Derry’s man at the Vatican

TONY CONNELLY.
TONY CONNELLY.

In the middle of 5,600 journalists and one of the most historical events in the Catholic church’s history, Derry born Tony Connelly was on hand to deliver the news as it happened this week, back to the RTE newsrooms.

Now Europe Editor for Ireland’s national broadcaster, it’s been a busy few years for the Kingsfort Park man who’s covered the unravelling economic situation in recent years. In recent weeks, he’s been based in Rome, covering the shock resignation of Pope Benedict and this week, the voting in of Pope Francis.

“It’s been so, so busy,” said Tony, who spoke to the Sunday Journal from St Peter’s Square on Thursday.

“It’s an amazing story to cover and it’s incredible to see so many journalists here. Often when you’re covering stories you’re out there on your own researching and this was just totally different. It’s strange being in the middle of thousands of other people reporting on the story.”

Referring to the wait for the white smoke signalling the appointment of a new Pope this week, Tony said:

“It’s funny, in all the main stories journalists get an inside track but despite Twitter and the instant global news fix we all just had to stand and wait and watch the chimney for news like everyone else.”

Tony knows all about waiting around for a story. He’s been a reporter with RTE since 1994, when he moved back to Ireland after training in London.

“I had an interview for the Derry Journal and I didn’t get the job, but I probably wasn’t much good at that point,” he laughs.

Since joining RTE however, the former St Columb’s College pupil has seen his career go from strength to strength. After starting out on Morning Ireland, he went on to his job as a reporter for RTE television news before taking up the post of European Editor in Brussels in 2001.

The past two weeks he said, will go down as some of the biggest of his career to date.

“The way the Vatican seemed to prepare for the departure of Pope Benedict was so interesting to cover as a TV reporter. Mostly we rely on images from official sources but on this historic occasion Vatican TV provided incredible images of the whole thing including those aerial images of Vatican City and that was a real first.

“We could see that they had helicopters flying across capturing the footage and it was just an incredibly amazing experience.”

Still in Rome, Tony will remain in the city to cover the official inauguration of Pope Francis and said his parents Tim and Nance, who still live in Derry, have been keeping up with events at the Vatican via him.

“Most of the time I just dash somewhere and I appear on TV without them knowing where I am, but they’ve taken an interest in this story.

“Like most people I’m sure they’ve been glued to the story but they’re off on holiday to Spain now so I doubt they’ll be getting their coverage from RTE over there!”

Commenting on the atmosphere on the ground in Rome with the news of the appointment of a new pope, Tony said:

“There was such a sense of excitement and I think it would’ve been an anticlimax if Angelo Scola had been selected.

“People here are quite excited and intrigued by the prospect of a non European pope. I think the events of the past few days have given people a bit of hope.”