Justine McCarthy: ‘He went out to work one day and never came home’

The award-winning journalist talks to The Women’s Podcast about her new book An Eye on Ireland.

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Justine McCarthy

Journalist and author Justine McCarthy was just four years old when her father died of a heart attack on his way home from work.

“He went out to work one day and he never came home,” she tells Róisín Ingle on the latest episode of the Irish Times Women’s Podcast.

Recalling the moment her world changed forever, McCarthy says, “I remember my uncle and an adult male cousin walking up the stairs in big heavy dark overcoats, my sister and I were on the landing playing with our dolls, I remember looking up and seeing these silhouettes and they blocked out all the light and it’s as if the light stayed off then”.

The experience of losing her father in such sudden and unexpected circumstances left the young girl from Bandon in Co Cork “perpetually frightened”. “The fragility of life was always something in my head. I literally was the child who was scared of the dark, but I was also scared of the light and everything else,” she says.


McCarthy shares this story of loss in the opening essay of her new book An Eye on Ireland. The 33-page introduction chronicles key moments from her childhood in Cork, her path into journalism and the extraordinary stories she has covered along the way. It’s followed by a thought provoking collection of new and selected pieces of work from her long-spanning career in journalism.

For four decades, McCarthy’s writing has challenged stereotypes, held power to account and helped amplify the voices of women in Ireland. Such women include Cervical Check campaigner Vicky Phelan, abuse campaigner and survivor Christine Buckley and Hepatitis C campaigner Brigid McCole.

“When I think of the people that have made the biggest impression on me, I think of the still nameless people, like the woman in the Kilkenny incest case, one of the most extraordinary human beings I have ever encountered in my life,” she says.

The book maps the transformation of Irish society, starting in the early 1990s and the election of the first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. “I chose that as the starting off point because for me that was really a moment when Ireland started opening its eyes and opening its arms and becoming outward looking and tolerant and what people would say is liberal modern Ireland,” says McCarthy.

It’s a day the writer looks back on with fondness: “It was such a happy day and I remember being upstairs on a bus coming into town and looking out the window and seeing people smiling, men and women, and I remember men buying women red roses that day and it was almost as if the men were saying ‘welcome to our world’ at last”.

You can listen back to this episode in the player above, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Suzanne Brennan

Suzanne Brennan

Suzanne Brennan is an audio producer at The Irish Times