Death of broadcaster O'Shannon

 

The death has been announced of veteran broadcaster and journalist Cathal O’Shannon.

The 83-year-old broadcaster with the distinctive voice was known for series such as Thou Shalt Not Kill, Hidden History and the award-winning Spanish civil war documentary Even the Olives are Bleeding.

He began his journalism career at The Irish Times, where he worked for legendary editor RM Smyllie, a friend of his father’s. He cecame a foreign correspondent, joining Irish troops on their expedition to the Congo.

He then moved to work for the newspaper in London, where he met his wife Patsy Dyke.

He moved to RTÉ magazine programme Broadsheet in the early 1960s before moving to the BBC Tonight programme in 1964.

He returned to RTÉ to work on Newsbeat in the late 1960s, and in 1972 conducted a legendary interview with world boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Born in Marino in Dublin, in 1928, O'Shannon went to school in Marino and then to Colaiste Mhuire. From there he joined Britain's Royal Air Force. He and a school friend, Fred O'Donovan, later chairman of the RTE Authority and of the Concert Hall, lied about their ages and were recruited in Belfast.

They were first sent to Long Kesh. O’Shannon was then sent to the Far East, having trained as a gunner, but missed taking part in the second World War, following the Japanese surrender after Hiroshima. He spent two years in Burma and Malaya. His first dabblings in journalism were for an RAF paper.

He became one of the most colourful figures in Irish journalism, although he abandoned it for 15 years to work in public relations for Alcan in Co Limerick.

O'Shannon said at an event in Dublin last year, where he was made a lifetime member of the Irish Film Television Academy, that the highlight of his career was interviewing Ali, who was a “vital and immensely warm” individual.

He also spoke of interviewing former taoiseach Charles Haughey, whom he described as having “the coldest eyes you’ve ever seen”.

RTÉ director general Noel Curran said today O’Shannon was one of the foremost talents of the first 50 years of Irish television broadcasting. “He could handle local Irish stories with charm, grasp major historical themes in longer documentary form, and in all forms and on all occasions he spoke to the viewer through the camera with remarkable ease and facility,” Mr Curran said.

RTÉ Television managing director Glen Killane also paid tribute to O’Shannon. “His RTÉ studio interview with Muhammad Ali in 1972 was both one of the best such encounters RTÉ ever carried and one of the most relaxed and entertaining that Ali – then perhaps the world’s greatest celebrity - ever did,” he said. “And yet Cathal was equally at home travelling the highways and byways of Ireland reporting for Broadsheet and Newsbeat in the fledgling TV service days of the 1960s.”