Brian plays his trump card with move home

February 21st, 2023 5:50 PM

By Kieran O'Mahony

Brian O’Donovan addressing the audience at the Dúchas Clonakilty Heritage lecture in the Clonakilty GAA Club complex. (Photo: Martin Walsh)

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RTÉ’s former Washington correspondent, Farran native Brian O’Donovan, says he’s happy with his new perspective on US politics, and his decision to move home – for now

FAR from the hustle and bustle of the White House in Washington where daily presidential briefings from US presidents were commonplace, RTÉ’s Brian O’Donovan is enjoying his current role as work and technology correspondent with the State broadcaster.

He recently paid a visit to Clonakilty as a special guest of Dúchas Clonakilty Heritage, where he delivered a talk to a packed Ahamilla GAA hall on his time as RTÉ’s US correspondent. 

Brian’s memoir from his time there, entitled Four Years in the Cauldron was the basis for his talk and he gave attendees a fascinating insight to what it was like to work  on Capitol Hill during a tumultuous time in American politics.

Life was anything but dull during his four-year stint in Washington, where he covered a wide range of topics such as Donald Trump’s presidency, the Covid pandemic, Black Lives Matter and Capitol Hill riots.

With his dad Jim hailing from nearby Ardfield, it was a sort of homecoming, too, for the Dublin-based broadcaster. And he was more than surprised with the questions he was asked by his captive audience in the Q&A session afterwards.

‘It was an extensive Q&A which I was really surprised with. It just highlights how even Irish people are fascinated by American politics. It was a great night and a fabulous venue too,’ Brian told The Southern Star.

And it’s a busy time for Farran native, with the tech sector undergoing significant changes and redundancies taking place across all the big players worldwide.

‘I’m home now a year and I didn’t want to come back to a quieter job. 

But this gig is great – there’s a story every day, in fact multiple stories, and these could be to do with either the tech sector or trade unions for example. 

My biggest goal was to come back to something that kept me busy. I didn’t want to be bored. And I’m certainly not in this role.’

He notes the tech sector here in Ireland hasn’t seen the mass redundancies that other countries have experienced.

‘The percentage of lay-offs from big high-tech companies here isn’t as notable as across the world. They are laying off now because they hired too many during the pandemic,’ he added.

Brian and his family, who had lived in Dublin prior to the Washington move, ended up moving back to a different part of the capital city on their return after four years. Joanna resumed her teaching career in Lucan, while their two daughters, Lucy and Erin, settled back into the Irish education system.

‘Thankfully, they settled back really well and their school has been really helpful and supportive. They do still have slight American twangs, but hopefully that will ease off!’ he jokes.

‘What I miss about America is the life we had there, which was great and Joanna and our two girls were really happy there.

They made good friends in Washington.’

Yet Brian didn’t feel as he left Washington that he was leaving anything behind.

‘I covered so much there for four years, so I was happy to hand it over to the next person.’

His advice to his successor Sean Whelan was that, without Trump in the White House, now’s a good time to get out and see as much of the country as possible, because when he was there, the former president’s White House antics kept him firmly busy in Washington.

Brian knows that he if he was in Washington now, politics would still be all-consuming, with the current controversy over documents found in Joe Biden’s office, and the recent election of the US Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy.

‘Being back here you see the election controversy and the expenses scandal, but you also see the international stuff. Living in America means you are very much focussed on that, so it’s good to be back.’

Brian hasn’t ruled out seeking another foreign posting down the line, either, when his two girls are much older.

‘Maybe not to America again, but there are also positions in London and Brussels so I wouldn’t rule that out, but that’s a long way off. I’m lucky that Joanna loves travelling more than me!’

Needlessly to say, he was glued to the mid-term elections.

‘You can’t not be, and it seems lots of people here are glued to American politics – that was clear from the interaction after my talk.’

As for the 2024 election, he said it’s a difficult one to call.

‘Donald Trump is still there and is leading the polls as the most likely Republican candidate. The majority of Democrats probably want Biden to run again, but his approval ratings aren’t great at the moment. The problem is that there is no one there to run for them who could take on Trump if he is selected.’

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