Mary Kennedy“I was born, bred and buttered in Clondalkin.”

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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For a woman who’s known for showcasing rural Ireland three times a week on Nationwide, Mary Kennedy is very proud of her Dublin roots, as she told Seán O’Rourke on Monday morning:

“I was born, bred and buttered in Clondalkin. It’s very central to my being.”

As well as presenting Nationwide for the past 15 years, Mary Kennedy’s face and voice are also forever linked to some of the biggest social and cultural events of the past 40 years. Starting out in RTÉ as a continuity announcer, Mary moved from there to part-time newscasting. She found her niche as a presenter and voiceover for live events as diverse as the Eurovision Song Contest, Royal weddings, the Queen’s visit, and the funeral of the late Gay Byrne.

Mary says she took every opportunity that came her way, though not everything came easily. Patience and persistence paid off when she was trying out for the Eurovision gig, as did the encouragement and practical advice of Gay Byrne.

“He met me one of those times when I was going unsuccessfully for audition and he was saying, ‘How are things?’’ because he always was a great encourager as we have learned over the past few weeks. I said, ‘I’m going for this audition, would you have any advice for me?’ and he said, ‘Just be yourself. Because if you have what you want you’ll get it, if you don’t you won’t, but if you try to be something else that you’re not, you’ll eventually be found out’.”  

A non-stop work rate for decades led to a period of burn-out for Mary, which she has spoken about on a number of occasions. Seán asked her what she did to release that pressure valve.

“I put myself down for 2 weeks time off immediately. I cried. I remember doing a lot of that and I just realised that this had to be taken in hand. I feel a lot better for it now.”

Mary Kennedy turned 65 in September. She told Seán she is a reluctant retiree.

“When you think about retirement at this point, there’s a certain sense of loss, of grieving, of leaving something that you have found very satisfying and a vulnerability.”

Mary says she has plenty of energy, as if the 5km she runs three times a week isn’t proof enough. She is modest about her many achievements outside of the broadcasting world, including running a number of marathons and writing 5 books.  Seán read out a selection of messages sent in from listeners wishing Mary well. Affectionate tributes flowed in for her reporting and presenting skills, as well as her kindness,  elegance and spontaneity.

“I tell you, you’ve got a lot of fans out there, Mary Kennedy.”

Mary told Seán she has a bank of great memories to draw on.

It’s lovely to have those moments and to have those memories.”

One thing’s for sure,  people across the country have happy memories of meeting Mary Kennedy and entrusting her with their stories. Many will echo Seán’s sentiments:

“Thank you for your service, as they say. It’s been lovely talking to you. It’s been lovely knowing you and working with you over the years. I’ve a funny feeling you’re not going to go too far away.”

You can hear more about being on the road with Nationwide, the tired and emotional Russian judge Mary encountered in a Eurovison rehearsal, as well as other stand out moments in her 41-year broadcasting career, in the full interview here.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2019

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