking about a guy behaving strangely on the third-floor landing of their South Carolina holiday apartments.

“He’s holding a microphone, doing some kind of news report, but he’s wearing shorts!” said one woman of the RTÉ reporter who had interrupted his holiday to send a report back to Dublin.

O’Donovan’s wife texted to warn him he might have company during the live broadcast – which was about the racial protests spreading across the country; meanwhile a man lurking around O’Donovan reported back to his wife that the Cork man looked like someone “who was on vacation but had to work”.

Such is the nature of the TV news business, particularly reporting from a country with a fast-beating news metronome, that RTÉ’s Washington correspondent regularly had to drop what he was doing to keep pace with the events of Donald Trump’s years in the White House.


His memoir of that time in the US, Four Years in the Cauldron: Telling the extraordinary story of America in crisis, captures well both the frenetic life of a reporter covering a country as large and newsworthy as the US and the Punch and Judy period in American politics that was the Trump presidency. He was never short of material, particularly with Trump’s chaotic handling of the Covid-19 crisis which, O’Donovan says, cost the president a second term.

The book skips through the major events in the US from January 2018 without the behind-the-scenes detail a White House correspondent might offer, though that ground has been well trodden by former Trump aides. Where the memoir does shed new light is in the recollections of Irish and Irish-American politicians, notably former taoiseach Leo Varadkar, of the president.

“It felt like you were the next guest on his talk show,” said Varadkar of his various meetings in the Oval Office, where the US president, like a king, barked orders at his courtiers.

Readers should not expect a deep-dive analysis into the complex currents of American politics from this book, but O’Donovan’s inclusion of the voices of everyday people he met on the beat gives some insight into how the Trump presidency happened and why many still support him.

Four Years in the Cauldron is a light and often funny jaunt though the Trump years told through O’Donovan’s journalistic travels. And it is enriched with colourful vignettes of how his young daughters viewed the momentous events that both he and they tried to make sense of.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times