Tuesday 28 January 2020

'I know, it's bad parenting' - RTE presenter Cormac O hEadhra on rearing his beloved son Eoin (2)

Cormac O hEadhra (37) is a bilingual broadcaster and a qualified barrister. He presents two current-affairs radio programmes. From An Cheathru Rua, Galway, he is married to Ruth, a solicitor, and they have one son - Eoin (two)

Cormac O hEadhra
Cormac O hEadhra

My son, Eoin, is my alarm. I'm up whenever he wakes up, which is usually between 6am and 6.30am. He's in his own room, but if he wakes during the night, we bring him in with us. I know, it's bad parenting.

We go downstairs and have breakfast - porridge or pancakes. My wife, Ruth, is up as well. She's a solicitor. Then there is the whole business of getting Eoin ready. Before I had a kid, I never realised how you had to do things on their terms. I always thought you'd say, 'OK, now it's time to put on your clothes'. If he runs away and you run after him, he sees that as a game. So I try not to do that. After breakfast, we grab a ball each in the hallway and we start kicking away. He loves it.

Then I'll have a shower, while my wife takes over. Morning Ireland is on the radio at 7am. We have radios all over the house. My wife is out the door before 8am.

I bring Eoin to creche at 9am, and then my working day starts. I used to do The Late Debate, but now I do the Saturday lunchtime radio show on RTE Radio One. I also present a weekday current affairs programme on Raidio na Gaeltachta in the late afternoon. So the day is leading up to that, and the week is leading up to the show on Saturday.

I sit down at my kitchen table and go through all the national papers. I also have a look on social media to see if there is anything newsworthy. Twitter is pretty good.

I read some papers online, and I have newspapers, too. If I had to just read papers online, I don't think it would be the same thing. I really love the feel of a newspaper in my hand. I know that figures are dwindling, but it's like a book. You are never going to replace books. And there is something ritualistic about reading a morning newspaper.

I have what I call 'the bible' - it's a big refill pad. I pick the stories that I think are important on the day and I do a little summary on them and put them in it. When I'm going through newspapers, I'm taking down notes. I think that most stories can be distilled into four facts. Then you have other background. It's amazing the way you can recall one fact, and then, in an interview, when you are discussing stuff, a cascade of facts comes into your head.

I think it's because of that structure you put on your day. It's like reading a web, and if you stop for a period of time, you might as well start the web again. The advantage is that if you do it every day, you are building all the time, on top of what you know. The disadvantage is that it's like doing the Leaving Cert every day.

At 11am, I have the first call with my RnaG producer. We both come to the table with what we think are the most important stories of the day. We decide the direction the programme is going, and we divvy up work and who calls various guests. A lot of ministers don't speak Irish, so you are never going to get the principals of a story that way. But there are ways around it. It never hinders us in terms of delivering. It's amazing the amount of Irish-language speakers you can get worldwide on any topic at the drop of a hat.

I'm from An Cheathru Rua, and I grew up bilingual. I spoke English with my dad, and Irish with my mam. Irish is core to my identity. It's the language my mother spoke to me when she was consoling me, and I played football through Irish.

When I was in university, I spent a year working in France. I resolved to be fluent, so I spoke only French. When I came home in the evenings, I sat in the corner, making the sounds of the Irish language and talking to myself in Irish. It was the first time in my life I went through a prolonged period without speaking Irish. I had to get it out of my system.

My wife, Ruth, didn't speak Irish at home growing up, but she has done one of the most amazing things anybody could do for a husband. Once Eoin was born, she decided that Irish would be the language of the household. Eoin speaks Irish now as normal, and it just gladdens my heart.

When the television is on, I say to Eoin, 'Sin Theresa May'. He is looking at the television, wondering why I am looking at her. I say, 'Theresa May dana [bold]'. He looks really concerned and asks, 'Cen fath?' And I say, 'Brexit'. Now, every time she comes on, we have the same conversation. It's like a party piece.

I am in RTE by 1pm. There are more meetings with producers. It's printing out stuff and taking more notes in the bible. Then I broadcast at 5pm. When I did The Late Debate it was rambunctious, but the Saturday show is slightly different. I'm looking for intellectual engagement and passion. You get the best guests possible, and go to the kernel of the issue. If there is friction there, I let it happen; and if it doesn't happen, you might have to prod it along. You have to be balanced, fair legally and impartial, but that doesn't mean that you sit on the fence.

On weekdays, I'm usually home by 7.30pm. Eoin is about to go to bed, so I run up and tell him a story. You could be talking about politics all day and who said what, and then you're reading about Peter Rabbit. It's absolutely brilliant. The best thing about being a father is that you start to see life again with fresh eyes.

After Eoin goes to bed, I watch the news. I'm always on. If there's downtime, I want to spend it with Ruth and Eoin and my parents, who are hale and hearty.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

'Saturday With Cormac O hEadhra', 1pm, RTE Radio 1; 'Cormac Ag A Cuig', 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, RnaG

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