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Saturday, January 28, 2023

‘I just decided I was out of here’ –newsreader Eileen Dunne reflects on sudden ending to stellar 40-year RTÉ career

Retired RTÉ newsreader Eileen Dunne said she was “always going to be a teacher” but loved her 40-year career as a journalist at the national broadcaster.

unne issued the shock announcement of her immediate retirement at the end of a news bulletin last week, ending a decades-career of reading the news to the nation.

Known for the clarity and delivery of her bulletins, Eileen admitted to getting emotional during her last piece to camera for RTÉ News.

“I was trying to keep a lid on it. I was overwhelmed by the reaction. I’m still dealing with emails and texts and I haven’t even gotten near letters or cards,” Dunne told Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ Radio.

“If people had known beforehand, then I would have struggled. I had them all [work colleagues] tormented not to tell anybody, I had them warned. Towards the very end, if I had to go much longer, I think I would have – I was beginning to go wobbly.

“I’ll be 65 next year but my 40 years are up and I walk out the door as one of the lucky few who [had a] permanent and pensionable role. I just decided I was out of here. I know some of my colleagues had to go at 65 and weren’t ready. But I’m ready. I nearly went a few years ago but didn’t in the end. I’m glad I stayed and worked through Covid but now I’m ready.

“[Covid] taught me there’s more to life. I’m also looking at friends who we’ve lost or are ill, so I want to get out and travel a bit and go to the theatre and the concert hall… I’ll never say again that I can’t because I’m working,” Dunne said.

She acknowledged that many people who did not know her felt a connection to her and she put it down to “familiarity”. She paid tribute to the many well-wishers who have paid for drinks for her and told her “I grew up watching you on the news with my mum and dad. It’s really been lovely,” Dunne said.

“I don’t know if it will be like that going forward though as people don’t watch the news every day in the way that they used to. I’m getting stuff from people saying you’ve been in my living room every night for the last 40 years. That’s not going to happen again. Because no one else is going to stick at it for 40 years and also because people aren’t watching at the same level.

Ms Dunne admitted the job can be hard sometimes, having to break bad news to the nation, but said “when that red light comes on on the camera, you go into autopilot. It’s after that, that you would think about things.

“The story that impacted me most was the massacre in Dunblane – the guy that went into the school and shot all the kids. That was because I had just become a mother myself. That impacted me in a way that I hadn’t been impacted by anything previously, including Ethiopia [famine] a few years earlier,” Dunne said.

Sixteen children and a teacher were massacred in a school in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, when a gunman entered the school and shot them.

Eileen is a Clontarf native to parents from Laois and Westmeath, and her father, Mick, was a GAA correspondent. She studied in UCD then taught English in France for a year before coming home to work with RTÉ.

The era of her work that Dunne said she always returns to was the coverage around the Good Friday Agreement.

“I remember driving from Athlone on Friday, April 10, when the news of the Good Friday Agreement broke and I pulled in on the side of the road to listen to the speeches of Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern coming out of the Stormont building. That was my first wow moment. It was history, yes,” Eileen said.

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