Tuesday 24 September 2019

Bringing the great and the good to book

Eamon Gilmore: Former Tanaiste on the book circuit
Eamon Gilmore: Former Tanaiste on the book circuit

Ellis O'Hanlon

The last edition of RTE Radio 1's Book Show was broadcast at the end of May. Like Lord Lucan, it's been unaccounted for since.

Every other show has returned to air after breaks of varying lengths. Sunday With Gay Byrne is back. Late Debate is back. Arts Tonight is back. Sinead Gleeson's round up of the latest in Irish and world writing is the one exception. Surely RTE hasn't decided that the author interviews on the Ryan Tubridy and Ray D'Arcy shows are a sufficient replacement? They're not.

Another show making its return recently is The History Show. Last Sunday, Colette Kinsella began a new segment looking at particular objects of historical interest. First up - Napoleon Bonaparte's gold-handled toothbrush which is on display in the Royal College of Physicians on Dublin's Kildare Street.

It all began, explained historian Donal Fallon, with a visit to Paris by Wolfe Tone and the subsequent failure of a French force to land at Bantry Bay because of bad weather…

Yes, yes, we know that, but what about the toothbrush?

Then came the Rising in 1798. Which still didn't have much to do with toothbrushes. Neither did the bit about Wolfe Tone's son fighting in the French army. But wait, who's this? It's Irish doctor Barry Edward O'Meara, who was with Napoleon when he surrendered and who followed him into exile on St Helena. It was O'Meara to whom the French dictator presented a number of souvenirs, including… ta da… the toothbrush. Phew, we got there in the end.

Fallon recalled how the Irishman had asked his friend, at the end of his life, what he'd do if he had one wish, and Napoleon replied that he would go incognito to London to see what people really thought of him. "Even at the end he was obsessed with reputation."

Some things never change. Discussing former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore's new memoir with Claire Byrne on Monday's Today With Sean O'Rourke, political journalist Kevin Doyle suggested the one-time Tanaiste's main motivation in publishing it was not revenge, as some said, but to "secure his own legacy".

There was a similar sentiment expressed on Sunday's Marian Finucane, and it was by far the dominant theme of the former Tanaiste's earlier interview on Sunday With Miriam. Saved the country… created jobs… "fastest growing economy in Europe" - Gilmore openly pitched his new book as a manifesto for why the present government deserves to be re-elected.

O'Callaghan covered all that politicking with her usual incisiveness, but still found time for those more personal details which reveal so much, such as whether any of his former colleagues had been in touch since extracts from the book were published. The answer was a surprising no.

Matt Cooper on Today FM's Last Word went with the rather more unproductive question: "Are you still a socialist?" If Cooper thought that would throw the seasoned politician, it didn't. The answer was a less than surprising yes. What did he think Gilmore would say?

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