Deirdre Purcell, popular novelist and broadcaster, dies at 77

President Higgins leads tributes to former Abbey actor

The death has taken place of the well-known RTÉ news presenter turned novelist Deirdre Purcell, aged 77.

Purcell was a fixture on Irish television for decades and, later, on RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland programme, where she presented What it Says in the Papers until 2018.

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to her achievements, saying that “in a distinguished career, Deirdre left a singular contribution in all of the different aspects of literature and broadcasting to which she turned her many talents”.

He recalled one afternoon where she interviewed him and Brendan Kennelly for the Sunday Tribune: “The attention to detail which she gave to such interviews was indicative of the skill with which she went about her work and has been often remarked upon by her many admirers.”


Purcell was born in Dublin in 1945 and attended Gortnor Abbey, in Co Mayo. She credited the nuns there with instilling a strong work ethic in her.

She began her career as a civil servant in the Civil Service Commission, but only lasted six months there before becoming an flight attendant with Aer Lingus. It was while working in Aer Lingus that she discovered her talent for acting through the airline’s musical and dramatic society.

She became a member of the permanent company of the Abbey Theatre, but acting proved to be too insecure a profession.

By her own estimation she had 13 different careers in an eventful life. She joined RTÉ as a continuity announcer before becoming the station’s first female news anchor. She also worked as an interviewer with the Sunday Tribune.

Before she embarked on her career as a novelist she ghostwrote Gay Byrne’s autobiography Time of My Life which was published in 1989 and caused quite a stir.

Her novels include A Place of Stones (1991), Falling for a Dancer (1993), Love Like Hate Adore (1997), Tell Me Your Secret (2006), The Husband (2016) and The Christmas Voyage (2017).

A Place of Stones was inspired by a short report in The Irish Times about a mishap for a small aircraft over the Aran Islands, which eventually landed safely with the help of islanders.

Purcell’s best-known novel is Falling for a Dancer, which was made into a four-part BBC series in 1998.

Purcell died suddenly as a result of a stroke on Monday morning. She is survived by her husband, Kevin Healy, whom she met in RTÉ, and by her sons, Adrian and Simon Weckler.

In a statement the family said they were “deeply grieving the sudden loss of Deirdre. To the day before her death Deirdre was as full of plans, schemes and dreams as she always was. Deirdre made friends wherever she went and will be remembered by so many as a vibrant, clever and caring companion.

“The talent, vivacity and sharp mind that made her an award-winning journalist, a globally successful fiction writer and, in her youth, a talented Abbey Theatre actress never left her. She was a force of nature, and we will miss her desperately.”

Her friend and fellow novelist Patricia Scanlon said she was in shock at the announcement of her death.

They had met a few weeks ago and “she looked so vibrant and full of energy”.

“She was in great form,” Scanlon told RTÉ Radio 1′s News at One programme.

“The arts world has lost somebody very special and talented. Her friends have lost someone really special. When Deirdre was your friend you were befriended, minded and cherished. We had such great laughs.

“We had fascinating conversations. Everyone who knew her was taken in under her wing. She was sharp as a tack.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times