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Death of a Dear Friend – Keelin Shanley

February 10, 2020

It was with great sadness that we learned of the untimely death of Keelin Shanley. Keelin was an award-winning journalist, a widely-respected RTÉ broadcaster and a true friend of the An Post Irish Book Awards. Along with RTÉ colleague, Evelyn O’Rourke, Keelin hosted the Awards between 2014 and 2018 and brought to the show warmth and a wonderfully polished professionalism that did much to establish the Awards night as a major event in the Irish cultural calendar. She will be greatly missed but always remembered with tremendous fondness. As so many have said since her death, she was indeed a truly exceptional person.

Keelin was unable to join us in November 2019 but we hoped against hope that she would be able to do so in future years. Alas, illness rendered that impossible and now at the ridiculously early age of 51, she is gone. It’s unbearably sad for her family, her RTÉ family but also for everyone involved with the production of the An Post Irish Book Awards Ceremony and Gala Dinner whom she charmed and delighted unfailingly. We saw Keelin just once a year but that was enough to establish a connection and a bond of friendship that needed no special rekindling. She was as constant as the Northern star and always filled you with confidence.

In the run-up to awards night, we would be fretting and faffing around The Burlo ballroom, contending with a sea of trivial problems, soothing nerves and arguing about the set, the script and the running order but when Keelin bustled in with that megawatt smile you knew everything was going to work out just fine. She was bereft of ego, warm and generous towards all, and anxious only to get her script right so that she could do what she did best, which was to be sublimely articulate and engaging in her role as the essential link to the live and TV audiences.

It was my pleasure and privilege to write the script for Keelin and in time it came easily to me because I could always hear her voice speaking the words; nothing too grand or wordy, just the basic information on each award and perhaps a nugget of relevant commentary.  On the day, she would consult with the RTÉ producer and the autocue writer to iron out any minor issues or problematic pronunciations and after a brisk run-through she was ready to go. Not once in that five-year period can I recall her drying or stumbling in any way whatever, grace under pressure was made incarnate in the person of Keelin Shanley.

She was such an asset to the awards team. After the run-through, you wouldn’t see her for an hour or two but as start-time approached, suddenly she would enter the ballroom in the chicest of gunas with the hair and make-up done and looking a million dollars. When she welcomed the assemblage as gaeilge, you felt a genuine pride that this woman was representing Ireland with such grace and elegance, a sentiment upon which many of the UK visitors frequently remarked.

It seems ineffably sad that we won’t be re-enacting these rituals with Keelin ever again but you can bet that her spirit will be among us every year in late November when we gather to celebrate the very best in Irish writing. As has been said many times since her death, Keelin represented the very best of us too. She will be greatly missed.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.

Bert Wright, An Post Irish Book Awards Administrator