Conor's documentary wins Celtic Media Award

Dónal Nolan

One of the darkest stories of Catholic control in Ireland in the 20th Century is coming to ever increasing worldwide attention thanks to the work of Listowel native journalist Conor Keane. In Shame, Love, In Shame, his extraordinary documentary comprised entirely of North Kerry voices has this week been announced as the winner of the radio documentary category of the prestigious Celtic Media Awards in Scotland.

This honour comes hot on the heels of the documentary's taking of a prestigious prize at the Premios Ondas Awards in Barcelona recently; considered the BAFTAs of Spain. No matter where the documentary is broadcast it seems listeners cannot help but react at a very deep and human level to the tragic story of Peggy McCarthy's treatment. In Shame posed its audience a tantalising query at the outset: "In 1946, in an act of defiance against the local clergy, a group of men in Listowel, Co. Kerry in the South West of Ireland force open the locked gates of the Parish Catholic Church. What was it that drove them to do this?"

What it was was the appalling treatment meted out to unwed mother Peggy in her darkest hour - while suffering serious complications during labour. One of those interviewed at length by Conor was the man who first brought the story to a public arena with his acclaimed play Solo Run - Listowel playwright Tony Guerin. He could lay claim to a very close connection to the whole story as it was his father John who, as a hackney driver, carried Peggy from one hospital to another after each, in turn, refused to admit the unmarried young mother who died that night in the back of John Guerin's cab. As for those locked church gates? That was the scene back in Listowel as Tony's father returned with Peggy's remains for a Christian burial - as the Church men in Kerry of the time  attempted one last callous indignity. 

Then came a revolt, as John and ordinary townspeople rammed open the gates to secure Peggy a Christian burial at the very least. In Shame, which was produced as a Documentary on One feature was dedicated to all women who suffered, Conor explained:  "We want to dedicate this award to all those women whose lives were destroyed by the inexplicable actions of the Irish Catholic church, and the inexcusable failure of the Irish State to protect the most vulnerable."