Two women travel the highways and byways of Ireland in search of intrigue and adventure – not the plot of Thelma and Louise; this is the new set-up of one of Ireland’s best loved shows, Nationwide.
Following the departure of Wexford-based Michael Ryan – who had been with the show as it grew from a seed in 1993 to a three nights a week phenomenon with a viewership of over 300,000 – his baby is now in the hands of two Dublin natives, Mary Kennedy and new recruit Anne Cassin.
Having fronted Capital D, which she describes as "city cousin of Nationwide" for nearly six years, it seemed a natural progression for Anne Cassin to join forces with Mary Kennedy, who has been a familiar face on the show for eight years. But making that move was always going to bring some nerves.
"I’m very conscious of the person who’s gone before me and that he had a certain style and moreover, had a very loyal following, but I’m me and am going to do my thing", professes Anne.
"I would have been more concerned with teaming up with Mary and that we would gel OK than with filling Michael’s shoes but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work. So far we’ve only done one show together as we do most of the shows separately and the whole thing is working out great, she has been very welcoming."
In fact, whether they know it or not, Mary and Anne have quite a bit in common – both working mothers (Mary with four children and Anne has three) with ties to RTÉ News and Current Affairs; and living close to one another. As Mary reveals – their relationship is more than just colleagues.
"Of course I know Anne from coming and going in the newsroom, but I was also at her wedding in Dubrovnik a couple of years ago, which was lovely. She lives quite close to me too so sometimes the women in the newsroom have these get-togethers so I would see her at those too."
During our photo shoot, the conversation between them is natural and easy – each runs through the many villages and communities they’ve visited in the last few days, where they did their ‘links’, which camera-man they worked with and of course the extraordinary welcome that they received from the locals in each town they descend upon.
For Mary Kennedy, it’s a bittersweet moment: while she has gained a new work partner, she has lost her right-hand man in Michael and it’s obvious that he is missed.
"It had become so busy on Nationwide that towards the end, we actually didn’t get to co-present that many programmes together because the logistics demanded that we be in different locations", she recalls. "But any time we did work on something we had such fun, he is such a lovely guy and we got on so well together."
But the show must go on, and for Mary it is vital that Nationwide stays true to its convictions and ethos – the very reasons why it is a success; speaking to those whose stories and experiences remain unobserved until this outlet happens along.
"It’s very Irish and the stories are about real people and their lives and community. It’s also because our brief is that they’re positive stories. People sometimes say to us ‘Oh you never dealt with this or that controversy’, but that’s not our brief – we will not be doing that, we don’t want to, it’s not that kind of programme."
To their credit – while the country basked in a dangerous and false sense of financial glory, the team behind Nationwide continued to search for fascinating stories that are not in far foreign fields but right under our noses.
"We didn’t change things at all, what changed was people’s view of Nationwide – they became more aware of it because the way they were living their lives, post-Celtic tiger, changed. The numbers for the show have gone up in the last few years and people are now more in tune with what’s happening on Nationwide and the value of it."
The life of a female TV presenter is a hard slog, with fierce competition for relatively few jobs. The media likes to pit women against one another – for example, Dancing on Ice: Christine Bleakly comes in from the disaster that was Daybreak to take over from the much-loved Holly Willoughby, only to be met with a barrage of criticism. But you don’t have to look that far afield; only a few months ago there was positive relish in the reported competition for coveted presenting gig on The Voice of Ireland, with Kathryn Thomas getting the job in the end. So, is there any sense of competitiveness between Mary and Anne?
"I don’t think so," replies Anne. "I mean why would there be? I actually think that we’re breaking new ground in the sense that a male and female presenter style is a format and it works. People don’t blink an eye if a show has all male presenters, think of sports programmes, so why should it be any different with women?
"When you know somebody for quite a few years, and you’re working on a show that goes out three times a week, there’s a fair amount of work to be getting on with as opposed to sitting around giving out about your co-host", laughs Anne.
A fair amount of work is surely also a definition of a working mother; a task that both Mary and Anne can relate to?
"It’s always a bit of a juggling act, especially during the mid-term break! But look, I don’t do anything that lots of other working women don’t do. I don’t regard myself as a hard-pressed working mother, I really enjoy my work and for me it’s very important that my children know that I work and have another identity", says Anne, who is now adjusting to travelling further afield.
As the busy duo get ready for their next expedition, the conversation turns to the potential longevity of Nationwide.
"Well as long as the wonderful initiatives around the county keep going, I don’t see a reason why Nationwide couldn’t continue for years to come", says Mary. "It’s our pleasure and job to highlight them. I would love to be able to stay with it – it is such a positive experience for me, I love the banter, the sense of humour that we have as a nation – it really is a very satisfying programme to work on."