Entertainment Festivals

Wednesday 23 October 2019

'We were like a subversive little group on The Den - RTE were just putting up with us!' - Don Conroy

Don Conroy (l) with Ray D'Arcy on The Den on RTE
Don Conroy (l) with Ray D'Arcy on The Den on RTE
Don Conroy
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Don Conroy has revealed he is treated like the President of Ireland when meeting fans of The Den.

The artist, author, and environmentalist introduced children of the 80s and 90s to the joys of art and wildlife on the beloved RTE children's programme.

He often encounters those viewers as adults now, with children of their own.

"On television it's a new generation [of children] every five years so because we hit 25 years on The Den we hit a lot of generations," he tells The Herald.

Don Conroy
Don Conroy

"Over the weekend I was at an event and one person I met said, 'Oh you wrote to me when I was 11' and another said, 'I have your book and you made me cry at one part and laugh at another' and it's lovely.  You feel like a timelord. You feel like Dr Who!"

He adds, "Truly you are treated like the President of Ireland at times and it's very, very generous of people."

Don was a regular on The Den, teaching children how to draw and paint, and instilling knowledge, and an appreciation, of Irish wildlife.

He appeared alongside several presenters including Ray D'Arcy and Ian Dempsey and characters including Zig and Zag, Dustin the turkey, and Socky.

At the time he was beaming into almost every household in Ireland and was made acutely aware of that fact whenever he spoke on the programme about places he would visit.

"I'd say, 'I'm going down to Inis Mór on Friday and I love to go down there and I hope to get a nice cup of tea and apple tart' and you'd arrive down there and somebody would have a nice bit of apple tart and ice-cream.  It was rather lovely," he says.

Don is often referred to as a 'childhood hero' but he's humble about the compliment.

"It's very nice and they're very generous with their comments but in actual fact the truth of the matter is it's their own greatness they project on people and I'm lucky enough that they project some of that on to me," he says.

He describes the 80s and 90s as an "innocent time" and one when The Den did not have to compete with content from other TV stations.

"That's why I think it became an important part of every childhood," he says.

However, he says that while he was "thrown in at the deep end" on the programme but there was always a great sense of camaraderie among the team.

He laughs, "The reality is we were like a little subversive group on The Den.  RTE were just kind of putting up with us!".

Recently he joined former The Den presenter Ray D'Arcy on his RTE Radio 1 programme and was surprised by the outpouring of emotion from listeners.

"It was quite funny - people were texting in being emotional about the two of us together.  I don't know how these things happen but it's lovely to be a part of that," he says.

"I see myself as a working artist.  I love art and if I can share those enthusiasms with other people and put them on a creative journey and give them a love of life that's fantastic."

These days children have a lot more choice when it comes to their daily diet of TV and both adults and children often struggle to find screen-free time.

For Don, art is a means of counteracting some of that stress and the other stresses and demands of a busy modern lifestyle.

"What's happening now is people are being so traumatised by all the negative stuff and I think it's a shame becuase if you traumatise people you disempower them," he says.

"And I think if you look at the world in a creative way then you start using your imagination and problem solving and all kinds of wonderful things."

He adds, "I'm a bit tired of all the antiheroes and the negative stuff we've been overloaded with for so long.  Just try to have a sense of wonder, just look, and enjoy and get out into the countryside."

Don will be inspiring a new generation of children at the end of the month as he will be hosting art workshops at the Kaleidoscope Music and Arts Festival for families and friends which runs from Friday June 28 to Sunday June 30. 

Don's workshops will take place on Saturday June 29 but there is a massive programme of events and entertainment taking place across the weekend at Russborough House and Parklands, Blessington, Co Wicklow. 

Check out www.kaleidoscopefestival.ie for more information.

Read more: Five of our favourite RTE childhood memories

End of an era as RTÉ pulls plug on in-house children's television 

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