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Clare Champion's Ballyvaughan notes correspondent Mort O'Loughlin who is retiring after 55 years' service. He is pictured out tending to his bull Bill on the family farm. Photograph by John Kelly

Mort lays down pen after 55 years as Champion correspondent

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IN MORT O’Loughlin’s home, nestled among the hills of North Clare, a very special archive has been painstakingly gathered over the last five-and-a-half decades. 

Since the late ‘60s, Mort has been The Champion’s Ballyvaughan Notes Correspondent, keeping his finger on the pulse of all things local. After 55 years of stalwart service, he is beginning a well-earned retirement and reflecting on the changing times he has witnessed. 

To visit the home of Mort and his wife, Teresa, is to take a step back into the history of Ballyvaughan and its scattered Burren hinterland. Clippings dating to the early ‘70s have been carefully preserved as a record of births, marriages, deaths and all manner of community festivities and tragedies over the years.

The area’s attraction for motorsport enthusiasts have been well documented, as well as now defunct traditions like the roasting of a kid goat for dinner on St Patrick’s Day and Easter.

The animals would be coaxed by local farmers from the Burren’s famous wild goat herd and fattened for while before the annual feast.

Characters and contributors to the rich social and community life are also remembered and Mort’s skilful turn-of-phrase creates a vivid picture of an era that is now passing into memory. To leaf through his archive is to revisit a time of change and development on a local news patch that stretches “all the way to the top of Corkscrew Hill”. 

Mort was recruited, after a varied career that saw him work in Dublin and Limerick, and even drive a tube train in London. “The train would have more than 700 passengers,” he said. “That’s more than the population of Ballyvaughan.” Back home after his travels, Mort was driving a milk lorry, and took up the role of Notes Correspondent, filing notes faithfully every week. 

While much of the work supplied by Mort dealt with very specific local details, there were times when the Notes made big news. “There was a ship that ran aground close to Ballyvaughan and the press people couldn’t get here,” he recalled.

“I was the first on the scene, along with the girl from Clare FM.”

The year was 1991. Now an acclaimed RTÉ Radio journalist, Rachel English was the correspondent alongside Mort, reporting from the scene.

He captured some of the first dramatic images after the 2,600 tonne, 270 foot factory ship ‘Capitaine Pleven II’ went aground on April 5.

Among his archive are dramatic black and white images, showing the arrival of rescue helicopters who successfully evacuated the captain and crew.

“John Kelly gave me a lot of advice with photos, because Notes Correspondents sometimes took pictures too,” Mort said. 

Another memorable event was The Peace Festival in 1971, organised by Noel O’Loughlin, one of Mort’s brothers. “That got a lot of coverage at the time,” Mort recalled. 

With the writing up of the notes taking at least 60 minutes every week, Mort’s contribution to The Champion could be calculated at more than 20,000 hours.

That’s before one considers the effort needed to keep up to date with local happenings. Tracing events at home is just one part of the job, the brief also includes documenting the doings of Ballyvaughan natives on the national and international stage.

Mort agrees that a Notes Correspondent must keep an ear to the ground. “People mightn’t always let you know what’s happening, but they do expect to see things getting covered in the paper,” he said. 

On the day of my visit to Ballyvaughan, one of Mort’s three children, his daughter Niamh, is visiting from her home in Fermanagh, with her partner, Niall.

Teresa explains that Niamh was a the recipient of a kidney in 2017, donated by Mort’s sister Cathleen Connole. Thanks to her aunt’s generosity, Niamh is now full of energy and vitality. The couple love to make the three-hour journey back to their second home in Ballyvaughan, where Mort is always ready to update her on local news. 

Mort’s archive and his experience of life and times in local news, is certainly worthy of a memoir, or a book on local history. It is something Mort is actively considering. Whatever format that publication may take, Mort’s contribution to The Champion is testament to his great dedication, curiosity and passion for his local place. 

About Fiona McGarry

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