Many of us were lucky enough not to be alive at the time, because there seems to be a unique kind of horror experienced by Irish people when England scored an injury-time equaliser against us at Dalymount Park in 1957.
John Bowman (RTÉ1, Sunday, 8.30am) released it from the archives last Sunday like some hideous beast which prowls the dungeons of RTÉ, ready to strike fear into our hearts – yes, Philip Greene’s commentary even now can make you glad you were as yet unborn.
But it was Greene’s commentary on his own commentary, in an interview years later with Colm Keane, which best demonstrated the depths of Ireland’s suffering when this late header by John Atyeo robbed us of qualification for the 1958 World Cup.
Recalling that “you could hear the silence at the Pillar”, that the crowd reacted as though “their throats were cut” and they’d been “concussed”, Greene spoke bitterly of “the black-headed so-and-so Atyeo”.
Leaving aside the fact that the “so-and-so” Atyeo had done nothing wrong, as such, except score a goal for his team, it’s the “black-headed” bit that is most striking. Atyeo’s hair may have been black, but in Philip’s mind his whole being must have taken on a kind of Darth Vader look.
As it happened, Today with Claire Byrne (RTÉ1, weekdays, 10am) on Tuesday had Damien O’Meara running through classic pieces of sports commentary, most of them demented with delirium. But somehow a silent crowd which has had its throat cut and which has been concussed, makes an even more powerful noise.
Leo Maguire believed our musical tradition should be “completely frozen like a mammoth in the ice”.
Bowman sought to release us from the darkness of this memory with recollections of The Walton’s Programme – which itself would draw on ancient memories of “the songs our fathers loved”. For better or worse I was actually alive when this era of “sponsored programmes” was drawing to a close in the early 1980s, and the main thing I remember about The Walton’s Programme on Saturdays was that it seemed to be more or less the same every week. Which was handy.
‘The Bold Fenian Men’ was given a frequent blast by presenter Leo Maguire, as was ‘O’Donnell Abú’ and other such “reminders of the grace and beauty that lie in our heritage of Irish song”. To give Leo Maguire his due, he was a man of unshakeable convictions, who deplored the infiltration of alien sounds such as country and western into our lovely Irish music that was composed by “a blind fiddler or harper”.
He believed our musical tradition should be “completely frozen like a mammoth in the ice”. Though his most important contribution was his pay-off line on the radio: “If you feel like singing, do sing an Irish song.”
Soon that old Ireland would be swept away by a generation which did not feel like singing the songs their fathers loved. They would see Ireland qualify for a World Cup, knocked out by the black-headed so-and-so Schillaci.
If it’s the potential annihilation of a beloved species you’re talking about, you turn to Liveline
We also seem to have a lot of pent-up hostility towards so-and-so cats. I must have missed this memo, but apparently in the UK during the pandemic there was a school of thought that cats could be transmitting the virus, and therefore should all be exterminated. No doubt the last words on that memo went something like: “Good luck with that one, mate.”
Last week the theme was revisited with the HSE notifying vets of an outbreak of a disease which produces diphtheria-like toxins in cats – which can be harmful or even fatal to humans.
If it’s the potential annihilation of a beloved species you’re talking about, you turn to Liveline (RTÉ1, weekdays, 1.45am).
Joe Duffy was telling us that Irish cats kill about four million birds a year – and there was a note of hostility from Ciaran in Sligo who said that they’re filthy creatures. He feels that “anything that buries its own defecation and then walks across worktops should be drowned on the spot” – though I sensed he did not mean this literally. Not much anyway.
And if the extermination of all Irish cats had been decreed? In the event of that cat-astrophe, one woman told Joe she would have hidden the cats, as much as she could. But Joe surmised that there would have been informers.
We have songs about that too, but in this scenario not even Leo Maguire would feel like singing them.