Saturday 23 March 2019

Nationwide and Mama Cassin's rural insights

As the marriage referendum approaches, it's often said that we Dublin media types can never fully gauge the intentions of people "down the country," sequestered as we are in our neo-liberal Pale bubble.

You couldn't accuse Anne Cassin of not being clued in though. Along with co-presenter Mary Kennedy, Cassin must have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland 100 times in search of the kind of warm, uplifting stories that have made Nationwide such a broadcasting institution. She says there is something in the notion that Dublin-based media can sometimes be out of touch with the country as a whole.

"I struggle with that question. Our country is very centralised around the capital city and sometimes in our outlooks we can be a little Dublin-centric and we can be a little unaware of the concerns of smaller communities. But at the same time I think most of us (journalists in Dublin) have roots in the country one or two generations back."

One of the biggest misconceptions about life in the countryside, Anne says, is that communities are "on their knees." "If you looked at some of the media that's produced about life around the country, you'd think it was a very bleak, depressing picture there. But I've found that people are actually very happy to live here. Now maybe that's because the ones we see are the ones who have managed to stay but overall I would definitely say that the doom and gloom has been overstated. I've often wondered what will happen in agriculture with the [milk] quota system changing but you'd have to imagine it will result in more economic activity in the countryside."

If Anne is clued into the rhythms of the provinces, it might be because she herself comes from a farming background, in Balbriggan in North Co. Dublin. It was an unusual household in that her mother, rather than her father, was the farmer. "It was atypical in those years for sure and it still is, but my mother came from a family of three girls, she was the eldest, and she inherited the farm and kept it going. I spent a lot of my time when I was a child explaining, yes I live on a farm, and yes my mother is the farmer."

Anne's father was a director and actor in the theatre all his life. Now 90, he performed in a radio play in RTE last year. "In the artistic world you don't really ever retire", she says. "I just think it's incredible at his age."

Growing up, Anne studied journalism at the College of Commerce in Rathmines, and after cutting her teeth on pirate radio, first with Radio Nova and then with Q102, Anne began working for State broadcaster RTE, first as a continuity announcer, then moving onto sports, news and other presenting roles.

She says she doesn't miss news and current affairs except for one aspect. "I suppose recording live would be the one thing that I really liked doing. There's a particular energy to something when you know it has to be right first time."

Married to Donagh McGrath and with three children - Ellen, Joe and Heather - Anne was studio-bound for most of her TV career, until she joined Nationwide four years ago, taking the place of Michael Ryan. She took that change in her stride, but says that being a working parent has always presented its own challenges. "I am no different from many working women in Ireland. Our lives are mapped out in excel sheets and spread sheets. There is a fair amount of timetabling. I don't get on my high horse if asked about working. Women have particular goals in the workplace and family and the fact of the matter is they do take some juggling!"

'Nationwide' is on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7.30pm on RTE1

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