Wednesday 18 October 2017

Tuning in to Irish voice of broadcasting

Retired radio presenter Balfe has traced the history of Ireland through culture, music and speech, writes Liam Collins

'I would love to be working. Apart from the economic necessity, my wife needs medical treatment," says Brendan Balfe, the consummate broadcaster whose velvet voice was once a fixture on the airwaves.

He is adamant that he doesn't want to "whinge" but it's a topic that comes around as we talk about his incredible series The Irish Voice, which has just been released as a three-CD set by RTE.

When he hit the retirement age of 65 more than a year ago, Balfe had to leave RTE -- and although he's "talking" to Jim Jennings at Radio 2, he still hasn't found anything regular at the station where he spent a lifetime as a broadcaster.

Retirement, he says, has been a bit of a "shock to the system" but he's always looking around for projects to keep him busy.

"No one who is remotely creative or artistic can just turn it off," says the amiable broadcaster. "I would have loved to have continued the relationship with RTE, but so far they haven't been able to find a place for me, but I'm available -- have mic, will travel," he says with a smile. Before he left, Balfe, who has been in broadcasting since 1964, ransacked the RTE archives for a seminal series on Irish history, which he smilingly refers to as "from Brian Boru to Bono".

It's a compilation of speeches like Eamon de Valera's famous speech The Ireland We Desire to Cecil Sheridan, talking about the closure of the Theatre Royal, to music from the Boomtown Rats. In all there are 42 tracks tracing the history of Ireland through culture, music and speech.

"Apart from being a social history, I think it shows that we are also a great nation, and that is something that we need to believe in at this point in our history," says Balfe.

Over the years, he learnt to navigate his way around the RTE archives, but the project also involved getting copyright clearance for many of the items from the estates of writers like WB Yeats and Brendan Behan.

He smiles as he recalls trying to trace The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney, which had been filed away as 'The Curate at Troy'.

"I think when you take it all together, it could be seen as a shot of self-confidence for the country. I think this -- the arts and culture -- is a bit of Ireland that we do so well, and young people need to be reassured that there is something to be proud of about being Irish."

After 47 years at the coalface of Irish broadcasting, Balfe has never tired of the job -- but life has been difficult since he went out on a small pension and his wife is battling with cancer.

He's read in the morning papers that some of the highly paid stars of RTE are facing a further 'haircut' of 30 per cent in their salaries. "I would live happily on 10 per cent of any of their salaries," he says.

'The Irish Voice: Ireland on the Radio' has been released on CD by RTE

Sunday Independent

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