RONAN O'RAHILLY
1940 - 2020
RIP

Ronan O'Rahilly is probably best known as the founder of Radio Caroline, and the figurehead of the offshore radio station. Ronan was born in Ireland on 21st May 1940, the youngest of five children of Aodogán O'Rahilly, who'd married Marion O'Connor. Ronan's grandfather was Michael O'Rahilly better known as "The O'Rahilly", who was killed leading a charge against British troops in the 1916 uprising. W.B. Yeats immortalised him in the poem "The O'Rahilly" Ronan has three sisters, the eldest Nuala Price living in Ireland, and in the USA Roisín de Pasquale and Iseult Broglio. A brother Eoin O'Rahilly, died in the mid-1960's. Ronan claimed that he was expelled from a number of schools. On leaving, his first job was working for his fathers shipping business, and later with a radio taxi firm in Dublin. After selling this business, he moved to London in 1961, soon becoming involved in acting, film and music. He ran the Scene club, a mod hangout in London's Soho, and became acquainted with many early 60's music makers including the Beatles and Rolling Stones, although he never managed the Stones, even very briefly as some report.

The story of how Radio Caroline started, should perhaps be taken like many of Ronan's stories, with a certain amount of Irish blarney. "An accident that happened at Radio Luxembourg in 1963, I arrived at the door with an acetate of Georgie Fame, who I though was a great artist. I didn't know you had to make an appointment to the God, who was Geoffrey Everitt, the head of Luxembourg. I was ushered into him, by the girl at the desk, because they were waiting for the delivery boy from EMI, with an acetate. She thought I was the delivery boy, so she sent me straight to the boss by accident. If that accident hadn't happened, Caroline would never have happened. When I got in, I sat down. I didn't know I was the delivery boy, I'd just gone to say will you play Georgie Fame. So when I sat down, he thought what's this delivery boy sitting on the chair for. He said excuse me who are you? I said I have an artist here called Georgie Fame, who I think is terrific and I'd like you to give it a play. There were two gentlemen sitting behind in the room and they burst out laughing. I turned around, thinking maybe something else had happened in the room. When I realised that I was the reason for the comedy, Geoffrey Everitt, who was the boss man, leaned around and pulled a curtain open, showing a board with the hours that Luxembourg had a night, with EMI show, Decca show, EMI show, Decca show. So he said if they've turned you down, which they had, that's it, bye bye. I just sat there saying, well I suppose I'll have to set up a radio station. At that point the laughter stopped and he said, you can't do that. Whereupon I said, you seem to have done it alright, you got Luxembourg. But we're a country he said. So I said, we'll get France or Ireland and we'll set it up that way, and that's what began it". Radio Caroline came on the air at Easter 1964, and when the British government introduced the Marine Offences Act in 1967, outlawing the other offshore stations, Caroline carried on. Interviewed by the British Home office and Police, about Radio Caroline after the MOA, Ronan simply told them. "Negative, I don't exist really. I'm not being negative. The company does not really exist nowadays, it was taken out of the country". Bad debts eventually forced Radio Caroline off the air, but Ronan O'Rahilly bought Caroline back, not just once, but three more times.

The second time around was for just over a week, when Radio Northsea became Caroline and helped the UK Conservative party win the 1970 elections. Also around this time, Ronan had plans for a TV station operating from aircraft – it never got airborne, and became involved in film making. The films Girl on a Motorcycle, and Gold, both becoming cult classics of sorts. Radio Caroline's third revival, saw the station promoting the concept of Loving Awareness. "I believe Caroline is worthwhile in the Seventies, because of the Loving Awareness thing. The value of the station is based on the fact that... by using it... to stimulate the loving idea. I mean a lot of people, believe it or not, more people than you think, are into it. It's a just a little fantasy in their brain, but if you plant the seed, that's powerful. The whole trip is brainwashing. I mean we watch television, we go to school, the whole thing. It's just who does the most brainwashing. Just an interesting point, something I discovered when I was dealing with politicians, and that, dealing with ministers. One of the ministers told me that one of the things they were worried about with Radio Caroline and the government, was that... apparently... I don't know if this is true, but this is what he said... apparently, if World War 3 is declared, that all over Europe, they can switch in to the radio stations and the government can switch in and say: "Go your base", or whatever they're going to tell people. And the only station which will still be running will be Caroline".

When Caroline's ship Mi Amigo sank in 1980, many thought that was the end of Radio Caroline, but just a few years later Ronan O'Rahilly once again bought the famous offshore radio station back, with a brand new ship. Radio Caroline continued until 1990, when lack of finance and new laws forced the end of the offshore and free radio era.

Ronan tried during the 1990's to find a way around the new laws, and once again return Caroline as a free radio station, but this time luck had run out. In the new millennium, not much was heard of Ronan.

In 2013 he was diagnosed with vascular dementia, and moved to live in Ireland. About four years ago, he moved into a care home in Carlingford, quite close to Greenore where the Caroline adventure had started. For the past year his health deteriorated, becoming chairbound, difficulty with speech and not recognizing people, although apparently happy in his own world. In the past few days his condition worsened, and he sadly passed away around 2.15 in the afternoon of Monday 20th April 2020.

In a French TV interview in 1989, Ronan was asked if he'd known what the risks would be, would he have gone ahead "Oh, absolutely! Without a question I would not have deferred from it, I feel like I am the luckiest person on the planet. I am very wild anyway and I was always.. I was very much someone who believed in getting people to enjoy themselves, have some more fun. For somebody who has a wild kind of streak in them, and who likes to live dangerously, I couldn't have had a better life. It's been an adventure, it's been a battle and the one thing that is going for it is that now there are probably two or three generations of people who've come up on Caroline and Caroline has been an inspiration to them in the sense of that we have survived and we have done the impossible. So everybody who thinks that they want to do something, Caroline is something they can look to and say 'if they can do it against all those odds and anything that you want to do it's got to be easier than Radio Caroline' as there's an inspirational thing to that because lots of people have told me that and they've been inspired by it".

see also:

Ronan O'Rahilly
Ronan O'Rahilly interview
Euroradio 1997

Book of condolence for Ronan

Special OEM issue available from 4 June 2020:

The 200th edition of OFFSHORE ECHOS MAGAZINE will be entirely devoted to the figurehead of Radio Caroline - Ronan O'Rahilly.

OEM 200 features interviews with Ronan, numerous pictures, news reports, as well as anecdotes and tributes from family, friends and colleagues including Georgie Fame, Roisin O'Rahilly, Tony Blackburn, Emperor Rosko, Fred Bolland, Peter Chicago, Robb Eden, Mike Hagler, Ronnie Jones, Johnny Lewis, Paul McKenna, Colin Nicol, Peter Philips and many more.
All over 60 pages, dedicated to the man who changed the face of the radio world in Europe.

If you are not a subscribers, but would like to receive this special magazine, please order as soon as possible from www.offshoreechos.com.

The price - including postage - of this special issue is £12 for the United Kingdom or €12 for continental Europe.

Offshore Echo's magazine no. 200 is due out in mid-June.

OEM 200 - UK  - £12.00

OEM 200 -Europe - 12.00€

It is of course possible to take out a one-year subscription (4 issues) with this special issue to be part of these 4 issues.

The annual subscription to OFFSHORE ECHOS Magazine is £38 for the UK or 40€ for the continent. This special issue will of course be sent to all current subscribers as normal.

For those whose subscription ended with issue 199 and who have not yet renewed, please do so as soon as possible so as not to miss this exceptional issue.