Sunday 19 May 2019

Legendary anchor Una O'Hagan announces she's leaving RTE News

AND FINALLY: RTE newsreader Una O’Hogan, pictured with husband Colm, will bow out on February 25 after 34 years in the job. Picture: Sean Byrne
AND FINALLY: RTE newsreader Una O’Hogan, pictured with husband Colm, will bow out on February 25 after 34 years in the job. Picture: Sean Byrne
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

The clatter of typewriters and a thick plume of tobacco smoke were once the mark of a busy newsroom.

But that is long gone, replaced by a computer-driven age of journalists meeting deadlines in relative silence. Many older hacks miss the buzz, and RTE newsreader Una O'Hagan is no different.

The presenter is to leave the station after 34 years, saying: "The time is right.

"I remember the noise the first day I went into the newsroom. Those big old typewriters with people clattering away, you nearly had to assault them to get anything written, whereas nowadays it's all very quiet. People don't make a sound. The contrast is amazing.

"There was a certain level of craziness that you don't get now. Maybe people are more serious and professional nowadays, but there was a lot of fun to it then. I remember one reporter who if he was bored on a Friday afternoon would stand up on the desk and dance around. You wouldn't get that now.

"I guess I felt that I am 55, I have another few years working so I thought it is now or never. I can not leave the cocoon where I have really enjoyed myself and have had a successful career or I can go out and try something new."

Una O'Hagan. Photo Credit: RTE Archives
Una O'Hagan. Photo Credit: RTE Archives

She says the decision was a long time coming: "It was very gradual. It was a build-up over the last couple of years. I was toying with the idea and it just feels right."

But she adds: "The 'R' word is banned. I am not retiring. I would go out of my mind. And I am sure Colm [her husband and former RTE broadcaster] wouldn't want me under his feet all day. He retired from RTE 10 years ago and has brought out 10 best-selling books since so I don't think he is retired either. I don't think people do it that much anymore. It's just a new phase of life."

Speaking about her future plans, she says she and Colm are writing a book together, but her lips are sealed on the content. "I would have to shoot you if I told you," she quips. "It's due out in September."

O'Hagan says it is easier with another person in the mix. "There was a bit of pull and push at the start so we worked out a modus operandi where we would talk about it beforehand, do a rough draft and then take it in turns to type it up with suggestions from the other. It's organic and it's working very well. We fell into a very amicable pattern. Sometimes you need other ideas and another perspective."

She cites the example of Maeve Binchy and her husband, Gordon Snell. "They were allowed to criticise each other's work for 10 minutes and after that there was no sulking allowed!" she says. "That's a very good rule - you have to be able to give and take."

She's not a fan of the modern style of informal, chatty news: "I am old-fashioned when it comes to news. I like someone to tell me it with no frills. I don't particularly want to hear people's opinions about it. I was always conscious that I was being invited into people's homes and it was a great honour and you have to treat the audience fairly and make the story understandable and fair. I am very grateful to the audience and they have been particularly kind to me - especially when my son Sean died."

The only time O'Hagan's professional veneer almost broke was when she had to read out the names of every victim of the Omagh bombing. "I am becoming teary again even thinking about it," she says. "It was dreadful." Never subjected to the criticism many female presenters come under from the public, she says she appreciates that television is a visual medium. Only once did she feel slightly jarred by a piece of feedback that she received at the height of one of the North's biggest stories. "It was the first time it became clear John Hume was involved in talks with the IRA. I did live interviews all day and when I came out someone said 'your fringe was down a bit' and I remember thinking I have done trojan work over this and all someone is concerned about is my fringe?"

The Dublin woman is looking forward to giving up her drive to Montrose. "I can't wait until I can take off my 5.35am alarm clock on my phone," she says.

As a newscaster, she hosted live programmes on the deaths of former taoisigh Jack Lynch and Garret FitzGerald, the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in 2011, and the United States presidential election in 2012. She also interviewed Nelson Mandela.

Her last broadcast will be on February 25 and she promises there'll be no bells and whistles. "I will keep it straight," she says. "Remember, I am not the news."

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