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Deirdre Purcell: One of Ireland’s best-known novelists dies suddenly

The 77-year-old was the first woman appointed as a staff newsreader on RTÉ’s Nine News


Deirdre Purcell, one of Ireland’s best-known novelists, has died suddenly.

She passed away this morning at her home in Mornington, Co Meath. The writer was 77 years of age.

In a statement her family told they are “all deeply grieving the sudden loss of Deirdre.”

“To the date before her death, Deirdre was full of plans, schemes and dreams as she always was. Deirdre made friends wherever she went and will be remembered by so many as a vibrant, clever and caring companion.

“The talent, vivacity and sharp mind that made her an award-winning journalist, a globally successful fiction writer and – in her youth – a talented Abbey Theatre actress, never left her.

“She was a force of nature and we will miss her desperately.”

Ms Purcell’s friend, fellow author Patricia Scanlan said: “When Deirdre was your friend, you were befriended and minded and cherished.”

“Everyone that knew her was taken in under her wing and you kind of shone in her light,” Ms Scanlan told RTÉ’s News at One.

“I remember long before I knew her personally, reading her articles in the Sunday Tribune. She used to do interviews with people, features, and I was always fascinated by her and the way she wrote… her way of forming words and sentences. She was very, very special.”

The award-winning writer had many strings to her bow, including actress, journalist, columnist and was the first woman appointed as a staff newsreader on RTÉ’s Nine O’Clock News.

Often referred to a pioneer of popular female fiction, she published more than 19 books during her illustrious career.

This included ‘Falling for a Dancer’ which was later turned into a hit BBC series in 1998 starring Oscar-nominee Colin Farrell.

Known for pushing the boundaries and exploring difficult subjects, her 1997 novel ‘Love Like Hate Adore’ saw her shortlisted for the Orange Prize and she said the book changed her life.

She also wrote non-fiction and penned the 1989 biography on the Late Late Show legend Gay Byrne entitled ‘The Time of My Life.’

Acclaimed for her descriptive and insightful writing style, she won a number of prestigious awards during her career and was a member of the permanent company of The Abbey.

She had a leading role in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ at the National Theatre.

She spent six years fronting the ‘What it Says in the Papers’ segment on RTÉ Radio 1’s ‘Morning Ireland’ and became known for her catch-phrase ‘So what’s next?’

She was one of the first writers of long-form interviews during her time in the ‘Sunday Tribune’ and did a famous interview with novelist and former politician Jeffrey Archer.

Ms Purcell grew up in Dublin and lived in various places around the city including Blanchardstown, Glasnevin and Castleknock. Her parents bought their first house in Willow Park Grove in 1958 and she attended boarding school in Crossmolina, Co Mayo. She credits the nuns there with helping to instil a strong work ethic in her.

For the past three decades, she has had a second family home in the stunning Beara Peninsula in Cork where she did a lot of her writing.

Her 2019 novel ‘Grace in Winter’ used a cruise liner as an intriguing backdrop and in an interview with the Irish Independent, she spoke about her love of the sea.

“I love ships. Life for me is quite busy and stressful in some ways and on a ship, you have no decisions to make at all,” she said.

“In writing, you can make it whatever you want – someone can go missing or die in mysterious ways. But I love people-watching on them because everyone is in great humour and there to enjoy themselves. It’s a way to live a life without care.”

Deirdre Purcell is survived by her husband Kevin Healy and two sons Adrian and Simon Weckler. Adrian is the Irish Independent’s Technology Editor.

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