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Obituary: Liam Cahill, RTÉ journalist, civil servant, historian and adviser to politicians across the spectrum


Liam Cahill published a history of the 1919 Limerick Soviet and a book on the life of his cousin Maurice 'Mossie' Quinlan, who fought Franco’s fascists

Liam Cahill published a history of the 1919 Limerick Soviet and a book on the life of his cousin Maurice 'Mossie' Quinlan, who fought Franco’s fascists

Liam Cahill published a history of the 1919 Limerick Soviet and a book on the life of his cousin Maurice 'Mossie' Quinlan, who fought Franco’s fascists

Former RTÉ political correspondent Liam Cahill, who died suddenly at his home in Drumree, Co Meath, last Monday at the age of 72 years, played a significant role in Irish society over the years as a journalist, historian, civil servant and professional public relations consultant.

Born in Waterford on May 7, 1950, he was educated at the city’s Mount Sion school, which was established in 1802 by Edmund Ignatius Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers. He took up a position as a civil servant in January 1972, working in the capital taxes branch of the Revenue Commissioners for five years, during which time he also studied part-time at University College Dublin, acquiring the degree of Bachelor of Civil Law.

In 1977, he was promoted to administrative officer and transferred to the EEC and Law Reform Division of the Department of Justice. It was in the civil service that he met his future wife Patricia Cannon from Dublin and they were married in 1977.

He left the civil service in 1979 and, from May to December of that year, served as a branch secretary with the Federated Workers’ Union of Ireland (now merged into Siptu).

In December 1979 he went to work for RTÉ, where his initial title was industrial reporter. Three years later he was appointed economics correspondent, a position he held for six years. He then became political correspondent, working mainly from Leinster House.

In January 1990 he took a break from RTÉ to work in a temporary position as press spokesperson for the Irish presidency of the council of ministers of the European Economic Community, with Brussels as his principal base.

The taoiseach of the day, Charles Haughey was serving a six-month term as president of the European Council, a position which rotated between the EU member-states on a half-yearly basis. German reunification was top of the agenda and Haughey strongly supported it, citing his opposition to the partition of Ireland as a factor.

Cahill finished up in RTÉ in December 1990 and his next job was head of group public affairs and communications with Allied Irish Banks (AIB). Later, in March 1993, he was appointed as partnership programme manager to the minister for defence and the marine at the time, David Andrews of Fianna Fáil, who were in coalition with Labour.

From January 1995 to September 2000, Liam was media relations manager with Intel Corporation. His next job was as communications and public policy director with Keating & Associates, a leading consultancy in corporate communications.

He went on to spend a year and two months in 2004-2005 as managing editor of Soul Waves Radio, an interdenominational news and current affairs service jointly owned by Catholic religious congregations and the Church of Ireland.

After that, he served for a year and five months from June 2005 to October 2006 as director of communications for the Labour Party.

On the sporting front, from 2000 to 2012 he was publisher and editor of an innovative Gaelic games website and discussion forum, An Fear Rua — The GAA Unplugged! at www.anfearrua.com but, in September 2012, he announced the immediate closure of his “labour of love” because of financial and legal constraints.

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Meanwhile in the political sphere, his next job was as PR adviser in 2011-12 to Fine Gael minister of state for agriculture, the late Shane McEntee. He was a communications adviser to Independent MEP Nessa Childers for eight months from June 2013 to January 2014.

Later in 2014, he was a PR and communications adviser to then-Senator Thomas Byrne of Fianna Fáil, now Minister of State for European Affairs, in the latter’s unsuccessful campaign for election to the European Parliament.

This was followed by 14 months as special adviser to Labour Party minister for the environment, Alan Kelly.

Cahill’s first book, Forgotten Revolution: The Limerick Soviet 1919, was published in 1990 by O’Brien Press and a centenary edition was issued by Orla Kelly Publishing in 2019. Given Limerick’s reputation as a highly religious city, the concept of a soviet, or workers’ council, running the place is somewhat surprising but it reflected the radical atmosphere of the time.

The spark that set off the flame was the fate of Robert Byrne (30) who combined being chair of the Limerick branch of the Post Office Clerks’ Association with another role as adjutant of the Second Limerick Brigade of the Irish Volunteers.

Having been dismissed from his job for attending an IRA funeral, Byrne was arrested and charged in January 1919 with possession of a revolver and ammunition. He embarked on a hunger-strike and was taken to a hospital ward at Limerick Workhouse. The IRA tried to release Byrne but he died due to injuries received during the escape attempt. A policeman was also killed in the same episode and the authorities imposed what was in effect martial law.

The workers rebelled and established the Limerick Soviet, whereby the city was run by the people under the guidance of the local trades council. They organised food and fuel, published a newspaper and even issued their own currency. Initially sympathetic, the Catholic church soon changed its mind and played a part in bringing an end to the radical initiative.

Paying tribute last Tuesday, Michael D Higgins said the contribution Liam Cahill made to Irish life was a “wide and varied one” and “included his work, his research, and his writing as a journalist, historian, and as an adviser across political and public affairs. To all of this he brought a well-informed, humorous and passionate spirit. To all of his many endeavours he brought, and has left, a particular personal legacy”.

Liam was due to present a copy of his latest book at Áras an Uachtaráin to the President, who said in his tribute: “It is a great sadness that we will not get the opportunity to have that meeting.”

Issued last year by Orla Kelly Publishing, the book is titled From Suir to Jarama and recounts the life-story of Maurice “Mossie” Quinlan, a cousin of the author and a volunteer in the International Brigades who fought in the Spanish Civil War against General Franco’s fascists. He survived the fiercest days of fighting at Jarama, just outside Madrid, in February 1937 — when 45,000 combatants were killed in a few days — only to be fatally wounded by a sniper’s bullet shortly afterwards as he rescued a wounded colleague from between the lines.

The first his family knew about it was some weeks later when news of his death was a banner headline across the front page of the Irish Press, beside a photo and report of the Aintree Grand National.

Mossie was a member of a Waterford Workers’ Study Circle that ultimately produced five International Brigades for Spain. He was also a participant in the left-wing Irish Republican Congress and, as his cousin Liam put it, “he believed in a cause and died fighting for it”.

Predeceased in 2015 by his wife Patricia, Liam Cahill’s passing is deeply regretted by his daughter Susan and son Eoin, Liam’s sister May and the entire extended family.

Following repose at McEntaggarts Funeral Home in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath, from 5pm to 8pm today, his funeral mass will be held at 11am tomorrow in St Martin’s Church, Culmullen, followed by burial in the adjoining cemetery.

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