Tributes paid to Brian Farrell, the ‘authoritative voice’ on Irish politics

‘Pioneer of political science’ also remembered as inspiring lecturer

Brian Farrell presents televised coverage of the 1973 general election

Brian Farrell presents televised coverage of the 1973 general election


Behind the dicky bow and the slightly stern face, spectacles sitting under a furrowed brow, the Brian Farrell remembered by friends and colleagues following his death yesterday was a gentle man and a consummate professional.

His wife, Marie-Thérèse, had a big hand in his appearance, according to broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan. “She chose his dicky bows,” she said. “He was quite happy to admit that.”

For young Charlie Bird, fresh into RTÉ as a researcher in 1974, he was the well-established broadcaster who would take the new recruit under his wing and look after him in a fatherly way.

“I can’t tell you the number of times I’d be heading for the RTÉ canteen when he’d see me and say ‘Oh, you don’t want to go there’ and he’d whisk me off to the Montrose Hotel and buy me my tea,” Mr Bird said yesterday.

“There were a lot of egos in 7 Days, but the one person who wasn’t an egotist was Brian. He was the loveliest man.”

The more formal tributes to Farrell, who has died aged 84, were led by President Michael D Higgins, who is in Malawi. He said he had learned of his death with much sadness. “Brian Farrell 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 RTÉ television,” he said.

Incisive questioning

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Farrell was a “political institution” who had “an extraordinary way of dealing with politicians” and was a “lovely man”.

“He was the one who was an authoritative voice on analysis of politics in Ireland. He was the one who gave fairness to everybody in the sense of letting them make their contribution, and he always asked the hard questions. Brian Farrell in my view was one of the outstanding political commentators, analysts and contributors of his generation. His imprint is on the nature of politics in our country for many years.”

Farrell was born in Manchester in 1929, but was sent to Ireland during the second World War. He went to Coláiste Mhuire in Dublin and the Salesian Fathers, in Ballinakill, Co Laois, and on to UCD and Harvard.

While he specialised in current affairs broadcasting, he also orchestrated televised election debates and election-night count coverage. He twice received Jacobs awards for his contribution to public service broadcasting. He was also given the Royal Television Society Hall of Fame Award for services to broadcasting on the island of Ireland.

In the world of journalism and broadcasting, notorious for sharp-tongued rivalries, no one who knew Farrell had a bad word to say about him yesterday.

Most respected

Noel Curran

“Having started out on Radio Éireann, he was there from the very beginning of Telefís Éireann in 1962. On Broadsheet, Newsbeat, 7 Days, Today Tonight and Prime Time, his incisive analysis was paired with a unique presentation style and a depth of knowledge about Irish politics that was extraordinary,” said Curran.

“He was also a fantastic colleague. Wise, witty, supportive, but also not afraid to challenge.”

It was his ability to challenge, but in a mannerly way, that won praise yesterday from many colleagues.

“He was the most polite gentleman,” remembered Ms O’Callaghan. “He was just incredibly warm and helpful to me and then he’d go into a studio and fillet the next politician, but he was never rude.”

People often associated “niceness” with “dullness”, said Ms O’Callaghan. “But Brian wasn’t dull at all. He was just a nice, decent man and he was also incredibly happy. He loved Marie-Thérèse and their seven children – Naomi, Bernard, Miriam, David, Rachel, Theo, and Brian – and that says a lot.”

According to Morning Ireland presenter Cathal Mac Coille, Farrell had a deep respect for democracy and the political process, despite his many testy interviews with politicians.

Rigour and politeness

Maurice Manning and John Bowman, long time friends and colleagues, both drew attention to his achievements also as an academic in UCD’s politics department.

“He and Basil Chubb and John Whyte were the pioneers of political science in Ireland,” said Bowman. “Before them it tended to be an appendage to history or economics. The students – their appetites often whetted by television coverage of politics – helped to force the pace of change.”

Mr Manning, Chancellor of the NUI, said Farrell, author of Chairman or Chief?, a seminal study of the office of taoiseach, was “a fine academic and an inspiring lecturer but most of all a man of great courtesy and decency”.

Of Brian Farrell as broadcaster, Bowman said: “He combined courtesy with incisive interviewing and a degree of frankness which sometimes startled politicians. But Brian Farrell appreciated that the viewers would be on his side – as he was on theirs – and the politicians had to play by what were very new rules.”

Tributes were paid also by the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, and the National Union of Journalists Irish secretary, Séamus Dooley.

Brian Farrell’s funeral Mass will be held at 10.30am on Friday (November 14th) in the Church of the Holy Cross, Dundrum, followed by cremation at Mt Jerome, Harold’s Cross.