Saturday 25 February 2017

Radio - Caitríona: the very definition of a true hero

Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

The funeral procession of Caitríona Lucas in Liscannor County Clare. Pic: Mark Condren
The funeral procession of Caitríona Lucas in Liscannor County Clare. Pic: Mark Condren

The word "hero" is so overused in modern society, it's become almost meaningless. Caitríona Lucas, who died this week during a sea rescue off the Clare coast, was a true hero, in the most profound sense.

Not just because the 41-year-old lost her life in a terrible tragedy - the fact of what she did was itself heroic. To risk your own life to save others, to save strangers, is heroic. To do it as a volunteer is beyond heroic. It's genuinely inspirational.

I live about 20 miles from the Clare coastline, and often see the rescue helicopter passing over my house; you'd sometimes bless yourself (yes, even as an atheist) to ward off ill-luck and speed them to a safe journey home.

Now Caitríona Lucas is the first member of the coast guard to die on duty.

In my opinion, she should have been accorded an official State funeral; her sacrifice is no less than that of a garda or soldier killed in action. This incredibly brave woman has given her life in the service of the nation and her fellow man. That's the definition of a hero.

But Caitríona was many other things: a wife and mother, a daughter and sister, a librarian and climber, a dog-lover and keen gardener. Today with Sean O'Rourke (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 10am) spoke to Mattie Shannon, Officer in Charge of the coast guard's Doolin unit, of which Caitríona had been a member for 10 years.

He explained how she had put in "over 700 hours a year as a volunteer. She was at the top of her game, whatever she did. Nothing was a hurdle to her, she'd just get over it and do it. She didn't do it out of pride, she just wanted to be part of the coast guard. She'd been in many rescue situations, managing and organising.

"Caitríona loved the coast guard; her husband Bernard is in it too, her family is steeped in it. They have a farm, she had her organic garden; they'd go on holidays all over the world. They had a good life."

His voice caught as he added: "It's terrible that a young woman could lose her life like that. But she will inspire other people - Caitríona was someone to follow and be proud of. She was up there with the best of them, no doubt about that."

The centenary of Roald Dahl's birth fell this Tuesday, and the great writer's life and work were honoured on The Roald Dahl Story (BBC Radio 4, Sunday 9.30am).

What a legend this man was. In many ways, the actual life was more fantastical than any of his fiction.

Born in Cardiff to Norwegian parents - he spoke Norwegian as a child - Dahl travelled the world with a charitable organisation as a kid, fought the Nazis as an RAF pilot, stood 6ft 6ins tall, excelled at sports, and was described here by narrator Griff Rhys Jones as "brilliantly inventive and wildly mischievous".

And did I mention his literary achievements? Dahl sold a quarter of a billion books, but more than that, his work has entered the collective consciousness at a level beyond mere sales figures.

From Willy Wonka and The Big Friendly Giant to Tales of the Unexpected and his underrated short stories for adults (the collection set during World War II is very powerful), he was one of the 20th century's most influential and beloved authors. A giant in every way.

Newstalk launched their new schedule this week. I don't think it's fair to judge on the basis of only one week, so we'll return to the subject in due time.

But on the surface at least, this new line-up seems inventive, daring and even radical - very Newstalk, in other words.

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