Pics: Michael McLaughlin
Into the West
RTE’s Pat McGrath has become a familiar face and voice in the West of Ireland
CAN you name RTE’s Western Correspondent? A banana skin question perhaps that might trip up a contestant in a general knowledge quiz. Time was when Jim Fahy’s name would roll off the tongue. For almost four decades he was the instantly recognisable voice and face of the region.
But over the last year Pat McGrath is establishing his mark as the teller of western happenings.
Of late he’s become even more familiar on our screens. He has stood on every battered coastal inlet from Erris Head to Bell Harbour during the recent storms. On other days he takes us to the turf plots, under pylons, to flooded homes of farms or near the yellow tape sealing off a crime scene. Our ears prick up a little and our attention turns when we hear or see Pat McGrath.
We know it’s to do with us.
In a quiet corner of a Galway hostelry we met the man behind the camera and the microphone. A family man, he lives in Galway with his wife Theresa and their three children, Sadhbh, Liam and Cormac.
“There’s a bit of everywhere in me, I suppose,” is his humourous quip by way of reply when unearthing his roots.
Pat was born in Cork but grew up in Meath where his father’s work as a post office official took the young family. His dad died suddenly of a heart attack when Pat was five. Pat remembers holding his hand during his final moments. His mother still lives in Kells.
Conversation comes easy with Pat McGrath.
His gentle manner makes you feel at instant ease in his company. An oft used West of Ireland colloqualism, “Sure he’s just like one of ourselves,” describes him best. The mug of tea and the chat, and the idle discourse flowing off in different tangents.
He enjoys reading. Only a few days before he bought a second-hand copy of ‘John Healy – Reporter’ on a trip to Dublin. He has an appreciation of Healy and his portrayal of the Ireland of his time.
Keith Duggan of The Irish Times is another favourite. “His writing has a lovely flow to it that brings the reader in and leads them along.” He quotes a line Duggan wrote last September on Mayo’s burning quest to win the All-Ireland. One thought-provoking short sentence at the end that Duggan summed it all up with.
He likes music too. His taste is varied and of late he’s developing a fondness for the traditional style. And reading up on it just to learn about it and appreciate it more.
First impressions last, and from the outset you know Pat McGrath is trustworthy. It’s easy to see how his mannerism relaxes interviewees to talk with him knowing their deliberations will be transmitted to a countrywide audience before supper time.
It’s never the catchy sound byte or the histrionic headline with Pat. It’s about authenticity and balance and letting the story tell itself.
He takes us back to the beginning of his career. “I joined RTE in 1999 after I completed my Journalism course at NUI, Galway. I started with Lyric FM in Limerick before moving to Dublin to 2FM on their Newsbeat programme.
“A year or two into that I went over to RTE 1 to work on Morning Ireland. We lived in Dublin at the time, but my wife Theresa moved back to Galway because she got a job there. Thanks to technological advances through broadband and such I could work remotely. Theresa was pregnant and I also got back to Galway shortly before the birth of our first daughter Sadhbh.
“The remote option was beneficial for Morning Ireland too because it gave them a presence outside Dublin and I was able to do reports from the western area,” he continued.
“Then Jim Fahy retired in 2011 and the following September RTE advertised the post. I applied and, thankfully, I was successful. I was delighted. It would have been a job I would have always aspired to I suppose and I was very thrilled to get it.
Taking over from Jim Fahy was a big ask and he was under no illusions about the huge task facing him.
“I was very conscious, and still am, of the fact that Jim had left a big footprint and a legacy. “He was such a presence for a very long time. I remember during the last election walking with him from the count centre in Leisureland up to Salthill and it took us nearly an hour with people stopping him for a chat. That’s an indication of the high regard he was held in because he was the voice of the west for such a long time, not just through news but also that wonderful series of ‘Looking West’ programmes he did.
“I talked to him after I was appointed and got great advice and pointers and I have spoken to him from time to time since. He’s a font of knowledge, and he knows this job inside out, having done it for the guts of nearly forty years.”
OTHERS who inspired him in his career were Brendan O’Brien and, through his own working in news, people like Cathal MacCiolla, Áine Lawlor and Richard Crowley.
“Not only were they forensically brilliant journalists but they also had a knack of getting at the story properly and bringing it to their audience.”
A year in and Pat McGrath is enjoying his role immensely.
“I love the job. It’s been a learning curve and steep at times but I feel that, while I’m still finding my feet, slowly but surely I’m making it my own. It’s about the cultural, social and economic happenings of the western region but, essentially, it’s reporting on life across all the different realms and I hope I’m doing that well. “It still means something when RTE come to an area to cover a story and people have an affinity and hopefully a trust in what we do. It’s good that we have that presence and I really do care passionately about the regional remit because it’s so important that RTE reflects all aspects of life across any part of the country. That’s taken seriously by RTE too because it’s important that stories in all communities get told.
“I don’t see any great difference in people’s attitude in the different counties. There’s a western spirit there but I don’t think it limits itself to county borders. There’s still a meitheal culture despite everything that happened. It manifests itself especially in times of trouble like the recent storms as just one example. People still willingly lend a hand to those in trouble. “Sometimes it’s just something as simple as complete strangers leaving a bunch of flowers at the scene of a tragedy.
“People in the west have an ease about them and, generally speaking, they are willing to talk. But you have to be respectful and pay attention and know how to approach the story. I suppose it’s like any dealings with anybody in any walk of life. You just can’t barge in. You have to establish trust.
“The first big news story I covered was the preliminary stages of the Savita Halappanavar inquest shortly after I started. The proper inquest was then set for April of last year. That was a huge story. My RTE colleague Fergal Bowers was down for that also. It attracted the attention of media outlets not just in Ireland, but from all over the world. There are other big and continuing issues we cover but it can be about anything on any given day.”
His schedule is governed by wherever and whenever the story breaks. Covering the recent spate of storms often meant a 5.30 a.m. start and working right through until 11pm that night. “There’s no set structure to it in the sense that you’re on call most of the time and you never know what’s going to happen.
“But that’s part of the job description. It’s the days when it’s busy from Morning Ireland at 7am all the way through to the nine o’clock at night and you’re on the go all day. You are servicing all different outlets like radio and online media. They are the days that are good because stuff is moving and you’re busy and it’s just fantastic.
“I’m lucky in so far as my wife Theresa is very accommodating to my routine. That support is invaluable to me too because we have a young family and that responsibility, like lessons and bringing them here and there, and all that goes with it, falls on her when I’m not around because of work.”
His desire to be a journalist came very early in life. He was just three when the notion was conceived in his mind.
“There was a Today Tonight programme on moneylenders and the reporter, Brendan O’Brien, was running after a car and I’m told that I was doing an imitation of him the next day chasing after my brother in the little toy cars we had.
“I was fascinated with microphones too as a child. When I was very young I kept at my father to buy me one. I loved it from an early age even though I hadn’t a clue what the work entailed. My uncles supplied notes to the local papers down Cork and Limerick direction and maybe that was the gene it can be traced to. But it was what I always wanted to do so when I applied for college placements it was my first choice.”
The job he always desired took him west to study. The pathway he followed has led him back here again. Destiny’s child was coming home.
He just sneaked back into our cars, factories, kitchens and living rooms without fanfare or fuss. He’s our storyteller now.
Telling it just like one of ourselves would.
Name: Pat McGrath
Age: 39 From: Meath
Occupation: RTE’s Western Correspondent
Did you know? Pat is married with three children.