Keep the faith

Broadcaster Marty Whelan talks to Paul Keenan about life, loss, faith and music

What is the mark of a consummate professional in the media world? Is it perhaps the ability to wear fame and popularity lightly, or perhaps the gift to keep fans to the forefront of your work?

Whether one or both, broadcaster Marty Whelan has it in spades, as becomes clear as his interview with The Irish Catholic progresses.

Presented with a resumé of the working life on Irish radio and television screens that has made him a household name, Marty appears genuinely unaffected by the scope of his own fame, yet, when it is pointed out that he can count at least one die-hard fan in the offices of The Irish Catholic for his Marty in the Morning show on Lyric FM, he immediately seeks out a pen for details towards a note of appreciation (which duly arrived a day after this interview).


Marty explains away his clear enthusiasm as nothing more than a reciprocation of the warmth he continues to receive daily from his Lyric fan-base.

Considering his career – from first beginnings at the DJ’s microphone in 1979 with Radio 2, he became the first male presenter of the fashion programme Head 2 Toe, presented GFI: Go For It, Off the Record, Millionaire, and Fame and Fortune; in 1997 he became master of ceremonies for the Rose of Tralee festival, co-presented Open House with Mary Kennedy and he remains RTÉ’s voice of the Eurovision every year in addition to his hosting of Winning Streak and his weekday duties at the helm of Marty in the Morning – there is an apparent coming full circle in music terms, and one he appears delighted with.

“I always loved music,” he says, “it was always such a big deal for me.”

Inspired by the music available to him via broadcasting luminaries Terry Wogan and Larry Gogan, Marty reveals an early interest in playing the drums, though little in his youth suggested a future career in musicianship, let alone broadcasting.

Born an only child in 1956, both of Marty’s parents, Lilly and John, worked in the clothing trade in the capital, his father in Clerys and his mother in Cassidy’s. “My own first job was in insurance,” he remembers with a chuckle.

Family life

Family life, he remembers, was “close-knit”.

“You get away with nothing as an only child,” he reveals, “but you get loved in spades. It was a very loving household.”

Was it a home of faith, too? The question is prompted by Marty’s recent appearance on RTÉ’s Beyond Belief where he spoke frankly about his enduring faith.

“That’s where I got it,” he concurs, acknowledging that both his parents were religious. “There was a strong faith at home.”

“It’s something I’m very grateful for today,” he adds. “There are times when you need it. It never leaves you.”

This year especially has been one for Marty in which he has felt that need for his faith; he recently lost his mother at the age of 95. It has been, he admits, “a tough time”.

“Loss is so tragic,” he says, recalling too his father’s death 15 years ago. The passing now of his mother, he explains, “has changed a lot about where I’m at the moment”.

But – and he is at pains to be clear on this – “no matter what happens, I never lose my faith in God”.


“I do talk to God,” he says, summing up his own relationship to his faith now. “There have been reasons to be upset with the Church in the past, and you can’t explain to someone why something like the typhoon in the Philippines happens, but it is important to have belief.”

Does such belief temper his most recent loss?

“Yes,” he says with certainty. “I believe I will see my mother and my father again. I need to believe that, and I feel calmer for that.”

Until then, he says, “there are memories, so many great memories. We were a ‘unit’ and we were great together.”

Also, there is the diversion of his own familial position as husband to Maria and father to and adult son and daughter, all of whom will gather for the coming Christmas, including attending celebrations in his local parish to mark Christmas Day.

“I have a family now who I love to bits,” he says, adding of family life: “It’s fabulous.”

Up to the Christmas season, Marty reveals, he has a busy schedule, but then he will take time to be with family and friends. Mindful of a loved one who will be absent for the first time this Christmas, he insists: “We’ll celebrate life.”

In the meantime, there are others to consider in the run-up to the season, and Marty will be kept very busy in making sure his Lyric fans receive their fair share of festive tracks. “There is a lot going on,” he says of his schedule.

He is completely unphased by this fact, relishing the reality that he will be busily engaged in that which is a very real love for him, the music.

“I love it and will do this forever,” he says.

Good music

Forever is quite an ambition, The Irish Catholic suggests a little mischievously, drawing Marty into a conversation on the endurance of “good music” which could form a separate interview in itself.

“Vinyl is coming back, y’know,” he quips before pointing out that whatever advances there may be in the way he shares his love of music with the world, it is the timeless nature of classic songs and sounds which remain fixed.

“I can now play Robbie Williams on the show because he’s started recording ‘older’ tracks which still appeal to everyone,” he says of the pop star’s latest musical outings, making him now acceptable to Marty’s successful mix of hits both classic and classical – and more importantly, to listeners who contact Marty daily to offer their approval for his choices and support for the man who makes their mornings – reward in itself for the broadcaster.

Asked finally for a clue as to the secret to his success over the years, Marty finds recourse in that advice with which he signs off each day’s broadcast.

“Keep the Faith,” he says simply.