RTÉ’s Six One News is in itself an institution and – as one half of its new presenting duo alongside Caitríona Perry – Keelin Shanley’s aim is to tell the news, not to be it.
“I don’t really feel like it is about us as personalities, because we are really just there to get the news out, we are not there to be personalities,” explains Keelin.
“I like when people engage with the news or they want to know more. Say you have done an interview and they ask: ‘What was he like or did he say anything about … ?’ I like that.”
Keelin and Caitríona took over from Bryan Dobson and Sharon Ní Bheoláin in January of this year and, in the interesting times in which we live, they have already covered some incredibly high-profile stories, including anchoring the Beast from the East broadcasts.
As the first ever all-female pairing to present the Six One News, Keelin does think it is an important step for women, but at the same time she is resolute that herself and Caitríona did not get the roles because they are women.
“I think it is significant, and I think it is great to see,” she says. “My daughter is on the ’06 camogie team in Cuala and it was interesting that quite a lot of the fathers were saying: ‘This is great, it is great for our girls to see.’
“I suppose, on the flipside of that, I would say that both Caitríona and I don’t think we got it because we are women. I don’t think they would have done that. We both have long careers behind us.”
Keelin is undoubtedly an RTÉ stalwart, having worked on a wide variety of programmes during her time at the station, including Prime Time, Morning Edition, Crime Call and Morning Ireland, to name a few.
Her latest venture has been a very positive experience so far, and having the opportunity to connect with the people of Ireland is a privilege, she says.
We lived near Bryan Dobson in our last house, and his daughters used to baby-sit for us. I saw my kids watching him on TV as babies, and now I realise someone’s babies are watching me.
“I can remember Lucy when she was about two or three, seeing Bryan and being like: ‘It is the man off the telly’ – completely enamoured. It is a terrific privilege to be in people’s houses like that.”
Sitting in Fallon & Byrne overlooking the People’s Park in Dun Laoghaire, Keelin remarks that her children, Lucy (11) and Conor (9), go to school just around the corner.
A very calm and measured person, Keelin explains that being a broadcaster and a mother can be challenging, but so too is being a mother for everyone.
“I think it is always a challenge, I think it is a challenge for everybody. As my son said the other day: ‘Is it difficult mumming?’ I loved it. It is, but it is a challenge for everybody.”
And, as the woman who always has her finger on the pulse when it comes to the news, does she switch off at home?
“I have no choice in the matter,” laughs Keelin. “You walk in the door, and it is: ‘Did you see what I did in school? Here’s my homework.’ Obviously you will watch the Nine [O’Clock] and you will watch Prime Time, but for that period between half seven and nine o’clock bedtime, there is nothing else going on, there is no news. I could not care less, it is family, it is children.”
Having studied science in Trinity, Keelin went on to do a postgrad in Bologna. It was there her path changed to journalism.
She explains that once she got out of formal education, the world was her oyster, and writing for some English language magazines in Italy led her towards a career in the media.
Working as a reporter with Prime Time for the best part of 10 years, Keelin made a number of award-winning documentaries. She mostly covered social issues, from juvenile crime to drugs and human trafficking.
It is clear that social issues like these are a passion of Keelin’s and while speaking about her work on them, she becomes animated.
The stories she has covered as a journalist would stop anyone in their tracks: the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, sex trafficking in Bucharest and more.
The Dubliner also worked in the English-language newsroom of Radio France for two years, which in itself was an experience.
I remember once ringing someone. He was full of excitement. He had just killed the rebel commander and he was saying: ‘I am looking at his body as I speak to you.’ It was from some remote area with a satellite phone.
After reporting on all of these events and topics, Irish Country Living asks if there’s anything that still shocks her. Unexpectedly, she answers: “I suppose you would be ready for anything, but the big thing is everything surprises you … that you are still interested, you are still like: ‘Jesus, how did that happen?’”
Keelin is doing what she does best: examining the pressing issues of the public.
Last week she presented a special in-studio discussion for RTÉ’s The Big Picture on youth mental health and, going forward, is set to be as responsive as ever to the changing world around her.