A Day in the Life: Fergus Sweeney


DOCUMENTING THE HERE AND NOW Fergus Sweeney enjoys the unpredictability of working on live news stories.

Name: Fergus Sweeney
Occupation: Film-maker/Photojournalist
Age: 42
From: Elly Bay, Belmullet

My day usually begins around half six in the morning. I love the atmosphere at that time of day and if I’m based at home, I find I can usually get more done before 11am than I would for the rest of the day.
I like the unstructured sense I get from this job. You never really know what’s coming next and that creates its own type of excitement rather than a regular 9 to 5 job where you always know what’s coming next.
It took me a while to arrive at this job of a filmmaker. Before I got into the film work I was a cadet in the merchant navy and sailed most of the European coast. I came home for surgery and became a dad, so I never went back. I thought being at sea wouldn’t be ideal location for parenting!
I worked as a security guard in Turlough House and Corrib Gas before going to college, working on Ros na Rún and heading to New Zealand for a while, so it has been an interesting journey.
Every day is different here. I’ll try and get a bowl of porridge or Weetabix most mornings but if I’m shooting off somewhere it’s a breakfast roll from Coyle’s filling station which I eat on the hoof.
If I’m working on a news story I eat like a horse when I can as you don’t know when you’ll eat again. I’m a type one diabetic too, so I have to remember to stop and take a break, but that’s sometimes a challenge in this game.
At the moment, a lot of my work is for television news and the structure of my day depends on where the story takes me. For the past year a lot of my work is Covid-related so it takes me out of Erris. I try to shoot my package as early in the day as I can and then I edit in the afternoon if possible. However, if I’m working on a big news story I may work into the evening. I might be doing a live broadcast for each news bulletin until the last bulletin so I might be on the scene until 9 or 10 at night.
Sometimes, a day can start with me getting into the car before 9am and heading to Ballina to shoot a few interviews before sending them off to Dublin or Galway around lunchtime. I could be back home in the early afternoon, but I could then get a call to be in Clare the next morning at 9am and I mightn’t get on the road home again for 12 or 13 hours. There’s no real structure to a day, but I love that.
My work is usually based in Ireland, but it does bring me to Europe from time to time. One of the first gigs I did was a rock concert for the staff party of big trawler company in Holland that employs thousands of people.
Initially I thought documentaries would be my thing, but when I qualified the Corrib Gas protest was kicking off so that got me into the news side of things.
I actually worked on the Corrib project at the beginning as a security guard, but the day the Rossport Five were put in jail I quit. I felt no project should end up putting locals in jail. I went off to college then, graduated in 2006 and after doing stints with Ros na Rún and Concord film studios in Galway I went to New Zealand. I came back and ran a film college for TY students in a mini-studio Eachleim and in my spare time I would shoot off to Ballinaboy and film Corrib footage for the news and also for ‘The Pipe’ documentary.
When I work with UTV there were two things they always call me for – water meter protests and storms. That comes from living in Belmullet and being associated with recording the Corrib protest, so if there’s a literal or metaphorical storm they call me.
If I have some free time at home in the evening I love to walk – either on my own or with my daughter Eva and our two dogs. I’m very interested in history so I love to research something and then take a walk there to see what I can suss out. That’s a great way to get away from things and relax in stunning surroundings.
I have no set time for bed. Sometimes I’m a real night-owl and sometimes I’m in the leaba at 9 o’clock. It all depends on the mood and the job. Life is busy, exciting and good – and I never know what adventure the following day might bring.

In conversation with Michael Gallagher

Quickfire questions

If money was no object, what would you do every day?
I would keep making films and telling stories because that’s my passion

Tell us something about you we don’t know
I was once in the merchant navy

Most unusual thing you have eaten?
Fish eyes. Fresh from the catch. It’s an experience.

Favourite place in the world?
Inishkea Islands

What makes you angry?
Social inequality and racism

Who are your heroes?
Those who selflessly help others - nurses, doctors, lifeboat crews etc

What makes you nervous?
First dates

Favourite TV show?
BBC’s Blue Planet

What do you miss most about being a kid?
Meeting up with my village friends in Blacksod and spending hours exploring beaches and the bay

Best advice you ever got?
Think before you act or react to a situation and don’t get blinded by emotion

Three things always in your fridge?
Milk, cheese and mayonnaise

Most prized possession?
A chess board my late grandmother gave me shortly before she passed away

Describe yourself in three words?
Creative, relaxed, determined

How do you unwind?
Spending time with my daughter Eva and our two dogs