Mark Cagney: from late-night rock'n'roll radio, to brekky TV

As I watched the going away ceremony for Mark Cagney on Ireland AM, it struck me that you don’t always get to see a TV presenter taking his leave in this fashion. At a time of his choosing.

Sometimes the last we see of them, is a tabloid headline declaring that they’ve been AXED, in which case there will probably be no fond farewells and perhaps no farewells of any kind.

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So it was appropriate that Cagney managed his departure in the right way, leaving the show after 20 years, before there was any suggestion that the show would be leaving him.

He has been a singular force in Irish broadcasting, with the range to do anything from a late-night rock’n’roll radio show, to breakfast TV. And he did it in the knowledge that he had once walked the streets of paradise itself, out in RTE.

There are those who will be carping about the large salaries and the superior working conditions to be had out in RTE, but I would maintain that it serves a crucial purpose in the intellectual and emotional life of everyone who labours in the industry of human happiness in Ireland – without that vision of heaven, somewhere out there, how could the rest continue to carry their heavy burden?

Consider then, the achievement of Cagney who had already died and gone to heaven, as it were – who had been up there ideally for all eternity, and was now left with just the heavy burden? With the breakfast television on TV3, breakfast television being a thing which could never possibly exist in that bountiful land which was no longer his?

This was a man who had once had a conversation with Bill Graham about jazz. I should explain, that Bill was a writer with Hot Press, a man of genius. And one day in a pub, I was present when he and Mark Cagney had a conversation about jazz.

There was almost nobody in the world at that time who was capable of such a thing, but Cagney could do it, no problem. And you would imagine that a man with such a depth of knowledge, such a hinterland, might find the style and indeed the content of breakfast television a bit, shall we say, unchallenging.

But he did it, and he made it his own.

And on his last day on Ireland AM, the last gift he received was one of Bono’s guitars, a glorious green Gretsch, brought to him by U2’s sound man Joe O’Herlihy – U2 being a band which was introduced to its manager Paul McGuinness by one Bill Graham.

He has known a lot of people, has Cagney, known a lot of things. And on the few occasions when I have been on Ireland AM, it has always been deeply reassuring to me, that he knows so much.

It has made all the difference indeed, because on the surface a lot of presenters seem to be doing the same job, to the same standard, yet there are vital distinctions to be made between them – things like their ability to listen during an interview, so that they respond in the right way, at the right time.

Which can be as simple as laughing at a joke that the interviewee has made, or just knowing in the first place that a joke has been made, which deserves the laughing.

Believe me, your heart can sink pretty fast, when you’ve taken your top shot, and the presenter apparently hasn’t even noticed it.

But you never had to concern yourself with any of that, when Cags was on the job. He was probably better than he needed to be, but then all human progress is achieved by those who are better than they need to be.

Nor is he retiring from active service altogether. He has stated only that he is leaving Ireland AM, which would allow for the possibility that he will continue broadcasting in some capacity. Indeed for all we know, it could end up for him in the place where he first became widely known – in that land out there past Donnybrook that we call, simply, “Paradise”.

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