Thursday 8 December 2016

Radio: The gaeilgeoir Utopia built on unsound foundations

Damian Corless

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

Waking up to Christy Moore in your ear is not everyone's cup of tea.
Waking up to Christy Moore in your ear is not everyone's cup of tea.

Waking up to find Christy Moore in your ear is not everyone's cup of breakfast tea. His diddley-aye style is one of those Marmite things. You love it or loathe it. Guess which.

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Christy is a regular on Radio One's crack of dawn show Risin' Time, and he made an appearance at 6am the other day singing a Bob Dylan ditty. Risin' Time is a peculiar programme.

A few minutes after Christy it served up one of the greatest rock tracks of all time, 'Substitute' by The Who, which was immediately followed by 'A Living Word', a two-minute slot of quiet contemplation which has been going since the early days of radio, although in its early days, Radio Éireann didn't start all that early. It was, is, after all, a branch of the public service.

In recent years, 'A Living Word' has expanded its remit. There was a time when it was exclusively a Christian thing, usually of the Roman Catholic bent, but these days it reaches out to contributors of all faiths and sometimes none.

So there was an element of nostalgia this week to hear a contributor make a heartfelt plea for listeners to do all in their power "to uphold the faith".

It's been a grim listening week, with the airwaves filled with unrelenting doom and gloom.

The terrible tragedy of the Berkeley balcony collapse has dominated all else. It's the sort of grinding sadness that would make you wish for the start of the silly season. But, of course, if you look hard enough you can find silliness.

The Seán Moncrieff show on Newstalk posed the question: "Are Waterford Council right to ban swearing in parks?" Roving reporter Henry McKean was dispatched on to the streets of Dublin to conduct a vox pop, asking a range of people: "Are you a curser?" Most readily admitted to enjoying the release of letting off a good swearword.

Several argued that it's part of what we are and that any attempt to ban it in a public park would be simply unenforcable. Henry's research established that Dublin and Galway are the swearing capitals of Ireland, and that Australia rivals us as a nation, while the British don't go in for it so much. One man admitted: "I've started to swear an awful lot, and I don't realise it."

The northside Dublin community station Near 90.3 FM has begun a new documentary series entitled Living Archives which features fascinating oral histories on the development of the capital, exploring how it was transformed from fields to concrete with remarkable speed in the 1960s and 1970s.

Producer Alan Weldon has made eight shows to date, with the promise of more to come. There are many absorbing hidden histories here, available on podcast.

The Dublin northside suburb of Whitehall has a particularly interesting history. In 1927, when it was still mostly countryside on the fringe of the city limits, a society of gaelgeoirs formed with the plan to found "an Irish speaking colony" close to the heart Dublin. This group of would-be property developers secured a 150-year lease on two prime acres in Whitehall.

The first step was to build 10 fine houses for the 10 well-heeled individuals who came up with the scheme. After that, the pitch was that the rest of the houses would fly up as like-minded gaeilgeoirí flocked to swell the colony.

However, having built their own grand houses, the members of the society solemnly pleaded sudden poverty, and that there was no way they could afford to complete the roads which they'd promised to build under the terms of their lease. Obligingly, Dublin Corporation took back the bothersome lease and legitimised the fait accompli by handing back 10 individual, obligation-free leases.

Having let the members of the group off the hook, the corporation was left to build the roads itself. While putting them in, it began developing some adjoining lands for housing.

In response, one society member fired off an angry letter objecting to the neighbouring development, insisting that the 10 culturally pure households had been given assurances that non-Irish speakers would not be allowed to contaminate their colony.

But having been burned, Dublin Corporation was in no mood to give in again, and the angry Irish language enthusiast got no satisfaction. When the development was officially christened in 1932, its given name was Gaeltacht Park, although the title was never anything more than aspirational.

The vision of a return to an Irish speaking Ireland that inspired Gaeltacht Park flickered on, and on September 26, 1968 the country's self-proclaimed "first Irish language hotel" opened its doors in Dingle, Co Kerry.

Guests were obliged to register in Irish, relax in Irish, eat in Irish and sleep in Irish. Posterity does not record the date of its closure.

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