A small kindness, never forgotten

By Martin McGovern
Special to Boston Irish

A comment from one of my professors while I was a student at University College Dublin (UCD) in 1978 alerted me to a job opening at The Irish Press, then one of Ireland’s national newspapers. Following up, I sought an interview and soon became a copyboy on the paper’s sports desk, working the late shift from 5 p.m. to around 1 a.m.

Anxious about securing employment that year, I was pleased with my good fortune. The position, however, had little to do with politics and government, the focus of my graduate studies at UCD, and more to do with being an office go-fer.

In that role, I delivered copy to editors, answered phones, fetched photos for stories, picked up sandwich orders, and made countless pots of tea.

One of the highlights of the shift was break time at around 10 p.m. or later, when many on the desk, myself included, would adjourn to Mulligan’s, the pub next door to the Press building on Poolbeg Street. Those 30 minutes or so away from the rewrites and deadlines buzzed with breaking news, gripes, frustrations, wit, and gossip.

Being party to the editors’ company and conversations on break was fun; and it also meant that I felt part of the desk. My tasks were menial and routine but appreciated. The editors never held my junior status or being a college student against me.

Working at The Irish Press was my first taste of being on a professional team. The news desk happened to be on the same floor as the sports desk. When major events occurred, like bombings or shootings in Northern Ireland, or the Whiddy Island industrial disaster that claimed 50 lives in January of that year, everyone knew about it and the floor went into overdrive.

There I saw journalism from the inside—how stories are assigned, developed, covered, and prepared for publication. I also experienced the adrenaline of deadline pressure, the jostling of egos, the spirit of camaraderie, and the sense of accomplishment in not just putting a story to bed but doing it well.

Words mattered there—debates and discussions about them were constant. At that time, the sports desk included one of Ireland finest sportswriters, Con Houlihan, who once noted that he grew up speaking, “Hiberno English woven on a Gaelic loom.” He also quipped, “A man who will misuse an apostrophe is capable of anything.”

I spent 19 months as an Irish Press copyboy before leaving for America in 1979. Earlier that year, Deputy Editor John Garvey had asked me to write something on why a traditionally agricultural country like Ireland never had a Farmers Party and to interview Mike Curran, an 83-year old veteran of Ireland’s War of Independence.

My first published pieces with a byline, those two stories also earned me 36 pounds in addition to my regular pay packet. As with my whole experience at The Irish Press, those articles and others that followed them developed my nose for news and improved my ability to write on deadline and for a general audience.

I hold degrees in history and politics from UCD and another in journalism from Boston University. I value all three but credit The Irish Press with giving me a practical career advantage in America. Sadly, the paper ceased publication in 1995.

Last year, I retired after serving Stonehill College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, as a communicator for 40 years. It was a dream job and one I loved. However, without the practical grounding that I got at The Irish Press, I would not have been prepared to take advantage of that opportunity when it came my way in the early 1980s.

For that, I am indebted to my former professor, Maurice Manning, a noted academic, author, and human rights advocate who has served in both houses of Ireland’s parliament, Dáil and Seanad Éireann, for thinking that the copyboy position might benefit me. It really did. In fact, it changed my life.

From Dublin, Martin McGovern lives in Mashpee, Massachusetts.