Communications and a Spirit of Adventure born in Connemara
Deirdre Veldon is the Deputy Editor of The Irish Times, since joining The Irish Times in 1996 she has held roles including that of editor of irishtimes.com, duty editor and editor of the health supplement. She is a native of Letterfrack, Connemara, mother of 4,an enthusiastic home cook and 'Good Life' gardener as well as being a regular here at Ohh! By Gum.
Back when the Internet was in its infancy in the mid-1990s, The Irish Times came calling for journalists to help run its equally new website. At the time, it was one of the first newspapers to go online, so this was a very bold move, but of course none of us knew what the Internet was or how it would grow.
Students who come into The Irish Times now look askance when we talk about a time before the Internet, but it was just as alien to us “young folk” at that time we started as it was to seasoned journalists who had spent their lives around the smell of ink and the rattle of typewriters. So we spent some time figuring out what a journalist should be doing in the digital environment.
In the late 1990s, I became editor of the website and I’ve overseen most of the changes since in various roles. Even though I now have a wider role in The Irish Times, I am still very involved with our digital presence.
I’m in the communications business so I guess some of the biggest changes of the last couple of decades relate to how we communicate. It is a huge boon that people have better and easier access to knowledge than ever before. This has been instrumental in advancing social change in Ireland, in particular, and in creating a truly open and progressive society.
And yet, there are downsides. Despite ready access to a world of information, literacy levels are not improving. People can filter out information or opinions they don’t want to hear. The tone of discourse can get very sour, very quickly. It is very difficult to be a private citizen now.
We are feeling the impact of all these changes and haven’t yet worked out how we can navigate through them.
I grew up in the local pub and shop in Letterfrack, Connemara. It meant we were at the centre of the local community in a very real sense. Life in a rural area carries its own challenges so I suppose we learned a lot about how much you can achieve if you get your community galvanised to change things.
(View from Diamond Mountain, Connemara National Park, Letterfrack)
I have always appreciated coming from this unique place. At primary school, we spent a lot of time studying the local flora, fauna and traditions – instead of doing our Gaeilge, I suppose – but that was the foundation for a lifelong appreciation of the natural beauty of the area.
Connemara is special in many other ways too. Life in a place which is so heavily dependent on tourism has a particular cadence to it, and so much energy goes into making sure local businesses survive and thrive by keeping their customers happy. A lot of effort also needs to go into managing life during the slough of the winter months too.
(Inisbofin, one of Deirdre’s favourite places)
In 2014 Deirdre, her husband Paul Cullen, and her young family travelled to Nicaragua on a 5 month sabbatical and adventure of a lifetime.
(Nicaragua with husband Paul , and children, Ella, Tana, Rosa and Luca)
What we wanted for ourselves and the children from the experience in Nicaragua was an appreciation of a very different way of life. The children got a lot from being exposed to another language and education system and different food and culture, while we appreciated life slowing down long enough for us to enjoy it. It took a bit of organisation as our youngest was just four months old when we went, but it was so well worth doing as a family. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.
(Mombacho Volcano – Granada, Nicaragua)
As a family, we try to reduce our impact on the environment. Everything gets very well used in our house before it moves on to the second hand shop or the bring centre. We recycle and compost what we can. We have a car, but beyond trips to Connemara, don’t use it all that often in Dublin. We try to manage our consumption of electricity and water as best we can and keep screen use to a minimum at home. We aspire to become 'Good Life' gardeners, but fail mostly.
All of us in our daily lives seem to spend a lot of time charging around in pursuit of an elusive goal. At times, that gets a bit frenetic, making people feel very stressed. I’d like life to be a bit simpler, I suppose. I'm a very keen home cook and its a great relaxant for me. I like nothing better than making a cake after a hard day in the office. At this time of year, as a family we look forward to picking fresh fruits, to use, freeze or make jams.
(Strawberries from the garden and the family visiting Inishbofin)
Staying with a communications theme, I think one of the big challenges for those involved in protecting the environment is to get their message across in creative and engaging ways. People don’t want to feel they are being lectured to. We all need to know that caring for the environment can be interesting and fun.
The ethical and sustainable criteria I have for the clothes that I wear is softness, and comfort above all, so I’m very happy with natural fabrics. I try to declutter regularly and make sure clothes I’m not wearing any more go to a good home.
Name one thing you are good at, one thing you could be better at, and one aspiration.
Keeping all the balls in the air!
To keep on learning.
Deirdre's blog called Travelling Light, on her family's adventures in Central America can be found here: