Journalist known for interviews with royalty and leaders


ARTHUR QUINLAN:One of the longest-serving freelance journalists of his time, Arthur Quinlan, who has died aged 91, surely interviewed more US presidents, Soviet statesmen, Latin American revolutionaries, film stars and members of the aristocracy than anybody else of his generation.

Based at Shannon Airport, his career blossomed during its hey-day as a major transatlantic fuel stop for eastward and westward flights. In 1945 he became the Irish Times man in Shannon and Limerick and was correspondent for RTÉ in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dapper and always impeccably besuited, he gave the lie to the popular image of the casually attired journalist.

Professionally he was sharp as a razor and effectively controlled the news grapevine at Shannon. No VIP ever passed through the airport unbeknown to him.

He famously taught Fidel Castro how to make Irish coffee – a Shannon invention. One of the only western journalists to have interviewed Che Guevara, his account of that meeting, published “to put the record straight” 30 years after the iconic revolutionary was killed in Bolivia, makes fascinating reading.

He recalled, for instance, that “Dr. Guevara talked of his Irish connections through the name Lynch. He said, if I recall, that his grandparents or great-grandparents on his mother’s side had left Galway for the Argentine. His were a well-off family in the city of Alta Gracia and he qualified as a Doctor.

“His name was Ernesto but he was given the nickname Che when he began to mix with Cubans. The Cubans usually put this tag on Argentineans in the same way that the Irish are sometimes called Paddys. He was 37 years old when I met him at Shannon and when the ‘ice was broken’, he wanted to go with a few friends to ‘see the night life’.

“Later that Saturday he went to Limerick City and adjourned to the Hanratty’s Hotel on Glentworth Street. They returned that evening all wearing sprigs of Shamrock, for Shannon and Limerick were preparing for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.”

Spanning over half a century, the list of VIPs interviewed by Quinlan reads like an international who’s who. It includes every US president from Harry Truman to George W Bush, Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret.

He also interviewed the kings of Albania, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Saudi Arabia, Queen Wilhelmina and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.

Born in Dublin, he was raised at Quin, Co Clare. He went to O’Connell’s school and received a BA at UCD. A keen golfer, he was an honorary life member of Castletroy and Lahinch golf clubs. He continued playing with the Munster press golfing society well into his 80s.

A former president and honorary life member of Shannon Rowing Club, he was instrumental in having the old building on the river restored.

Séamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said the union had lost “a loyal, committed and distinguished member”. He recently became a member of honour of the NUJ, its highest accolade. He was still working when he turned 90.

His wife Vera died in April. He is survived by his son, Tom, and his daughters, Ann and Joyce.

ARTHUR QUINLAN:Born January 15th, 1921 Died December 22nd, 2012