After awful times, Blathnaid revels in her family ties
It was the worst of times for Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh: illness for herself, her dad and her sister, and allegations of a rocky working relationship with colleague Sheana Keane. But she and her brother are experiencing new TV success, says Andrea Smith
WHEN you see Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh and her older brother Ciaran together, you wouldn't instantly put them together as siblings. She's flame-haired, lively, chatty and dramatic, while he's fair-haired, quieter and more reflective, but they're both very warm and there's a fluid and easy dynamic between them.
There are other similarities too. They were the only two of their family born in Canada, and both work in television, albeit on different sides of the camera. While Blathnaid is currently lighting up our screens as a judge on the All-Ireland Talent Show, Ciaran's three-part supernatural thriller, Na Cloigne, made its debut on TG4 last Wednesday.
By her own admission, Blathnaid tormented her older brother growing up, although as an only boy with four sisters, he was pretty much tormented by the lot of them.
"I remember realising at a certain stage that we were driving him mad," says Blathnaid, laughing. "He was quieter than we were, and he had a thing about us cackling and making noise and screaming. Our mother Nan is very loud and great craic as well, and we had a habit of dancing around the kitchen to the music on the radio with her. And if she put a bra or knickers into his drawer by accident, he'd go crazy!"
Ciaran and Blathnaid have an older sister, Siobhan, and two younger ones, Maire and Brid.
"I loved a bit of craic but I wasn't as rebellious as Blathnaid," says Ciaran. "I'd say that Blathnaid was the closest to Dad. I think he admired her spirit and forgave her any devilment for that."
Irish was the first language in their house, and they are still committed Gaelgeoirs and are utterly passionate about the language.
Born in Canada because their father Sean did a postgraduate degree in chemical engineering at the University of Ontario, they moved back to Ireland when Ciaran was five and Blathnaid was two, and lived initially in a housing estate in Trim, Co Meath. Then they moved to Rath Cairn, where their mother and father are from.
"Mam and Dad were in the same class in school, and my mother couldn't stand him because she felt he was a real know-all and quite nerdy," says Blathnaid. "He used to drive her mad, and went to London after school. He came back and they ended up getting married."
Blathnaid recalls that while she used to torment Ciaran growing up, even if he finally snapped at her in exasperation, she would rush to his defence when he was in trouble with their father.
"I think I was trying to get his attention and approval all
of the time," she says. "I would get upset if he was in trouble,which didn't make sense as I would probably have started it. I remember Dad saying that Ciaran was the most able at school of us all, and as I wasn't very academic, I was quite disappointed I wasn't like him."
After school, Ciaran studied Irish and economics at UCD, and got involved in DramSoc there. This awakened in him an interest in drama, aided by working as a runner one summer on a documentary about Inis Mor. He then embarked on a producer/directors course run by Udaras na Gaeltachta in anticipation of TG4 opening.
He co-founded his film and television company ROSG in 1998, with the aim of producing high-quality films and programmes of cultural value. Since then, he has worked on a wide range of films, drama series, documentaries, and animations, and ROSG has received awards for its work at home and abroad.
Meanwhile, Blathnaid went into RTE at 18 following an open competition for a reporter/presenter for the Irish language programme, Scaoil Amach an Bobalin. This was followed by many other programmes, and she co-presented The Afternoon Show for the past few years.
Although she's in sparkling form now, she had a very difficult time last year. Having become ill with a twisted bowel, which required surgery, she was unable to return to The Afternoon Show this year. She was also dogged by allegations that she had fallen out with her co-presenter Sheana Keane, which led to media speculation and rumours of bullying.
It was an awful time, she admits, but mainly because there was so much going on within her own family, healthwise. In addition to her health issues, her dad had a stroke six years before his death, and needed full-time care. And her sister Siobhan had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but is thankfully well again.
"It all seemed to be happening together," says Ciaran. "Blathnaid was ill, Siobhan was ill and Dad was ill. Dad passed away last August, and he had been ill for six years. We all helped out with looking after him."
"Thank God he wasn't too proud to be cared for when he was sick," adds Blathnaid. "He was extremely broadminded about body image, and wouldn't have cared less who saw him naked, even when he was well."
For Blathnaid, coping with her own illness means accepting that she has a condition for life and learning to live with it. She has become more body-aware, and finds that Pilates and walking helps. She and her husband, also called Ciaran, have four children, Sile, 13, Peadar, 10, Comhghal, 7, and Darach, 6.
"I realised that I had to pull back on certain things, work being one of them," she says. "I had to work on how I deal with stress, and mind my head and my body. When RTE need me, they ring me, and I'm enjoying being part of the school run now, because I hadn't done it for years. And I'm loving being a contributor on The All-Ireland Talent Show, although I get very nervous for the acts, particularly if they're children."
Blathnaid is very excited about Ciaran's production of Na Cloigne (The Heads) for TG4. Dedicated to the memory of his dad Sean, it's a gripping and intriguing supernatural thriller about a young couple, Sean and Nuala, who become caught up in the gruesome murders of two young women.
While it's a contemporary piece, Ciaran describes it as being steeped in Irish folklore. And much of the editing work was done in the studio at his own house, where his company ROSG is based (www.rosg.ie).
Blathnaid thinks Na Cloigne is excellent, and it's clear from listening to her that she is still mad about her creative and talented brother.
"Ciaran is very kind and gracious, and he's so generous and very noble about how he treats people," she says. "He wants to achieve certain things in life, but he achieves them without walking on people, which has really impressed me."
And according to Blathnaid, Ciaran is the person who knows her better than anyone else. "My sisters get me at different levels, but Ciaran seems to get me completely," she says. "I don't think anybody else in the world gets me and accepts me for the person I am the way he does."
Na Cloigne, TG4, Wednesdays, 10.30pm
The All-Ireland Talent Show, Sundays, 6.30pm