| 5.6°C Dublin

‘I’ve had a wonderful life’ Keelin Shanley told family before passing away

Close

The funeral of RTÉ journalist and broadcaster Keelin Shanley at St Paul’s Church in Glenageary. Photo: Mark Condren

The funeral of RTÉ journalist and broadcaster Keelin Shanley at St Paul’s Church in Glenageary. Photo: Mark Condren

The funeral of RTÉ journalist and broadcaster Keelin Shanley at St Paul’s Church in Glenageary. Photo: Mark Condren

Shortly before she passed away last Saturday, RTÉ broadcaster Keelin Shanley (51) had a conversation with her husband Conor Ferguson about the recent spate of bereavements in the organisation.

"Gay Byrne, Marian Finucane, Larry Gogan...who's going to give a crap about me?" she joked. Quite a few people, as it turned out.

Everyone from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to President Michael D Higgins to all her many friends and colleagues in the RTÉ newsroom and her old school pals from Loreto College poured into St Paul's Church in Glenageary to pay their final respects in a humanist ceremony.

Leading the mourners was her heartbroken husband and their two young children Lucy (13) and Ben (10) who had clearly inherited their mum's composure in the face of such a devastating loss.

Hers was a life well-lived, Conor told mourners in the packed church, which included her dad Derry, her step-mum June, her four siblings and a wide circle of family and friends.

She never once betrayed any sense of hopelessness or self-pity in the face of a devastating diagnosis, but carried on with her huge zest for life and indomitable spirit - even when her cancer cruelly returned for a second time in 2016. She never expressed anger or bitterness. She just wanted to "stay in the moment" and get on with it.

There was also a "really strange and dark irony" that she first received news of her cancer on general election day in 2011 and she slipped away peacefully on the same day as the 2020 General Election. "She would have kind of smiled at that," Conor said.

She never gave up her fight against the illness, even up to the end. A few weeks ago, she booked a hotel in Wexford for them to go with the kids during the upcoming mid-term next week so she could have one final swim in the sea. It wasn't to be. But ever the pragmatist, she duly reminded him last Thursday to cancel the booking just before she died.

Close

The order of service ahead of the funeral of journalist and broadcaster Keelin Shanley at St Paul's Church, Glenageary, Co Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The order of service ahead of the funeral of journalist and broadcaster Keelin Shanley at St Paul's Church, Glenageary, Co Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA

Close

Keelin Shanley’s husband Conor Ferguson outside the church. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Keelin Shanley’s husband Conor Ferguson outside the church. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA

Close

Mourners are comforted

Mourners are comforted

Close

President Michael D Higgins (second right) and his wife Sabina (right) leave the church following the funeral of journalist and broadcaster Keelin Shanley at St Paul's Church, Glenageary, Co Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins (second right) and his wife Sabina (right) leave the church following the funeral of journalist and broadcaster Keelin Shanley at St Paul's Church, Glenageary, Co Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA

Conor said that it had been "a long road with a pretty obvious end to it". He described cancer as a "strange illness" with lots of setbacks, but also lots of high points too.

He said they felt lucky to get any extra time with her and when they went to the US to check out a revolutionary drugs trial, they splashed out and decided to fly first class for the first time.

"We felt like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton," he smiled. "That one last adventure was probably enough for her."

She was a force of nature who felt that she had lived a full life and was especially proud of their two children Ben and Lucy, whom they had "waited so long for".

A trained biochemist, she believed that science dictates there's a pattern to life but that some things, like her cancer returning, are "just f***ing random".

Despite her globe-trotting days in their early youth, she loved home best of all and adored their "ramshackle house" in Dún Laoghaire that she had so lovingly restored.

"The last couple of months, she was in bed and would look out the window at this tree outside and watch the seasons changing. She was wondering, which season would be her last? She was gratified to have made it to spring," he said.

Her children brought up emblems of her life which included a gold statue bunny from Paris along with a blue swimming hat that represented her love for swimming in the Forty Foot.

When she had first learned her cancer was back in 2016, she stunned her RTÉ friend Niamh O'Connor by saying she was going into Montrose to collect her post. When asked if she was sure it was the right thing to do, she replied: "Yes, RTÉ makes me feel calm."

Her job was "hugely important" to Keelin and she was grateful for the opportunities it afforded her. Her loyalty was reciprocated when despite her diagnosis of stage 4 cancer, RTÉ "took a chance on her" by giving her the prime presenting gig of the 'Six One News' alongside Caitríona Perry.

Her brother Eoin recalled a bossy, older sister who introduced him to musical greats like The Cure and The Smiths and could read an entire Enid Blyton book before bed. She adored Conor and idolised their two children and never had any regrets about how things turned out. Just a week before her passing, she turned to him and said: "I've had a wonderful life."

Liam Ó Maonlaí sang The Waterboys' classic 'This is the Sea', while Steve Wall sang 'Perfect Day' as her coffin left the church to be brought to Mount Jerome for cremation.

Irish Independent