School Daze with Eibhlín Ní Chonghaile: ‘Sky News was the best learning curve of my life’

"Irish is my first language. I was almost five before I spoke English. One memory of my school years is the metre stick and being hit with that and the shock of it. But the most vivid memory is loving going to school."
School Daze with Eibhlín Ní Chonghaile: ‘Sky News was the best learning curve of my life’
Eibhlín Ní Chonghaile

Irish is my first language. I was almost five before I spoke English. One memory of my school years is the metre stick and being hit with that and the shock of it. But the most vivid memory is loving going to school. Both my parents are teachers and I saw how much work they did outside of school. Both my parents ended up being principals of secondary schools.

I loved secondary school, even though I started it off crying myself to sleep every night. I was struggling. I had no friends and I found it was such a huge adjustment.

At the end-of-school ceremony, I was awarded the overall student of the year prize -- so, I went from crying myself to sleep to receiving that accolade on the last day. My father was presenting it and I stood up and I had a huge water gun in my hand. I hadn’t expected to win an award. Four hundred and twenty students just fell around laughing.

I had gone to a small primary school and I was the only one from my class to go to this secondary school so I truly understand how hard the transition to secondary school is, how loneliness can thwart you and make you struggle even when you are a good student.

I was a happy child -- but I always felt that my life was so perfect that I was afraid that something bad was going to happen. I was probably good academically and because my older brother (I have three brothers) was good at sport, guess what? I was going to be good at sport.

I would train for hours a day. We went to this tiny school in the west of Ireland and it was a school that punched above its weight in athletics. Being good at athletics meant I could get out of school at least two or three days a week to go to events. Back then girls weren’t as involved in sports as they are now and quite often I would be the only girl on the bus.

I had one bad experience in primary school. Now we would call it bullying but there wasn’t a name for it back then. But what helped me was the idea, “Just be you and hold on to your inner confidence. Even when things are bad continue on your path.”

I remember things were really tough but I had an amazing family and fantastic grandmothers. It meant I could believe in myself – I don’t mean being a show-off, but inside. And I remember holding on to that and feeling better that I went through that experience and didn’t lash out and never beat myself up or let it be my fault.

And later when I would start a new job, it helped. For instance, when I worked in Sky News Ireland, I might hear comments like, “Who does she think she is?” Because I had that training from that time in primary school, I could tell myself, “Just be you and stay strong. These are other people’s perceptions.”

As for Sky News Ireland, it was the best learning curve of my career and of my life. It really was the best arena to learn the game. There was true hard graft behind the glossy image. If you’ve done three years on the road with Sky News you can handle anything.

The teacher that influenced me the most was my athletics coach, Fr Tomás Mannion. He spurred us on, he told us we could do it, that we were as good as any other athlete in Ireland. He’s passed since. And I never said thank you. I would love so much to say thank you to him.

We were lucky, we lived right beside one of the summer colleges, Coláiste Chiarán. We were encouraged as local kids to come along to the céilís. We just had the best fun ever. I remember my first céilí and my first kiss. For us, recent months were a “pause and reset” button. Now I and my partner are reopening a hotel, Mount Falcon Estate in Co Mayo.

I didn’t always know that I would end up in broadcasting. My mother was doing research for a cousin. She found this course in DCU. I read the booklet and said to myself, "Oh my God, that is perfect." In hindsight, I should have known. My uncle, Tomás, was a journalist and the ceannaire of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta. Another uncle, Liam Mac Con Iomaire, was a newscaster for Nuacht RTÉ; my aunt, Máirín Commins, had a cookery show, Cuisine le Máirín, on RTÉ; and another uncle, Maidhc P. Ó Conaola, worked for the RTÉ current affairs show Cúrsaí.

And of course, my mother was the first person to read the news, from a caravan, on the side of a mountain, on the Irish language pirate station which preceded Raidió na Gaeltachta in the 1960s, Saor Raidió Chonamara.

Eibhlín Ní Chonghaile is a broadcaster and communications manager of Mount Falcon Estate, Co Mayo, which reopened on July 3. She and her partner Alan have three children. Eibhlín will present Cleas Act on TG4 in November.

More in this section

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up