Local man Paraic O’Brien was appointed as Foreign Correspondent at Channel 4 this summer.
The promotion to Foreign Correspondent, at Channel 4 News is a big deal. “I used to watch the likes of Jonathan Rugman and Jonathan Miller who previously held this role reporting from around the world. Both masters at what they do.”
He is also sitting next to the journalistic titan that is Lindsay Hilsum. Although he has been working at Channel 4 News for 10 years, he sometimes still pinches himself on the odd the morning.
He only realised he wanted to be a journalist when he was a teenager but never really thought of it as a viable career option first. He had never met a journalist, had no connections in that world. It wasn’t until he moved to London in his early 20s that he started seriously thinking about it. He studied journalism part time while working as a youth worker near Brixton in South London. His big break came when he got an apprenticeship reporter post at BBC Radio 4. He also ended up meeting his wife there, so it was a very important few years!
According to Paraic there are two English teachers from Garbally that he’ll never forget: Mick Lally and Joe Molloy. They were both passionate about the power of great writing and impactful story telling. “It was infectious.” The walls of Mick Lally’s classroom were covered in posters of great plays from all around the world - Hamlet in New York, Macbeth in London. He remembers thinking to himself as a young fella: “I want to go see these plays and I want to go see them in the world’s great cities.”
He also believes his parents Larry and Catherine O’Brien are the ones who influenced his journalism. His father used to be the post-master for the town before he passed away and his mum who now lives in Portarlington was a schoolteacher in St Grellan’s. His family are devout evangelical Christians which was unusual at the time. His folks had a very practical idea of what Christianity involved. For one thing, they used to invite all sorts of waifs and strays into their home. They’d regularly have people around for dinner in Harbour Road who were struggling in life or were marginalised or outsiders in some way. That was normal for him as a kid and has stayed with him. Whether it’s a refugee camp in Syria or a drug rehabilitation centre in Romania, he understands the perspective of the outsider and he tries to communicate that in his reportage.
While his Mum was a schoolteacher in St Grellan’s, she taught him in first class. So as not to show any favouritism she was extra strict with him. After national school it was Garbally. He has very happy memories of the town. Playing on top of a mountain of fertiliser bags in the yard of Joe and Noreen Murray’s shop, River St with his best friend Jack; down at the October Horse Fair with his cousins from Clare with a couple of ponies; running wild along the canal with the next-door neighbours and his mates Kevin White, Aidan, and Declan Kenny.
He is only back in town the odd time these days. The last time was in 2020 on the Irish General Election campaign trail. Leo Varadkar was speaking at the Shearwater Hotel. He found it strange being back in the town on a story. He remembers doing a piece to camera with a few lads from school looking on in the foyer of the hotel. He doesn’t normally get nervous anymore when on the TV, but he was that day !
It’s difficult to put his finger on one story that was his “big break”. It was more a case of working hard on every story and gradually moving up. He thinks one of the stories he became quite well known for was a special report he did in the sewage system underneath Bucharest many years ago. He spent a couple of days underground interviewing the drug addicts who lived there. That particular report won a lot of awards.
His advice to young people who are interested in getting into journalism:
“Read as much news and analysis as you can and go out of your way to expose yourself to different opinions, not just the ones you feel safe with or agree with. Nothing beats “shoe leather journalism.” Yes, research stuff online, study data-based journalism but at the end of the day many stories involve knocking on doors, picking up the phone, the analogue stuff. If you’ve no contacts in journalism, make them for yourself. Journalists love giving advice to people setting out, so email a few and ask them for help. If you’re reading this and are from Ballinasloe, start with sending me an email" states Paraic.
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