Former RTÉ presenter Brian Farrell dies aged 85

Broadcaster had unique presentation style and ‘extraordinary’ knowledge of Irish politics

Brian Farrell, one of Ireland's leading broadcasters and academics, has died at the age of 85.

Mr Farrell presented some of the top current affairs programmes on RTÉ over four decades and led the coverage of ten general election counts over the period.

He was also known to generations of students at UCD as an inspirational lecturer on politics.

Farrell wrote a number of important books on Irish politics including the seminal Chairman Or Chief?: The Role of Taoiseach in Irish Government which examined the role of the Taoiseach.


Born in 1929 in Manchester to Irish parents Farrell moved to Dublin to live with his grandparents during the Second World War.

He was educated at Colaiste Mhuire, University College Dublin and Harvard University.

He married Marie-Therese Dillon, granddaughter of the Irish nationalist leader John Dillon in April 1955.

Mr Farrell joined the administrative staff of University College Dublin in 1955, later became director of extramural studies, and in 1957 became assistant to the registrar.

In 1966, he began lecturing in the department of ethics and politics at UCD and went on to become senior lecturer in politics and later associate professor of politics.

He came to wider public attention as an authoratative commentator on current affairs.

His career in the media began as a leader writer in the Irish Press newspaper. He did some radio work in the 1950s and became a presenter with RTE television shortly after it began broadcasting in 1962.

In the following decades he presented a series of flagship current affairs programmes including Broadsheet, Newsbeat, 7 Days, Today Tonight and Prime Time.

He covered major events at home and abroad, starting with the visit of American president John F Kennedy to Ireland in 1963.

He has presented the results programmes for ten Irish general elections and interviewed several US presidents, including Ronald Reagan.

He was twice honoured with Jacob's Awards, the first in 1968 for his presentation of 7 Days and the second for his role in the RTÉ coverage of the 1977 general election results.

In December 2000, he presented an Irish historical programme 100 Years, a retrospective of events in Ireland over the 20th century.

Two of his sons, David Farrell and Theo Farrell, followed Brian Farrell into academia: David is professor of politics in the school of politics and international relations at UCD and Theo is professor of war studies at King’s College, London.

President Michael D. Higgins extended his sympathies to Farrell’s family. He was “ an outstanding broadcaster and political commentator and in so many ways he set the standard for others to follow, during the early days of RTE television,” Mr Higgins said in a statement issued from Malawi.

“He will be missed by all, but particularly by those of us who knew him as a friend,” he said.

RTÉ director general Noel Curran described him as “one of the most respected and talented Current Affairs presenters ever to appear on RTÉ”.

“His incisive analysis was paired with a unique presentation style and a depth of knowledge about Irish politics that was extraordinary,” Mr Curran said.

“He was also a fantastic colleague. Wise, witty, supportive but also not afraid to challenge, he was a hugely positive presence on the current affairs team. I consider it a privilege to have worked with him. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Secretary of the National Union of Journalists Seamus Dooley paid tribute to “one of the finest interviewers of his generation, asking the questions the viewer wanted asked — always dogged, always determined but always courteous.”

“Colleagues remember Brian for his generosity of spirit, his willingness to share information, ideas and wisdom and of course his sparking sense of humour,” he said.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times