Mary Kennedy: ‘I had to give up work when I was 65. I didn’t choose to leave RTÉ’

Former Nationwide presenter was obliged to retire. In Mary Kennedy: Fad Saoil she makes the case that older women still have an active role to play

Mary Kennedy was vocal about not wanting to retire from RTÉ when she turned 65, in 2019. Four years later the former Eurovision host and Nationwide presenter is back on the airwaves. Mary Kennedy: Fad Saoil (TG4, Wednesday, 9.30pm) makes the case that women in their 60s and beyond still have an active role to play – and can continue to live fulfilling lives.

Old age is no longer what it was, she points out. “I don’t think I’m old,” she says. “I’m 68. I don’t feel any different.”

Kennedy is a buoyant presence, and it’s to her credit that her documentary maintains an air of optimism while circling such weighty themes as failing health, loneliness and – heaviest of all – death.

Less successful, perhaps, is the pretext of exploring ageing through a gender-based prism. Surely ageism, fear of the unknown, ailing health and all of the programme’s other themes apply to men as much as to women.


Ireland is still fundamentally patriarchal, of course, but if there is any aspect of life in which we’re all treated more or less equally it is growing old and being made to feel we have outlived our usefulness. (This is quite distinct from society’s erasure of middle-aged women.) There may very well be an argument that women have it worse at this phase of their life – but if there is one, Fad Saoil doesn’t present it successfully.

Kennedy is careful not to make the film all about her. But perhaps she should have delved more deeply into her personal experience, particularly her contentious departure from RTÉ: her contract required her to leave Montrose when she turned 65, as if she had outlived her usefulness. The argument she puts forward – one supported by the various experts interviewed – is that staying busy and having a purpose can slow mental and physical decline. Often “there’s a mindset you’re getting old”, she says. “I had to give up work… I didn’t choose to leave work.”

Fittingly for someone who clocked up so much mileage on Nationwide, she travels far and wide looking for illumination about ageing. She explores the topic of ageing and sexuality with Máire Ní G of Feminine Sexual Alchemy, who tells her students to “Greet their womb with a smile”.

The most sobering section of the film comes when she travels to Kerry to talk to Máire Ní Chinnéide, who is 76 and all too aware that life will not carry on forever. “I want to have a hand in my own death,” she says. “The hospital, the nursing home… I have a big issue with that.”

Kennedy also meets Prof Rose Anne Kenny of the pioneering Tilda ageing research programme in Dublin. “Having purpose and a positive attitude can add an additional seven years to longevity,” Kenny says in what feels like the final word on the topic. “You are as young as you feel.”