Katie Kahn-Carl obituary: Determined editor who established RTÉ’s foreign coverage

Upbeat personality helped her build network of colleagues and friends across the world

Katie Kahn-Carl in 1998. She arrived at UCD in the early 1950s, availing of a scholarship to study German and French.

Born: April 10th, 1934

Died: August 2nd, 2021

The former foreign news editor of RTÉ, Catherine (Katie) Kahn-Carl, has died following a short illness. Kahn-Carl was a major figure in organising RTÉ’s international news coverage, selling Irish stories to foreign broadcasting stations and providing reporters with contacts for assignments abroad. Her warm, upbeat and engaging personality coupled with her forthright charm and determination allowed her to build a network of colleagues and friends across the world.

Kahn-Carl’s work in RTÉ began on December 27th, 1961, when she joined what was then Telefís Éireann four days before it started broadcasting. She was appointed foreign editor in August 1991 and held the position for eight years until her retirement in April 1999.


Her proficiency in several languages including French, German, Italian and Swahili made her an ideal person to work with television networks from other countries and promote co-operation on coverage of international news and events. She negotiated regularly with stations in the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), providing news footage from Ireland and guaranteeing in return that RTÉ would be well supplied when a major news story erupted abroad. Her job was to “sell hard” Irish news of interest in Europe and to buy as cheaply as possible foreign news stories in what were often cash-strapped times.

Every year, she made her famous “whiskey run” dropping off bottles of “the hard stuff” on foreign desks all over London. Her generosity was returned when it came to RTÉ gaining coverage of breaking stories, sometimes piggybacking on satellite feeds of bigger broadcasting corporations and paying a pro rata fee for short excerpts of their coverage. Then when the BBC or ITN came to Ireland, they were often given free use of the national broadcaster’s facilities in return.


Kahn-Carl’s independent voice and lively spirit meant she became a strong role model to female reporters, many of whom benefited from her mentoring. Joe Mulholland, former managing director of news and current affairs at the station said that Kahn-Carl was a “whirlwind force in the RTÉ newsroom and a great friend to so many - including myself”.

Former news reporter Charlie Bird said that Kahn-Carl was “a mammy to generations of RTÉ reporters who travelled all over the world. Nobody ever had a bad word to say about Katie – not just in RTÉ but in the EBU, the BBC, ITV – wherever you went, everyone knew Katie.”

In The RTÉ Book (Townhouse Dublin, 1989) by Deirdre Purcell, a chapter on “Our Katie” includes a vignette that captured her personal reach around the world. When Tom McSweeney went to cover the Ethiopian famine for RTÉ in 1984, he and his crew began filming within minutes of arriving at the airport at Addis Ababa. A man approached him on the tarmac saying “I’m Michael Buerk of the BBC, please give me your film. I’ll bring it to Nairobi and satellite it back from there. The pictures will be on RTÉ tonight.” Tom was slightly dubious about handing over the vital footage. “It’s alright,” said Buerk. “Katie says it’s okay.” The pictures were transmitted on RTÉ that night.

Concentration camps

Catherine Kahn-Carl was born in Paris to Ottilie (Tilly) Carl and her first husband, Friedrich Kahn, a widower with one son. The family lived happily in Frankfurt in Germany where her father worked as a banker. Then, in 1939, her father was murdered by the Nazis just after he had received travel papers to go to Switzerland. Several other members of the Kahn family went on to die in Nazi concentration camps.

Four-year old Katie fled Frankfurt with her mother, first to Strasbourg and then Paris before departing to what were then the British colonies in east Africa where her step-brother lived. However, soon after they arrived, Tilly was regarded as an alien and told she would have to go with other German nationals into a prisoner of war camp. Instead, she found and married a lonely Frenchman whom she subsequently divorced. She married again – this time happily – to Emil Luternauer, with whom she later managed hotels in Kenya and Uganda. Their daughter, Lucie – Katie’s half-sister – was born in 1941 and, following their education with the Loreto nuns in Kenya, both sisters moved to Ireland to study at University College Dublin.

Jewish heritage

Katie arrived first in the early 1950s, availing of a scholarship to study German and French. While at UCD, she converted to Catholicism and although proud of the Jewish heritage on her father’s side, she remained a committed Catholic throughout her life. Following her degree, she worked for a time at the Canadian embassy before joining RTÉ and remaining there for the rest of her career.

Kahn-Carl was a generous and loyal friend who hosted parties in her homes for many years in Dartmouth Square and later in Stillorgan. She also maintained close contact with family in the UK, France and Canada.

A lover of the arts, she frequently went to the theatre and attended gallery openings. She was a great supporter of young and upcoming artists. Widely travelled, she was committed to human rights and justice, particularly through the charity Aidlink, whose programmes empowered women and girls in Kenya, Uganda and Ghana to complete their education. She was also actively involved in local residents associations, the UCD Women’s Graduate Association and the Arts Committee at the Royal Hospital in Donnybrook.

Fantastic life

Energetic and enthusiastic even in her older years (she was a member of a book club, and a gym until shortly before she died), she never allowed the trauma of her early childhood years encroach on her professional and social life. She died happy, saying that she had a most fantastic life. Close friends are hoping that she quietly stashed away her memoirs, which could be now published posthumously.

Catherine (Katie) Kahn-Carl is survived by her half-sister, Lucie Walker (Luternauer), nephews, nieces, grand-nephews and grand-nieces and her god-daughters, Sarah Butler-Rees and Catherine Peddie. She was predeceased by her half-brother, Fritz Hartman, and nephew Francis Hartman.