Tuesday 6 December 2016

We're in a deep hole but relax, Fergal's got lovely pictures

Published 13/02/2011 | 05:00

IT is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Fergal Keane's series The Story of Ireland will itself become a part of the story of Ireland.

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The Story of Ireland (RTE1)

The Eleventh Hour (RTE2)

The Savage Eye (RTE2)

Trivia (RTE1)

Along with the BBC's recent Wogan's Ireland, this RTE/BBC co-production may be seen by historians as part of our project of national revival, when the likes of Wogan and Keane came back to Erin to do their duty.

Or just to do us a favour, for old times' sake, making these lovely looking programmes in which Paddy can be viewed as a likeable and even quite an impressive figure betimes, rather than the poor clown who can be seen on Bloomberg most days, shovelling his money into a huge hole.

Yes it is probably worth reminding the international community that we have a few half-decent mountains and rivers and a bit of history behind us, just in case they were forming the impression that all Paddy does is indulge his apparently endless capacity for eejitry.

There is a pleasing variety too, with Wogan in his merry way offering a contrast to the weightier ambitions of Keane, both of them leaving us satisfied that any foreigner looking at this stuff would probably think better of us. Which is a great comfort really, for Paddy.

Now more than ever we need our top men out there, front of house. The Keane project is especially satisfying because the first episode skipped through the centuries with such conviction, it made you feel that you had accomplished something yourself, even though you had done nothing except look at the lovely pictures.

Indeed the people doing all the work for us here are a deeply accomplished bunch -- the series consultant is Professor Donnchadh O Corrain, there are illustrations by the great David Rooney, and music by Martin Hayes. With these boys on the job, you can relax.

You can relax even more when you recall that the BBC has already done something similar with David Dimbleby's Seven Ages Of Britain. Which brings us to the only question that matters in Irish television -- how would this look on English television?

Watching RTE2's election show, The Eleventh Hour, presented by Keelin Shanley, it struck me that if Shanley was presenting Newsnight on BBC2, I would not feel in any way ashamed. It would be good for Newsnight, because she would bring a certain humanity to the table -- dare I say a certain Irishness? -- and it would be good for Ireland because she could come back here some day to make a documentary about us.

But no matter where she goes, in the weeks before a general election Shanley can never get away from the internet, and the vast community of wallies who live out there.

There was Shanley, trying to work, while below her the following line could be seen, from Twitter: "It's not Punch and Judy, Michael... it's more like a panto."

And just when you're thinking that the Chinese have the right idea about the internet -- shutting it down, essentially -- you remember this: when that "funny" line appeared on the screen, various well-known political commentators were probably texting it to their colleagues, convulsed with mirth.

The best laughs are still to be had every week on The Savage Eye, an achievement which should be a source of tremendous pride not just to David McSavage and his brilliant team, but to all of us.

There is also Trivia, a gentler comedy about a pub quiz team with the outstanding character of Lawrence, a man we all recognise, an addicted quiz-hound who knows everything but who understands nothing -- presumably he has his own blog.

But his madness is in danger of redemption by his relationship with team-mate Molly.

Frasier was destroyed by the sick decision to give Niles a happy marriage, so it will be fascinating to see if Trivia can withstand the terrible dangers of human warmth. Let us hope that they do it, for Irish comedy and just for Ireland.

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