I've been a reporter my entire working life. It's in the blood. My father, Joe, was a correspondent for Irish papers and broadcasters. My mother, Kate, had a glorious if all too brief stint as a columnist in the 1960s. (From her ever vivid letters and emails she clearly remains the best writer in the family).
I was born in Dublin in 1972 and grew up in Brussels, acquiring a lifelong Belgian accent when I speak (rusty) French. I studied politics and economics at Trinity College and obtained an MA in journalism from Dublin City University. I started out in 1995 in Belfast with the Irish News, a wonderful training ground. I learned that it was harder to cover a flower show, where you had to dig for a story, than a riot, which told itself. And that I was a better reporter than greyhound tipster (after backing too many losers the sports desk punted me back to news).
Named Young Northern Ireland Journalist of the year 1997, I moved to London and joined the Guardian. Sixteen years later it remains my professional home but is geographically further away. I was posted to Rome in 1999 as the paper's southern Europe correspondent, a fantastic beat which encompassed the Vatican, Berlusconi, the Mediterranean and the end of the Balkan wars. After 9/11 I did several stints in Pakistan and Afghanistan before moving to Johannesburg as Africa correspondent. That meant covering HIV/Aids, humanitarian crises and conflict in Congo, Liberia and Zimbabwe, which sounds grim, and often was, but my enduring memories are the spirit, humour and industry of ordinary Africans, something too easily lost in the bang bang headlines.
In January 2005 I took over the Guardian's Baghdad bureau to cover Iraq's slide into civil war. A year of Kevlar, helicopters, chase cars and too-brief encounters with ordinary Iraqis. In October I spent too long at an interview and was kidnapped. I was lucky (thanks to certain diplomats, politicos and journos) and released, barefoot, grubby, unharmed, after just two days.
In 2006 I was appointed the Guardian's Latin America correspondent. Another eye-opening beat: Mexican narco-wars, Peruvian glaciers, Chilean miners, Nicaraguan hurricanes, Haitian rubble. Home was Caracas, a front-row seat to Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. A fascinating, polarising, frustrating story: the world judged him a monster or messiah, but he was more complicated than that, more interesting, and it took a book to explain why. I was appointed in Los Angeles covering the western United States from 2012 until July 2018.
Now I'm back in Dublin as the Guardian's Ireland correspondent.
WHAT I READ
IN FRONT OF THE LENS
On patrol with an Estonian infantry platoon -a tiny part of George Bush's 'coalition of the willing' - near Abu Ghraib, Baghdad.
MY OWN SNAPSHOTS
Exploring Choco, Colombia's wilderness. Bountiful raw materials, impoverished people. Mining and logging barons rule with guns and whisky.
Bolivian riots can be deadly but the mob in Plan Tres Mil, a slum near Santa Cruz, spared this man's life during pre-election violence.