She later went on to study Engineering at UCD. At the same time she studied Music at the Dublin College of Music and was regarded as a fine cellist.
Mary did not complete her Engineering degree but, during her time at UCD, she was elected as Education Officer of the Students’ Union and developed an interest in journalism. She went on to work for In Dublin and Magill magazines.
Mary joined RTÉ as a producer in 1984, working on a range of current affairs programmes. She left RTÉ in 2002 to become a freelance television producer and journalist.
While at RTÉ, she produced the ‘States of Fear’ documentary series, broadcast in April and May 1999, which detailed the shocking abuse suffered by children in reformatory and industrial schools between the 1930s and the 1970s.
The series had a huge impact on the public and, even before the final installment was broadcast, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, issued a public apology to the victims of abuse in these institutions. The subsequent establishment of the Ryan Commission and the Residential Institutions Redress Board was largely as a result of Mary’s work. When the Ryan Commission Report was eventually published in 2009, it confirmed the findings of ‘States of Fear’.
In 2002, together with Mick Peelo, Mary produced ‘Cardinal Secrets’ for RTÉ, which examined the handling by the Catholic Church of clerical sex abuse allegations in the Dublin diocese. Again, the programme had a huge impact on public opinion and led to the Government’s decision to establish the Murphy Commission, which reported in 2009.
Mary’s final television documentary, ‘Behind the Walls’, produced in 2011, examined the history of psychiatry in Ireland. It established, amongst other things, that in the 1950s Ireland led the world in terms of the numbers of people detained in psychiatric hospitals and that, on a per-capita basis, it was even ahead of the Soviet Union.
Mary Raftery was a prolific journalist, with a huge appetite for work and a passion about the subjects she covered. She wrote a regular column for The Irish Times between 2003 and 2007.
In 2002, she co-authored – with Eoin O’Sullivan – a book entitled ‘Suffer the Little Children’, a detailed account of Ireland’s industrial school system. In 2010, she wrote ‘No Escape’ for the Abbey Theatre, a piece of documentary theatre based on the Ryan Report.
Mary Raftery was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2010 and continued to work during her long battle with the illness. She died in January 2012 and is survived by her husband, David Waddell, and their son, Ben.
During her lifetime, Mary taught and lectured at:
- Dublin City University (Journalism School)
- Dublin Institute of Technology (Journalism School)
- Dún Laoghaire Institute (Film-making course)
- NUI Maynooth
- St. Mary’s College, London (Film School)
- New York University (Film School)
- Dartmouth College, New Hampshire (History Department)
- UCLA (Film School)
- University of Washington, Seattle (Journalism School and History Department)
- Boston College (English and History Departments)
Over the course of her career, she gained the following accolades and awards:
- 2012: Celtic Media Festival Award for best Factual Series for ’Behind the Walls’.
- 2005: Irish Film and Television Awards – nominee for ‘The Money Pit’ (RTÉ ‘Prime Time’ programme on government overspending).
- 2004: Justice Media Award – overall winner for ‘Bad Medicine’ (RTÉ ‘Prime Time’ programme on medical negligence).
- 2003: Irish Film and Television Awards – winner in the Current Affairs category for ‘Cardinal Secrets’ (RTÉ ‘Prime Time’ programme on clerical abuse in Dublin).
- 2003: Celtic Media Festival nominee for ‘Cardinal Secrets’.
- 2002: Irish Film and Television Awards – nominee for ‘Betrayal’ (RTÉ ‘Prime Time’ programme on the Christian Brothers worldwide).
- 2000: World Medal Winner at the New York Festivals for ‘States of Fear’.
- 2000: Special Jury Gold Award at the Houston WorldFest for ‘States of Fear’.
- 2000: Silver Screen Award at the US International Film and Video Festival, Chicago for ‘States of Fear’.
- 1999: Irish Film and Television Award for Best Documentary for ‘States of Fear’.
- 1999: Justice Media Television Award for ‘States of Fear’.
- 1999: ‘States of Fear’ placed in the Top 10 European Documentaries by the Prix Europa, Berlin.
- 1997: ESB Media Award for ‘The Revisionism of Irish Childhood’ (Black Box arts series).
- 1994-1996: British Medical Association Award for Educational Merit – three individual awards for programmes in the ‘Check Up’ health / medicine series.
- 1991: Cross Pen Journalism Award for ‘1916 – Alive or Dead?’ (‘Wednesday Report’ current affairs series)
- 1990: Jacob’s Award for ‘The Gallagher Story’ (on property tycoon Patrick Gallagher) for ‘Today Tonight’ on RTÉ One Television.
- 1989: Celtic Film Festival Certificate of Excellence for ‘The Gallagher Story’.
- 1985: Woman Journalist of the Year for ‘Mysterious Circumstances’ (RTÉ ‘Today Tonight’ documentary on psychiatric hospitals).
To read a selection of the tributes written about Mary after her death, please click here.