Obituary: Robert Gahan, former RTÉ assistant director general and a lord mayor of Stepaside who helped shape the future of state broadcasting

Robert K. (Bob) Gahan, who has died on the age of 92 , was a former RTÉ assistant director general who played a major role in Irish state broadcasting over several a long time.

e was born in Ballina, Co Mayo, on February 9, 1930, and the family moved to Dublin in 1932 when his father, a member of An Garda Síochána, was transferred to the capital.

The Gahans had previously played significant roles within the 1916 Rising: Robert’s Aunt May was a messenger for Patrick Pearse between the GPO on O’Connell Street and the rebel outpost within the Royal College of Surgeons at St Stephen’s Green. An uncle of his was considered one of Pearse’s sharpshooters on the GPO and one other uncle was a part of the republican contingent on the 4 Courts during Easter Week.

On the outbreak of the riot Bob’s father was a rifle carrier for considered one of his brothers, but was sent home to take care of their mother and the younger siblings.

In an interview shortly before his ninetieth birthday with Maurice O’Keeffe for the Irish Life and Lore oral history archive, he said there was no food available because the shops had been ransacked by hungry and desperate city dwellers.

What looked like a tin of biscuits was salvaged, however it turned out to contain sugar-cake decorations and that was what the family needed to survive on for some time.

As with many other families, the Civil War that followed the Treaty led to a split, with one brother taking the anti-Treaty side while one other became an officer within the newly established Free State Army.

Along together with his Aunt May and her husband, Robert’s parents emigrated to Recent Zealand, but his father selected in 1927 to return to Ireland together with his wife and function a garda in Ballina, where Bobby and his twin sister Maeve were born three years later.

When Garda Gahan was transferred to Dublin in 1932 the family settled in Howth and, sooner or later, young Bobby attended Scoil na Naíonán. In his eighth 12 months he moved on to the O’Connell School in the town where he accomplished his primary and secondary education.

Secondary schools were slightly scarce in north Dublin on the time and the teen took the train within the morning to what’s now Connolly Station at Amiens Street, arriving at 8.40am and walking to hitch the category in North Richmond Street.

His school days coincided with “The Emergency”, as World War II was known in Ireland. Pupils went home for lunch between 12.30 and a pair of.00pm, which was the one time that gas for cooking was available. He recalled how even subjects akin to Applied Mathematics, Trigonometry and Latin were taught through Irish.

In later years he became president of the O’Connell School Past Pupils Union and the present holder of that title, Tony Connellan, who attended his funeral mass in Sandyford, Co Dublin, said Bob Gahan was “gifted with wisdom”.

It was due to the primary official language that young Gahan made his debut on radio. In 1940 Maeve and himself attended a special class in Irish at Howth every Thursday evening given by Micheál Ó Maoláin, who also did broadcasts on national radio that included readings in Irish from the studio by his pupils.

Radio Éireann, because it was known in those days, was positioned within the GPO and overseen by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs (later absorbed into the Department of Communications). Following the arrival of a national TV service there was a changeover to the combined title of Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), which operated under an independent authority and the transition to the Donnybrook location took place within the mid-Seventies.

After completing his secondary education Gahan joined the civil service in 1948, where he worked initially within the accounts section on the GPO after which moved over to an administrative role with Radio Éireann. He was also involved in collecting the outcomes of sports events, by phoning a neighborhood garda station to seek out out who had won a hurling or Gaelic football match within the locality.

When a newspaper strike broke out he was asked for ideas about “spot-advertising” on the station, which as much as then had only used sponsored programmes to build up that form of income. His colleagues at work included broadcasting legends akin to Joe Linnane, Michael O’Hehir and Seán Mac Réamoinn.

With the muse of the TV service, he was appointed as sales manager for TV and radio, after being advised by the director general on the time, Edward Roth, who said: “There’s no future in administration.”

Other appointments and responsibilities followed, akin to business director, head of RTÉ’s public relations and, eventually, assistant director general, answerable for such areas as engineering, finance and personnel, in addition to cable TV development and managing the RTÉ Guide. He also had a busy role within the coverage of the visit by Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979.

Gahan retired in 1995 and, looking back on his profession, he said: “I used to be a really lucky man. I never remember a day I didn’t need to go to work.” Explaining how he coped with such a big selection of responsibilities, he said: “I could switch my mind fairly quickly to every little thing.”

Gahan moved to live in Stepaside, Co Dublin, in 1974, where he became lord mayor and took part within the successful campaign for the reopening of the local garda station which was closed due to recession cutbacks in 2012 but eventually opened again in 2020.

In the course of the closure, in 2016, he told The Herald how the previous station premises had been used twice by burglars to realize access to his own residence round the corner. Two days after the closure his oil tank was emptied of 1,000 litres by thieves who climbed over the wall, and on one other occasion priceless jewellery that had belonged to his late wife was stolen.

Gahan liked to travel and was an energetic member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, an organisation of lay people and clergy with a special mission to support the Christian community within the Holy Land. In a press release on his passing, the Order said he can be greatly missed: “Bobby was a generous benefactor to the Christian community there.”

Gahan didn’t all the time share the identical perspective on problems with the day because the more liberal and radical elements in RTÉ, although, as a colleague put it, his humanity transcended his social philosophy and he was “very caring, sympathetic and supportive” of staff members who needed help.

Robert Gahan died peacefully last Monday, October 3, at St Michael’s Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, after a brief illness.

Predeceased by his wife Jo in 2012, sisters Maeve and Joan and brother John, he’s lovingly remembered by his daughters Aideen, Brenda, Maria and Niamh, sons-in-law David, Kevin and Peter, grandchildren Sam, Peter, Ali, Joe, Elizabeth, Jane, Arthur and Rebecca, sister-in-law Kai, cousin Anthony, nieces, nephews, clan, neighbours and friends.

President Michael D Higgins was represented on the funeral mass by his Aide-de-Camp Colonel Stephen Howard last Thursday morning in St Mary’s Church, Sandyford Village. The mass was followed by burial at St Patrick’s Cemetery, Glencullen.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here