Chronicling the life of a great chronicler

FOR over fifty years, journalist Joe McGarrigle chronicled the life and times of Donegal and its people.

His contribution to television, radio and press made him one of the best known and most respected provincial journalists in the country.

He left behind him a collection of over 800 photographs, audio recordings (including the last known interview with republican activist Peadar O’Donnell) and texts. This collection is currently being preserved and digitised by Joe’s son James and his grandson Jamie.


The RCC in Letterkenny will showcase daily elements of this collection starting tomorrow, Monday, June 15 through to June 28 with the intention of curating a physical exhibition in 2021.

Born in 1916, Joe McGarrigle worked a clerical officer with CIE in Donegal Town. He had his first short story published while still in his teenage years and from that moment became a dedicated freelance journalist, a job he would continue until his untimely passing in 1993.

James McGarrigle, a retired AIB bank manager, started to digitise his late father’s work after coming upon a group of old negatives a few years ago.

“Dad held down a full-time job. He spent most of his time off doing the journalism,” James recalled.

His reports in the local newspapers featured on ordinary people, often telling extraordinary stories, while he would also be dispatched across the county to cover events of interest for television and the national newspapers.

Every Christmas, he would join the army corps and travel by helicopter to Tory as provisions were taken to the island, he would be at the launch of any new trawler built in Killybegs while he also covered numerous tragedies.

He was in Derry on the day the British troops first arrived in the Bogside while he also covered other noteworthy events along the border.


Each year he would report on the Letterkenny International Folk Festival for television while whenever a President, Taoiseach or TD was in Donegal, Joe McGarrigle would also be in the frame.

“He would attend the opening of an envelope,” James remarked.

On a more serious note though, it was a different time – a time before social media, a time when most homes bought one or two local newspapers each week.

“He covered a lot of everyday happenings. Festivals, tragedies, politics, canvassing and all things in between,” James said.

Joe McGarrigle would have been the ‘local’ face on RTE as kits North-West correspondent before Tommie Gorman and Eileen Magnier while he was also the Donegal Town note taker for all the local newspapers.

It was a time before word processors. There were no emails and all copy was typed on a typewriter and then posted to newsrooms across the country and, sometimes, further afield. For more urgent assignments, when time was not his friend, he would telephone his story straight into the newsroom.

Similarly, there were no digital cameras. Photographs were taken and then developed in a darkroom where when developed, hopefully, you managed to capture to right image.

“I used to go to a lot of events with him as a boy. I remember going to Derry one morning when the British troops first arrived in the Bogside. We had to come home to Donegal Town at lunch-time to take the film into the darkroom, get it developed and put it on the Express bus to Dublin in time for the news that evening,” James said.

“Eventually, he got a dark bag – a bag that was blackened out. He was able to access it through two arms, the camera was put in and he was able to take the film out and pack it off on the bus to Dublin. Sometimes, RTE would want it sent up by taxi. There was no such thing as editing or having a look at them. There were no second chances. It was pot luck at times,” he added.

All interviews were written into a notebook before, in the later stages of his life, he recorded them onto a cassette recorder.

“We still have those recordings he would have done with some people and hopefully they too will form part of the exhibition.” he said.

Joe McGarrigle was a familiar voice on the Provincial News Round-Up programme on RTE every Sunday afternoon and if someone had a story to tell, which he felt was of interest, he would help them tell it.

“He was responsible for taking a lot of photographs that would probably otherwise not have beena taken. He attended the opening of a lot of factories and the visit of politicians but he was equally concerned about the day to day stuff. He would be at local committee meetings, drama and sports events, dances, old folks parties – you name it, dad was there,” he said.

Joe McGarrigle also found time to publish two books, one of which ‘Donegal Profiles’ published in 1986 carried extracts from 68 articles that he would have contributed to the Donegal Democrat.

That book carried interviews with Donegal people from various facets of life including Joe Mulholland, Peadar O’Donnell, Ray Mac Anally, Sean Mc Eniff, Leo Brennan, Fr. Tommy Doherty, Sean O’hEochaidh, Fr. Paidin Dawson, Joey Murrin, Sally Blake, Patsy O’Donnell, Paddy Tunney and Howard Temple.

The RCC will showcase daily elements of Joe McGarrigle’s extensive collection from 15th – 28th June 2020 with the intention of curating a physical exhibition in 2021.



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