Newry.ie

 As told by his eldest son Don Hall to Noreen Cunningham, Museum Curator, December 2019

Frank Hall, in a glittering career as one of RTE Television’s leading broadcasters, is fondly remembered as one of Ireland’s most acclaimed commentators, noted for his acerbic wit, his satirical outlook on Irish political life, and his bitingly humorous television scripts. 

Speaking to Newry and Mourne Museum Curator, Noreen Cunningham, Don described his late father as ‘a true and loyal son of Newry, mindful and proud of his ancestry as a Newry man’.

Frank Hall in typical pose as Editor (and Presenter) of RTE’s Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. Best remembered for its satirical outlook on political life, the programme ran for 250 episodes from 1969 - 1980.  Courtesy of Don Hall
Frank Hall in typical pose as Editor (and Presenter) of RTE’s Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. Best remembered for its satirical outlook on political life, the programme ran for 250 episodes from 1969 - 1980. Courtesy of Don Hall

Born in Cecil Street in 1921, his mother, Mary Golding, was one of a Newry family remembered for their maritime connections. His father, a Dubliner, was a merchant seaman and it was on one of his visits to Newry that he met and later married Mary. The couple had two children - their eldest son Pat and his brother Frank. 

Driven by poor economic conditions, their father left for America to build a new, more prosperous life, the intention being that his wife and two sons would follow. Regrettably, Mary became infirm and her invalid condition made travel impossible, and they remained a family separated by distance that, over time, was to lead to complete separation.

From Cecil Street, the family moved to Monaghan Street, to an extensive, sprawling property positioned between McNamee’s drapery store and Downey Butchers’ shop. “For all intents and purposes, Frank and his brother Pat were raised by their Aunt Clare, she being full-time carer to their invalid mother and surrogate father to her two sons” Don recalls. “Indeed, later in his career, when a columnist with Independent Newspapers, Frank regularly wrote about an imaginary character he called ‘Mrs McStay’ - a figure modelled on the same Aunt Clare” he remembers.

Schooled at the Abbey CBS, Frank ended his formal education at a very young age, as many did at that time. An inveterate moviegoer, much of his leisure time was taken-up in the Savoy, Frontier and Imperial cinemas where he would immerse himself in whatever the latest block buster might be, afterwards to review them in his diary. It was a pursuit that rewarded him in adult life when the Government in Dublin appointed him to the position, first as Deputy Film Censor and later to Film Censor proper, a role he held from 1978 – 1986.

In Newry, Frank held a number of jobs – including spells as a sales assistant with Newell’s and with Turkingtons, the well-known menswear retailer. ‘After hours, he was a keen member of Newry Musical Society, and played double bass in the Vincent Lowe Orchestra, led by the popular musician from Carrickbracken, near Camlough’ Don recalls.

It was in the late 1930s that Frank met and married, Aideen Kearney. Born in Lislea, Aideen was the daughter of Mary and Johnny Kearney, he being a respected farmer, cattle dealer and resident of Carrickbracken House.

‘My mother, who worked in a dressmaker’s shop in Monaghan Street, would have been 18 years old and my father just 20 years old when they eloped and were married in Bessbrook, their best man being Vincent Lowe.  Afterwards, they had their wedding breakfast in the Shelbourne café before returning to work’ Don recalls.

Frank Hall as a young man. Courtesy of Don Hall
Frank Hall as a young man. Courtesy of Don Hall

‘Family folklore suggests that their marriage came as a complete surprise to my maternal grandmother whose expectation would have been that her daughter would marry a farmer’ Don suggests.

They had six children, Don being the eldest. Following him was his sister Geraldine, a brother Martin (who died in infancy), two more sisters, Vivienne and Julie, and a brother, David.

‘My mother stayed at home and looked after the children while my father went to work, picking up extra income by collecting insurance premiums and playing music in Newry Town Hall and at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge’.

‘Discovering that he harboured a desire to become a writer and journalist, my maternal grandmother activated family connections in Dublin where her brother, Terence O’Hanlon, a writer, was living’.  His son, Aidan was well connected in Dublin media circles and he was asked to ‘keep an eye out for Frank in Dublin’ and to notify him of any vacancies. Aidan returned with news of an opening in the Art Department of Independent Newspapers’ Don said.

Interviewed by department head, Sam Molloy, Frank was asked: ‘if we were to offer you this job, when could you start?’ Not wishing to appear too eager, Frank replied ‘in a week or maybe two weeks’. Somewhat crestfallen, Molloy responded: ‘I was hoping you could start tonight’ to which Frank said: ‘Tonight? Of course I can start tonight’. 

Vincent Lowe and his Band. Band leader Vincent Lowe is seen (right) at the piano and his young bassist, Frank Hall is seen standing (centre at back).
Courtesy of Don Hall
Vincent Lowe and his Band. Band leader Vincent Lowe is seen (right) at the piano and his young bassist, Frank Hall is seen standing (centre at back).
Courtesy of Don Hall

For the next six years, the family remained in Carrickbracken while Frank hitch-hiked back and forth to Dublin, returning every Friday evening. Part of his weekend routine included trips to the ‘Hibs’ cinema in Bessbrook and a Saturday night slot at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge, returning on Sunday to Dublin where he would supplement his income by correcting crosswords for the Sunday Independent.

Next week’s article will look at Frank Hall’s work as columnist with the Evening Herald and his career with RTE.

Newry and Mourne Museum is open to the public seven days a week with admission free of charge. For opening hours, information on events and exhibitions, other services and bookings please phone 028 3031 3178 or visit www.bagenalscastle.com.

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