By Brian McCabe
When I stood in our parish church in Kill, Co Kildare, last year at the funeral of the famous piper Liam Óg O’Flynn, and watched the great and good of Irish society fill our little church, to be filmed by RTÉ and to feature on the national evening news that night, I little thought that they would be back there again so soon to mark the passing of another towering figure in Irish life, the broadcaster Marian Finucane.
‘Marian’, as she was simply known, was one of the best known and best loved voices in Irish broadcasting and had become, over 40 years, an integral part of the lives of radio listeners across the country. Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that, over that time, she had truly become part of the background sound track to the life of the nation.
Marian was born in May 1950 and grew up in Glasnevin in Dublin. One of six children of Cork parents, she attended secondary school at the all-Irish Scoil Caitríona in Glasnevin and did her Leaving Certificate at the young age of 16. Her mother considered her too young to go to university at that stage, and so she was sent as a boarder to St Louis Convent school in Monaghan.
After secondary school she began studying architecture in Bolton Street in Dublin and we are all probably familiar with that TV clip of her being interviewed, as a student, occupying a Georgian house in Hume Street in protest at their potential destruction.
In 1971, representing Bolton Street, she became the first woman to take the best individual speaker title in the annual ‘Irish Times’ debating competition – the start of many firsts which she was to achieve in her life time.
A chance meeting with the broadcaster John O’Donoghue, at a party, led to a dramatic change in direction from her course of study. He suggested she might apply for a position in RTÉ and she was accordingly hired as a continuity announcer there in 1974.
In 1976 she became a programme presenter, working mainly on programmes concerned with contemporary social issues, especially those concerning women, The best known of these was Women Today and, in 1979, she was the recipient of a ‘Jacob’s Award’ for her work on that ground breaking show. In 1980, she won the prestigious international ‘Prix Italia’ award for a documentary entitled “Abortion: the Lonely Crisis.” The ‘Radio journalist of the Year’ award followed in 1988.