Catherine Foley: From the convent to the Gaeltacht

MOVING from Waterford city to the Ring Gaeltacht fifty miles away may not sound like a major life event but for Catherine Foley, her whole world changed at the age of 11.

Catherine Foley: From the convent to the Gaeltacht

By Colette Sheridan

MOVING from Waterford city to the Ring Gaeltacht fifty miles away may not sound like a major life event but for Catherine Foley, her whole world changed at the age of 11.

Foley, whose memoir, Beyond the Breakwater: Memories of Home, has just been published, had been “a quiet little girl wearing slippers in the convent school in Waterford”.

Suddenly, she and her two younger sisters were in an Irish-speaking country school with boys. “It was like a different culture. And the freedom of it; the music, the different sounds and cows passing up and down by our house.”

Foley’s father, who was the manager of Stanleys’ Foundry in Waterford, had a health scare and was advised by his doctor to lead a less stressful life. “My father always used to said that if a fellow had a shop in Ring, he’d make a fortune. So the idea took root and my father opened a shop in Ring.”

Foley became a fluent Irish speaker and went on to study Irish and English at UCC. She spent four years teaching at Tipperary VEC. “The kids were great but it took me a long time to learn how to be a teacher. I took a year off to figure out what I was doing. It dawned on me to try journalism.”

Growing up, Foley was flattered when her late journalist uncle, Donal Foley gave her an unproofed copy of his autobiography, Three Villages, to read. She also has two cousins who are journalists, including Donal Musgrave, who retired from the Irish Examiner some years ago.

“I started doing stuff for the local press in Waterford and then I did the post graduate diploma in journalism at NIHE, now DCU (Dublin City University). After that, I worked at Anois, the Irish language newspaper, followed by the Sunday Tribune and then the Irish Times.”

She wrote the weekly social diary for that Dublin paper for nearly ten years which involved being out on the town nearly every night of the week with a photographer-in-tow. “It was a hard slog. I was like a ban garda going around, taking notes. I took it very seriously. I used to wear sensible shoes and have a haversack on my back and off I’d go to events where people would be wearing strappy sandals. I’d be asked if I wanted a drink but I always said ‘no’ because I was on duty.”

Was it glamorous? “It was like a whirlwind; the noise and laughter and champagne. I’d come home to my little house in the Liberties and wonder, ‘Am I allowed to enjoy myself?’”

She also realised that the celebrity encounters didn’t always make for indepth journalism. For instance, at a red carpet interview with Pierce Brosnan, “A fellow reporter beside me asked Brosnan how he kept his hair so lovely, and what shampoo did he use.”

Foley took redundancy from her newspaper job just as the Celtic Tiger imploded. “I left to write a novel, knowing that if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it.”

Now living back in Ring, Foley and her youngest sister, RoseAnn, have made several documentaries for TG4 and she is a regular contributor to RTÉ radio’s Sunday Miscellany.

Writing fiction is rewarding but hard, says Foley, not least receiving rejection slips. But she loved writing her memoir which is full of joyful vignettes of childhood days.

- Beyond the Breakwater by Catherine Foley is published by Mercier Press

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