Andrea Byrne talks to the broadcaster about 20 years of early starts!
“My father was a musician and musicians used to have a saying, ‘ e gig is when the gig is. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. And if you’re going to do it, don’t complain about it,’ so here I am 20 years on and I have no complaints,” laughs Ireland AM anchor Mark Cagney, when I ask him if he’s ever got used to his daily 3am alarm.
e veteran broadcaster is speaking just a er returning from a month’s break. In tandem with its renamed TV channel, Ireland AM has been given a bit of a revamp, with lots of new tech like giant plasma screens and electronic tablets for all the presenters.
For Mark Cagney, his holidays are his chance to unplug and silence all news alerts. Digital detoxes are all the rage, but Mark has been feeling the bene t for years: “It’s easier than you think, if you commit to it. For the rst few days, you think, ‘Oh am I missing out on something? What if something important happens?’ But here’s the irony. When you come back, you realise you haven’t missed that much and it’s very easy to catch up. We’ve conned ourselves into a state of mind where we are living in fear of missing out on stu that we probably didn’t need to know in the rst place.” e channel now known as Virgin Media One is celebrating 20 years on air later this month. “If you go back 20 years, there were a lot of broadcasting enterprises starting o and in those rst couple of years, there were also a few high-pro le casualties. So it’s not a minor miracle, it’s a major miracle,” he says of the channel’s survival in such a fastchanging business. “Let’s be very honest: TV3’s history commercially was quite chequered, but we survived and then to have been bought by Virgin, who have very deep pockets, means there is now a sense of security that wasn’t there before. Obviously, an organisation like that has big plans and deep pockets to nance them so there’s a huge sense of optimism in the place because the future looks very bright.” Without doubt, the channel’s greatest success story is Ireland AM, which Mark has been involved in from the outset. It went live on September 20, 1999, a year a er TV3 launched. Few thought it would work. “We deal with just about anything and everything that might be of interest on any given day,” says Mark. “You can have all the fancy sets you like and the best technology but broadcasting is about communication between two sets of people. It’s like any relationship: you meet each other,
e gig is when the gig is. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. And if you’re going to do it, don’t complain about it
you’re interested, hopefully you give it time. We were lucky; we were allowed the time to build a trust with the audience. at trust is sacrosanct to us. ere is no real arti ce; what you see is what you get. If you like it, then chances are, you’ll like us. And over the years, more people have liked us than not.
“How do you make a great band? Well, hopefully, you find the right people and then you get really, really lucky. We found the right people and we got really, really lucky. Beneath all of that is an immense amount of work from the production team. This show is an insatiable beast. It’s always hungry. We’ll do from three to five interviews a day and the same number of demonstration items, so sometimes eight or nine items a day, five days a week, 52 weeks of the year.”
Mark was born in Cork and lives in Sutton in Dublin with his wife Audrey and their four children – two in secondary school, one in college and one recently nished. It’s a busy house. When Mark rst started Ireland AM, his eldest was in primary school; now he’s 25 and Mark o en meets him at 3.30am when he’s coming in from a night out and Mark is heading o to work. “ ey are all still at home. e way things are at the moment, they’re never leaving,” he says.
Do any of his children want to follow in their father’s media footsteps? “ e youngest, Mary, has the performing gene. She gets it from my father and my aunt, who were musicians and performers. She tells us that she wants to do drama in college. She’s only 14 but from the moment she got on stage from the age of four, she has loved it. She’s in a musical theatre group and they do shows in the Helix twice a year.” A regular gym-goer and Pilates enthusiast, Mark says that now, at the age of 62, he is in better shape than he was 20 years ago. It helps that his wife is a Pilates instructor. “She used to have her own studio but now she freelances and has a core clientele. We’re not a really sporty household, but we are aware that if you don’t take care of the engine, the car will stop at some stage or another.”
With over 40 years working in media, the presenter is showing no signs of slowing down. “I have a new TV wife this year,” he says of his co-anchor Ciara Doherty. “She is brilliant. A really bright, smart woman, but great fun too. She has brought a new dimension to the show. And now that Ciara is pregnant we’re all very excited.
“When people ask me about how long I will continue, there is a side of it that they don’t take into consideration, which is that I have to be asked to continue. Now I’m no spring chicken, but I am t and healthy and I love what I do. In answer to your question, I will continue to do it for as long as they ask me!”
Ireland AM, Mon-Fri, Virgin Media One
Mark with his co-presenters on the set of Ireland AM