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Eddie Holt, columnist & journalism lecturer (1955-2015)

24 November 2015

David Quin

Eddie Holt, who died on 23 June 2015, was an award-winning columnist and highly respected teacher of journalism, who had a "huge impact" on many of his students.

Although he was a kind and tolerant man, certain things would rouse him to savage indignation: oppression, bullying, arrogance, smug privilege, and lack of respect for 'the little people'.

He was born on 28 May 1955 in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland. He graduated with a degree in English and Geography from University College Dublin in 1976. Although he gained an HDipEd and briefly taught English and Maths, he was soon working as a sports reporter in Drogheda.

Critic of the Year

After a few years in England working for Courier Newspapers in Kent and then a news agency in London, he returned to Ireland and joined the Irish Independent, showing his versatility as a reporter and feature writer, and then as a sub-editor and TV critic (1982-1994). He artfully transformed his weekly TV column into a space for sharp commentary on political and social issues, and was named Critic of the Year at the National Newspapers of Ireland Awards in 1990.

He spent a rewarding year in the USA, after he won the William Shannon (Teaching) Fellowship to Boston University (1991-92). He left the Irish Independent in 1994 to become a lecturer in journalism at Dublin City University (DCU), and was poached by the Irish Times in the same year to write the TV column.

Former Irish Times features editor, Sheila Wayman, said:

"He elevated the criticism of TV programmes to mainstream commentary. With the astute eye and acerbic wit of somebody who always stood outside the establishment, he was able to select disparate programmes and knit his reviews of them into a cohesive, entertaining and elegantly written social commentary - week after week."

Clarity, precision and wit

Indeed, he was soon writing not a TV column but one of general social and political commentary for the same paper. Whether his topic was crony capitalism, the excesses of the Celtic Tiger, the second invasion of Iraq, the corruption of the media, American foreign policy, or the commodification of higher education, he wrote with clarity, precision and wit. 

Since his primary anger was against the violence of states and of the powerful, he was less outraged by the violence of the 'underdog'. This led to a perception that he was sympathetic to the Republican 'campaign' in Northern Ireland. However, he did not hold back when condemning, for example, the "obscenity of Bloody Friday" on 21 July 1972 - when IRA bombs killed nine people and injured 130 - and evoking "the horrific and repulsive images of the shovelling-up of a charred corpse".

In early 2007, because of what he perceived as a "drift to the right" in the Irish Times, his years with the paper came to an abrupt end. However, he was still lecturing in DCU and continued to do so until 2012 when he retired early due to illness.

The many tributes from former students revealed their respect and fondness for Eddie. One of them, journalist Una Mullally, wrote:

"We loved him from the start ... Bit by bit he taught us how to write." He was one of those teachers "who changed our lives just by being who they were, who taught with passion, who spoke the truth, who cared".

Huge impact

Donnacha DeLong, NUJ president 2011-12, said Eddie "had a huge impact on me and my classmates", teaching them "how to act ethically and introducing them to the union". Another student said he was "a wonderful lecturer … kind, understanding and fair".

While at DCU, Eddie began a PhD on the subject of William Butler Yeats and journalism. While unable to complete his study, he achieved enough to elicit the following tribute from his supervisor Declan Kiberd, professor of Irish Studies and professor of English at the University of Notre Dame:

"Eddie understood that without journalism there would have been no Irish Revival. His work on Yeats alerted a whole generation of scholars to the way in which the Irish risorgimento was conducted as fully in newspapers and journals as in books of high culture. He tracked the journalistic work not only of Yeats but of Douglas Hyde, Maud Gonne, Arthur Griffith and many others."

He also described Eddie as "a brilliant journalist of the old school - exact in language, honest in feeling. He was one of the best-ever TV critics to write in the English language."

Eddie suffered in his latter years from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a cruel disease, and died aged 60. He is survived by his wife Dympna, his son Joe and his sister Theresa.

A brilliant journalist

The Irish secretary of the NUJ, Séamus Dooley, who worked with Eddie at the Irish Independent, said:

"He had wonderful insight and encyclopaedic knowledge, coupled with a sharp sense of humour."

His journalist friend Niall O’Dowd described him as a "brilliant journalist" whose opinions refused to bend to contemporary groupthink, adding:

"Eddie was one of those old souls who wanted a better world and lived his life to try and make it so through insight and imagination."

At his core, there was a kind of innocence, uncorrupted by adult surrender or cynicism. For him, 'that’s just the way things are' was no justification.

A man of great honesty, integrity and appropriate seriousness, Eddie also had a sense of mischief, and a rich, merry laugh.

It’s said that, in his early days, he turned down a trial with Manchester United, of which he remained a lifelong fan, along with his local club Drogheda United. If he can tune in to Sky Sports, he’ll be checking the scores.

Tags: , ireland, obituaries, obituary, drogheda, university college Dublin, courier newspapers, irish independent, dublin city university, irish times