DERRY JOURNAL 250: I remember the people, I thank every single one who trusted me to tell their stories
Inside the hotel dozens of journalists I’d only ever seen on the television sat around tables waiting for the report.
It was June 15, 2010, and while crowds outside on the streets of Derry packed into Guildhall Square, the media were in a locked room, being given their first look at the Saville Inquiry findings.
My Journal colleague Michael McMonagle and I sat with Jon Snow from Channel Four News and ITN’s Tom Bradby as we were handed our own copies. All our phones, laptops, and ipads had been confiscated and we weren’t allowed to leave until David Cameron stood up in the House of Commons and revealed Lord Saville’s findings.
It’s a day in my journalism career that I’ll never forget. I held in my hands a document that the people of the city had been waiting decades for. It was a day that changed the city forever. Later that day I’d be one of the few to interview Bishop Edward Daly about the report. My five minutes with him went in far too quickly. By the time the Saville Inquiry report had been published I’d worked in the Derry Journal for ten years.
I arrived in October 1999 for a spell of work experience (on the first official day of the current Derry Journal editor Brendan McDaid). And I returned as a fresh-faced cub reporter in June 2000 after securing my first full-time job. I sat quietly on Monday and Thursday mornings during the heavy editorial meetings, it took weeks for me to find my voice among the collection of experienced journalists with whom I now found myself sharing an office. I’ve learned many valuable lessons along the way - not to wear stilettos when covering the 12th march, never to drink at lunchtime, and never, ever, leave the office without my waterproof. If you were lucky, someone took you under their wing. My friend and colleague Claire Davidson (now Allan) steered me through the choppy waters of my first years in the Journal. No question was ever too stupid and no request too much. Sean McLaughlin’s appointment as Chief Reporter and News Editor marked a new era for me at the Journal. Under his mentorship, I moved away from my usual tasks of court reporting and feature writing and dipped my toe into hard news. Ask any person who’s ever worked at the Derry Journal and they’ll tell you there’s no greater joy than your by-line on the front page.
There were dark days, I remember particularly covering the murder of a young woman I’d been with school with. And interviewing the husband of a woman I’d known well in my personal life after she and her daughter had been killed in a car crash. It’s hard not to get involved when you’re writing stories about people.
My friendship with Creggan woman Michaela McKinney was formed after I wrote a story about her in the Journal. Michaela needed a new heart and lungs and appealed for local people to sign the organ donor register. She died aged just 34. Her courage and dignity are something that I’ll never forget.
During my later years at the Journal, I took on the role of News Editor working closely alongside Deputy Editor Bernie Mullen. We worked long evenings, late Saturday nights, one memorable new year’s eve ‘putting the paper to bed,’ and had the best of times together.
I’ve had many highlights in my career as a reporter. It’s hard to pick my favourites out. I did get to meet and interview some iconic people including Mo Mowlam (she shared her chips with me), and my idol Anton DuBeke. But I’ll probably be best remembered for my gangsta handshake with Bishop Donal McKeown on his first visit to the Journal, and for my trip to Lough Derg with him in 2015. I received dozens of emails after the trip and was regularly stopped by people asking me about it. I’ve been back four times since.
There have been many humorous moments during my time at the ‘Journal’. I managed to get a tour of the Millionaire Cruise Ship ‘The World’ when it docked in Derry one Summer morning (champagne for breakfast), I got chatted up by Basil Brush when I interviewed him (he is a very sly fox), and I made a fool of myself when I asked Sorcha Cusack (aka Mrs Jeremy Irons) if she once played Camogie for Derry. She had no clue what I was talking about. There have also been a fair few humiliations - my failed attempts to give up smoking and then after ten years behind the wheel failing a driving test, after taking it again for a story.
Other reporters will recall tales of political happenings during their time in the Journal, but I remember the people, and I thank every single one of them who trusted me with their stories. I still love my Derry Journal on a Friday morning, and long may it continue. Deciding to move to a new career in Marketing in 2016 was a huge step for me.
The day I left, I stood outside the office, looked at the Derry Journal masthead on the door and realised that the place where I’d made so many friends, told so many stories, and had one or two rows, would never be my workplace again.
I still miss it...