THE late Cathal O’Shannon who died last week will be remembered by most for his work on radio and television, work that gave rise to his reputation as one of the all-time greats in Irish broadcasting.
But what is often overlooked is that Cathal, a man of many parts,spent many years as Public Affairs Director at Aughinish Alumina.
It was, he admitted openly, a job he took because the salary offered was too good to refuse. The trigger, as his friend and fellow journalist, Emer O’Kelly recalled in an obituary at the weekend, was looking at his 12-year-old car and realising it was going to be his 20-year-old car if he didn’t do something.
Aughinish at the time was the single biggest industrial projet to come on stream in Ireland and generated huge interest.
REcalling his former boss this week, Pat Lynch, who worked as Community Relations Manager under Cathal at Aughinish said: “He was certainly a most unusual man, brilliant in so many ways. He left a lasting impression on everyone he came in contact with. I was very fond of him even though he could be exasperating at times. I thought of him as an older brother.”
The building of Aughinish between 1978 and 1983 was a particularly exciting time, Mr Lynch recalled. “It was the largest construction site in Europe at the time.”
“But the first assignment Cathal got was sto run the Press Centre at Greenpark for the Pope’s visit in 1979. The appeal went out for people to help and Aughinish volunteered Cathal - and where he went, I had to go.” It was, he remembered, a huge, incredible undertaking, providing facilities and information to hundreds of journalists and photographers at a time when Ireland and Limerick were in the gaze of the world’s media.
In a letter to the Limerick Leader this week, Professor Noel Mulcahy also -recalled the moves to have Cathal O’Shannon head up a board to seek a local radio station licence in Limerick in the 1980s. In the event, he says, the bid was unsuccessful but he regretted that Limerick did not benefit from Cathal’s “creative input”. Limerick lost a great opportunity, Professor Mulcahy writes and broadcasting Ireland has now lost of its greats.
When the job at Aughinish ended when Cathal reached normal “retirement” age, he returned to broadcasting - and as succeeded in bringing to the small screen a story that had a long gestation with him. Ireland’s Nazis was broadcast in 2007 and told the story of those Nazi supporters to whom official Ireland gave shelter. But for many, it was Cathal’s documentary Even the Olives are Bleeding along with the interview with Muhammed Ali which stand out.
The son of a trade union official, Cathal ran away to enlist in the RAF in 1945 - and was posted to Burma. He worked at different times with the BBC, the Irish Times and RTE. His wife Patsy Dyke predeceased him. They had no children.