Tuesday 21 January 2020

Barbara Scully: 'Marian Finucane was a warm, intelligent trailblazer who gave us a voice and told our stories'

Ground-breaking: Marian Finucane in her element, the radio studio from where she helped to change attitudes
Ground-breaking: Marian Finucane in her element, the radio studio from where she helped to change attitudes

Barbara Scully

If ever there was a female voice that was made for radio, both physically and metaphorically, it was the voice of Marian Finucane.

For centuries it was the accepted wisdom that to be listened to, one must speak with a deep and therefore male voice. Even Margaret Thatcher had to take elocution lessons when she became prime minister in order to deepen her voice and presumably gain gravitas.

Marian, whose dulcet tones were further deepened in later years by her smoky rasp, clearly did not have any truck with Aristotle's contention that "silence is a woman's glory". She was a broadcaster par excellence.

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We have heard Marian's voice on RTÉ Radio since she joined the station as a continuity announcer.

A career in radio: Marian Finucane in her early days with RTÉ
A career in radio: Marian Finucane in her early days with RTÉ
Ground-breaking: Marian Finucane in her element, the radio studio from where she helped to change attitudes
Broadcaster Marian Finucane with husband John Clarke and son Jack after she was conferred with an honorary doctorate by DIT in 2002. Photo: Tom Burke
Pictured: RTÉ broadcaster Marian Finucane and Nuala O'Faolain in Nairobi, Kenya where they were covering the 1985 United Nations Decade for Women Conference for RTÉ.
Marian Finucane
Marian Finucane
‘Zeal for breaking new ground’: Marian Finucane was a household name with thousands of listeners tuning in to her RTÉ shows. Photo: Tony Gavin
Marian Finucane on the Late Late in 1991
Marian Finucane with husband John Clarke after they were married in 2015. Photo: Frank McGrath
Marian Finucane with Maeve Binchy at an Irish Hospice Foundation event. Photo: Jim O'Kelly
Marian visting an orphanage in South Africa
Voice of reason: Marian Finucane smiles after receiving the PPI Outstanding Achievement Award in 2008. Photo: Jason Clarke Photography
15/11/11 Marian Finucane at the launch of her book The Saturday Interviews 2005-2011 . Pictures:Arthur Carron/Collins
Finucane M 8.4.10 0011 Marian Finucane
Taoiseach Enda Kenny,TD and broadcaster Marian Finucane at the launch the Irish Hospice Foundation's 2016 Commemorative and 30th anniversary programme held in the Stephens Green Club yesterday. Pic Tom Burke 3/12/2015
Former Irish International footballer Niall Quinn and boadcaster Marian Finucane who were conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) at their annual conferring of Honorary degrees at a ceremony held in the Royal hospital,Kilmainham yesterday...Pic Tom Burke 26/11/02
Marian Finucane
Marian Finucane

She went on to present 'Women Today' in 1979; a programme which set out to give a voice to women and which came at the end of a decade which began with The Contraceptive Train in 1971.

Marian belonged to a pantheon of strong, determined women who trail-blazed through the so-called second wave of feminism. Women such as Nell McCafferty, Mary Kenny and June Levine, to name just a few.

I was leaving school in 1979 and hadn't quite realised the full extent of my own inequality. But I do remember clearly watching 'The Late Late Show' in 1980 when Gay Byrne had a panel of women, presumably discussing "women's issues" which included both Nell and Marian.

In a gesture to disprove the theory that a woman would never occupy the 'Late Late' host's chair, Byrne stood up and invited Marian to take his place. Women in the audience rose to their feet and clapped and Nell - in true Nell fashion - announced that women were "free at last".

I remember thinking this was a good and important thing but, like a lot of the steps on the road to equality, it was a gesture as opposed to something concrete.

Although, ironically it was the 'Marian Finucane Show' which took over the morning radio slot vacated by Gay Byrne in 1999. It moved to weekends in 2005 and has been a staple of the talk radio landscape ever since.

More than 82pc Irish people listen to radio every day and research published last year by the European Commission found 68pc of us trust radio more than any other medium; a figure significantly higher than the EU average of 58pc.

Radio is where our national conversation takes place. Radio informs us and entertains us. The voices we hear and that we listen to, are important.

Marian Finucane was one of those trusted voices and for decades was one of the very few female voices we listened to, every day.

But not only was she one of the very few women on air, she also gave voice to other women and not just on the 'Women Today' programme and later on 'Liveline' which she presented from 1985 until Joe Duffy took over in 1999.

She made a ground-breaking radio documentary on abortion in 1980 when she interviewed a woman about to have a termination, travelled with her to the UK and spoke to her afterwards. It is easy to forget just how far women have progressed in Ireland and the important work done in the '70s and '80s by campaigners and brave journalists.

Marian Finucane will be remembered for her warmth, her easy laugh, her intelligence, her curiosity and for that unique voice. She will be remembered as the only woman that took control of 'The Late Late Show', albeit fleetingly. And some day when a woman does take over the reins of our premier Friday night programme, permanently, we will remember her again.

Thank you, Marian for being our voice and for telling our stories. You made a huge difference.

Irish Independent

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