Saturday 16 November 2019

'Marking the Rising shouldn't just be a tourist thing...' - Ryan Tubridy

Ryan Tubridy - 'proud of those men and women who fought for Irish freedom'
Ryan Tubridy - 'proud of those men and women who fought for Irish freedom'

Emma Jane Hade

'Late Late Show' host Ryan Tubridy tells how his family's political background infuses history with personal meaning.

This time next year, the entire country will be celebrating the ghosts of our past, the figures who laid the foundations of our State.

And, nobody is more excited about the 1916 Easter Rising centenary commemorations than broadcaster Ryan Tubridy.

The RTE star describes himself as a "nerd" - but he is a patriotic nerd at that.

1916 logo
1916 logo

Both his maternal and paternal grandfathers were Republican Volunteers and were involved in War of Independence and the Civil War, so the "streets are alive with resonance for" Tubridy and his clan, according to the dad-of-two.

"I am very excited about the 1916 centenary commemorations, as a passionate lover of history and particularly Irish history.

"I am a very patriotic person; I love my country. I am proud of the flag and I am proud of those men and women who fought for Irish freedom.

"That sounds like something out of a cheesy Hollywood movie, but it is true," the 41-year-old said.

Joseph Plunkett
Joseph Plunkett

As excited as he is, the debonair broadcaster also admits that he is concerned about the celebrations as there may be attempts to try "keep everyone happy".

"What I really want to happen is that the celebrations are marked with pride and dignity. My worry is that they may be diluted by this modern-day phenomenon of trying to keep everyone happy," he muses.

"I think some people... you know, might just love the way the celebrations will go and I think that's fine, because it was a divisive time. At the same time, I don't want this 'wishy-washy' celebration, where everyone gets invited and everyone is hugging each other saying it is a great thing. It is a difficult thing, and it should be difficult, and it's a conversation to be had. But ultimately, it is a thing of commemoration and historical resonance that shouldn't be left to a committee of people who mightn't understand history and might see it as a tourism thing."

Of all the stories that emerged from that difficult period in our past, it was the untimely death of 28-year-old Joseph Mary Plunkett that captures Tubridy's imagination - he's an old romantic at heart.

Plunkett was executed in Kilmainham Gaol for his participation in the Rising, which saw him based in the GPO on O'Connell Street, one of the epicentres of activity during the siege. While many of the leaders were stripped of their dignity when they were held captive before being executed, Plunkett was granted one final honour as the authorities decided that he could marry his love, Grace Gifford, on May 3, 1916, just hours before he was executed.

Instead of spending the hours after their nuptials dreaming of their future, the children they would never have and the memories they would never make, Grace had a fleeting 10 minutes with her young husband before he was shot in the prison for his role in the rebellion.

Grace Gifford
Grace Gifford

Tubridy describes this heartbreaking event as "one of the most romantic, beautiful and tragic stories" he has ever heard.

"I do think of the late Jim McCann and his song 'Grace', which always plays in my head. And I think it is possibly one of my favourite, most romantic songs, because it takes in love and Ireland… it's a beautiful story," Tubridy added.

"What I really want to happen is that the celebrations are marked with pride and with dignity. These guys were poets, they were artists, they were thinkers, philosophers… they weren't just a raggle taggle mob. They firmly believed in blood sacrifice and the love of their country. And I am in awe of them."

The annual debate around the 1927 Intoxicating Liquor Act, which prohibits the sale of alcohol on Good Friday, rolls around every year, with the industries pleading with the Government to review it in light of the impact it has upon tourism and the hospitality sector. And, this campaign is likely to be ramped up ahead of next year's commemorations when thousands of the Irish diaspora are expected to return to Irish soil to honour our fallen heroes. But, in his own words, the Late Late Show show host does not "give a damn about the drinking on Good Friday thing".

"Some things, the Rose of Tralee, Good Friday and no drinking, the Angelus…whatever your religion, they are just a part and parcel of Irish culture. It is no harm if we close the door of the pub for one day apart from Christmas every year."

Ryan Tubridy's grandfather, political activist Todd Andrews
Ryan Tubridy's grandfather, political activist Todd Andrews

The history buff revealed that he loves how the commemorations are now bringing our past "back into focus".

"We are all learning more and talking more. It is a great thing, particularly for children," he said.

Ryan's paternal grandfather, Sean Tubridy, served as a TD for Fianna Fail. And, his maternal grandfather, Todd Andrews, was a political activist.

"My dad's dad, Sean Tubridy, and my mum's dad, Todd Andrews, both would have had a background in the Anti-Treaty side of the Civil War and in the War of Independence. When I did the Who Do You Think You Are? programme, I would have spent some time in Connemara, where my grandfather on my dad's side was fighting.

"And also, I was brought to Burger King in O'Connell Street, because above that is a window. And it was from that window that Todd Andrews had been shooting and would have got shot at. Little did I know, as I passed by Burger King on O'Connell Street all through the years, that I was returning to go back to where it all happened.

"The street is alive with resonance for me and my family, but also for Irish people everywhere. People should, as an old teacher of mine used to say, 'don't just walk down the street, look up and look at the architecture and feel the history'. Because the streets of Dublin and Ireland are alive with great stories to be told. That's what I love about the 1916 celebrations… It is bringing history back into focus."

So, where does the UCD history graduate recommend you visit if you want to learn a little more about the past?

"Kilmainham Gaol is, to me, a Mecca for Irish history and for lovers of this country.

"And I love what they have done there and the tours they do. When you think of that stone-breakers yard where those men were killed…

Ryan Tubridy pictured at the Irish premiere of The Widowmaker
Ryan Tubridy pictured at the Irish premiere of The Widowmaker

"If they hadn't been killed, we would probably be working off of the basis of Home Rule. The British actually shot themselves in the foot when they killed those men, pardon the expression, because a sort of apathetic nation became appalled.

"It galvanised the country behind the bid for Irish freedom."

Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show
Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top