Broadcaster and journalist Cathal O’Shannon yesterday became a lifetime member of the Irish Film and Television Academy at an intimate IFTA tribute event which took place in Dublin’s Conrad hotel. The event saw the 83 year old joined by friends, old colleagues and industry peers as he took part in a public interview with IFTA Lifetime member Gay Byrne. This was followed by the presentation of a specially made Life in Television statuette.
The warm and informal event took place in Dublin on Wednesday 22nd of September at 1pm and saw the celebration Cathal's vibrant ‘Life in Television’ through a repertoire of work from The Irish Times to RTÉ via BBC, with Broadsheet and Newsbeat. Archive footage shown on the day reminded the gathered crowd of highlights of Cathal’s career including his time with the BBC on ‘Tonight’; his infamous interview – ‘Muhammad Ali v Cathal O'Shannon’; and his award winning documentaries ‘Even The Olives are Bleeding’, ‘Emmet Dalton Remembers’ and series such as ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ and ‘Hidden History’.
Invited guests of the Academy included actors Niall Tobin (Veronica Guerin), Fionnula Flanagan (The Others); producer John McColgan (Riverdance); ex-Irish Film Censors John Kelleher and Sheamus Smith; director Paul Cusack (Fair City); broadcasters Michael Ryan and Tom McGurk; filmmaker Eamon De Buitlear (An Saol Beo); producers Bill Hughes (The Sullivans), Larry Masterson (Health Squad), Brian Hayes (The Blood of the Irish) and Stephen Rooke (Death or Canada); Head of RTÉ Corporate Communications Kevin Dawson;BAI Chief Executive Michael O’Keeffe alongside many of Cathal’s other Academy peers and industry colleagues.
Commenting that there was never a day in television to which he did not look forward Cathal accepted his tribute statuette, to a standing ovation from the crowd, jokingly saying: “Might I just say how flattered I am by this fantastic greeting … I don’t deserve it, but I do really! Thank you very much.”
His light-hearted comments continued when he voiced his gratitude to the Academy, explaining that: “It is always flattering to be acknowledged by your peers - to have contributed something to your profession, and I am very grateful to IFTA for this honour. It is particularly gratifying that it occurs before I pop my clogs!”
Speaking about the decision to honour Cathal with the event Áine Moriarty, Chief Executive of the Irish Film & Television Academy, told us that: “We have no doubt that Cathal will savour this special Tribute from his Academy peers, friends and colleagues. It is an indication of the high regard the Irish industry and community has for his work and the personality of the man himself.”
Tributes were paid throughout the day to Cathal and his legacy thus far.
Fionnula Flanagan voiced her respect for the broadcaster, saying: “Cathal O’Shannon, what can I say - sublimely truthful, courageous journalist and broadcaster. He is an outstanding man of conscience who enlightened us all and humbly reminded us that with some courage and care we could be a better nation. His country owes him a great debut and it is an honour to join his friends and colleagues today in memory of my father and Cathal’s friend & fellow republican Terry Flanagan, to pay tribute to Cathal O’Shannon – A great Irishman.”
Larry Masterson shared memories of working with Cathal in RTÉ telling us:
“"Cathal O Shannon was the first reporter I worked with when I joined RTE as a researcher 35 years ago. We spent time travelling the highways and byways of Ireland looking for stories and people to interview for programmes such as Tangents and later Tuesday Report. In those days RTE was the only channel available throughout most of Ireland and it is no exaggeration to say that O Shannon was instantly recognised where ever he went.
"His success lay in the fact that he never allowed this so called celebrity get in the way of meeting and chatting to the plain people of Ireland. This natural affability combined with his ability to tell a good storey guaranteed his success as a television presenter. There was also a sense of devilment about Cathal which endeared him to the viewers. To be pompous and self important is not part of his nature and we love him for it. ”
Riverdance producer, John McColgan highlighted Cathal’s fun-loving nature, saying: “Cathal O’Shannon is a distinctive voice in Irish broadcasting for over forty years. His combination of curiosity, integrity, good humour and good writing has enlivened his wide-ranging television output. He is great company and an endearing rascal who can tell some of the most scandalous and outrageous stories you are ever likely to hear!”
Senator Eoghan Harris also made clear his thoughts about Cathal, saying: “Cathal O Shannon's life and work covers the complete complexity of Irish identity. The son of a famous Irish socialist, he volunteered for the Royal Air Force to fight fascism, then came home to make classic films about legendary Irish patriots like Michael Collins. And he did it all with grace and good humour. Go maire se chead.”
However the best quotes on the day came from Cathal himself who, when asked by Gay Byrne, about his celebrated interview with Mohammad Ali described it as the highlight of his career and recalled his first impression of the boxer with an incomparable description: “His warmth, and the size of his shagging boots! His hands, Gay, were no bigger than mine but he had the biggest feet you’ve ever seen. He must have been wearing size 17’s they were gigantic. He’d done hundreds of interviews so really it wasn’t that my interview with him was so good, he was good at my interview. I felt a certain warmth towards him and I thought I saw a warmth in his eyes.
Cathal received further congratulations from former broadcaster Mike Murphy, BAI’s Bob Collins, Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy and wrier Maeve Binchy amongst many others.
With this bestowal of the IFTA Lifetime Membership award Cathal joins prominent ranks which includes other industry talents such as Maureen O’Hara, Gay Byrne, Pierce Brosnan, George Morrison, Nuala Moiselle and John Boorman.
To view the gallery of photos from the IFTA tribute to Cathal O’Shannon click here http://www.iftn.ie/gallery For information about joining the Irish Film and Television Academy click here: www.ifta.ie