Sunday 11 December 2016

Radio review: A week when words did their own talking

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 04/04/2016 | 02:30

Oliver Callan.
Oliver Callan.

Oliver Callan opened RTE's Easter schedule with a special 1916 edition of Callan's Kicks. Not having the advantage of hindsight, he got some things wrong - it didn't rain. The rest was pretty much spot on, including the ubiquitous presence of a certain historian, as one announcer promised: "Now for the Angelus as it might have rung out in 1916… with Diarmaid Ferriter." The acerbic tagline: "RTE - supporting historians one Ferriter at a time".

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In a way, UCD's Professor of Modern History has been accorded an equivalent role in explaining the Easter Rising to Irish listeners that Myles Dungan has been playing for the past few years when it comes to the First World War. Whenever either subject comes up for discussion, there they always are. Dungan was back again on The Lyric Feature on RTE's classical station, in the second of two programmes showcasing the music of the Great War. It was very well done, but it wouldn't hurt to hear other voices.

Callan has no equal when it comes to fearlessly poking fun at such foibles of Irish broadcasting, even imagining Joe Duffy being asked about his book on 1916: "How did you find time to write it with your seven hours' work on radio a week?"

Last week was a reminder that radio is best at commentary rather than straight coverage. The 1916 centenary was all about pageantry and spectacle. Radio could never have competed with the pictures on TV. It came into its own afterwards.

On Tuesday, Liveline asked if the anniversary of the Rising should be marked officially every year, though Anne in Ennis didn't think it should have been celebrated at all: "Oh my God, I'm sick of hearing it ... I don't get it." She believed that the money should have been spent on the homeless instead. She was also disappointed that the phone-in show was being presented that day, more than capably, by Countrywide's Damien O'Reilly.

"I was hoping I'd be talking to Joe Duffy 'cause I had a bit of an argument for him," she confessed. O'Reilly wasn't offended, quipping: "I'll give you his number and you can give him a ring."

Tuesday's edition of the arts show Arena looked at the project by the Irish Writers' Centre to commission six new poems to mark the six days of the Rising, one for each day. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill was given the second last day, Friday, and so wrote about the death of The O'Rahilly, who, typically, she remembered first for the wooden house that he built in Bantry and which stands to this day.

Ní Dhomhnaill found him most fascinating as a reluctant revolutionary, who tried to stop the Rising but then threw in his lot with "something that at some level he didn't really believe in", and who, after being shot, took 19 hours to die without so much as a glass of water to ease his pain. Her poem was in Irish; I admit I didn't understand it; but what she said beforehand beautifully encapsulated the "terrible beauty" of that week.

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