Dr Marie Cassidy’s Life in Death: Bracingly direct Glaswegian makes easy listening of the grimmest of subjects

Podcast review: When asked her why she retired when she did, Cassidy refers to the murder of Ana Kriégel and a changing world

Dr Marie Cassidy is the kind of person who finds Narnia in a morgue. So she tells us in the spirited first episode of Dr Marie Cassidy’s Life in Death, which aired last November and has so far been followed by seven more. And what a host we have in the Scottish-born pathologist, who spent 14 years examining dead bodies for the Irish State before retiring in 2018.

Since then she has shown up on the RTÉ TV series Dr Cassidy’s Casebook, which aired in 2021, on a documentary about the death of Michael Collins and, less predictably, on Dancing with the Stars. Now she’s spinning into audio territory with a podcast in which she is joined by the GP and crime writer Dr Paul Carson, a long-time friend, to interview a cast of fascinating characters who have similarly made death – violent, suspicious, unusual or quotidian – their professional focus.

But first she takes the interview chair herself, answering questions from Carson about what got her started in this death business in the first place. That’s where we get the Narnia analogy and an insight into the young Glaswegian from a working-class family who broke ceilings and traditions when she found her calling. Cassidy brings gumption and glee to the whole sorry business, her lilting accent and bracing directness making easy listening of the grimmest of subjects.

Most gripping is where she discusses the early cases, the first decomposing corpse she worked on for hours though the smell remained with her forever, or an early case where her analysis pointed away from the suicide claimed by the deceased’s family and towards murder. In later episodes she’s joined by the likes of Niamh McCullough, a forensic archeologist who was called in to help investigate the Tuam mother and baby home in the wake of the Catherine Corless report, and who recalls finding the remains of children and babies that underscored the awful truth of where Corless’s research had led her. We also learn about the statutory procedures around death from the former Dublin district coroner Brian Farrell, and about the character traits of psychopaths from the criminal psychologist Ciara Staunton.


The discussions can lean a little dry at times – perhaps understandably, as the death professionals eschew any impulse to get too giddy with the gore and grief of it all. And while the lengthy conversations have clearly been edited, the scalpel could have been wielded more often, to keep a tighter focus for each episode. Still, the subject is compelling, and Cassidy’s energetic engagement is often infectious enough to carry the listener through the lags.

After eight episodes that focus on death, it’s hard not to feel a little dispirited about the nature of humanity, and there’s a telling moment in episode one where it’s clear that even Cassidy herself was not unaffected by the nature of her work. When Carson asks why she retired when she did, she refers to the murder of Ana Kriégel. That 2018 case, in which a 14-year-old girl was killed by two boys her own age, shocked the nation, and it left its scars on Cassidy too. “I thought, You know something? The world’s changing, and perhaps it’s time for me to change and get out of it,” she says of her departure from the profession that made her a household name. “Sometimes you have to accept there are bad things out there.”

Fiona McCann

Fiona McCann, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer, journalist and cohost of the We Can’t Print This podcast