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Darragh McManus on radio: An object lesson in how to make a fun history show



Marty Whelan

Marty Whelan

John Kelly

John Kelly


Marty Whelan

Anyone who loves the British Museum in London should tune into A History of the World in 100 Objects (BBC Radio 4, Tue 1.45pm), run in partnership with that most pleasurably educational of tourist destinations.

It's a very enjoyable series that ranges widely across cultures and countries in search of things that define human history. We've had everything from the famous wood-block print The Wave from 19th- century Japan to Native American buckskin maps and a miniature painting of a Mughal prince.

The programme uses these items to explain, contextualise and enrich our understanding of particular periods in time and space. This week, the Standard of Ur: a Sumerian artefact from four-and-a-half millennia ago.

Ur was a city in Mesopotamia, now southern Iraq, and the standard is a set of mosaics that celebrate the power and glory of this once-mighty, now-faded civilisation. Lovely stuff, and well worth dipping into the archive episodes on the BBC website.

Also lovely - beyond lovely, really - was one of the selections of avant-garde composer Gavin Bryars on Mystery Train (Lyric FM, Sun-Thu 7pm). Every Sunday John Kelly hands over music choices to his guest, and among a varied collection of pieces was 'Diptych: 1. The Lord's Prayer', written by Valentin Silvestrov and performed by Kiev Chamber Choir.

It was unlike anything I've heard before: ethereal, almost formless, but with great beauty and emotive power, droning sub-bass voices underlying angelic sopranos and altos.

Lyric, incidentally, just celebrated its 21st birthday, and on Bank Holiday Monday marked it by dipping into its own catalogue of CD releases. Marty Whelan, Niall Carroll, Liz Nolan and Lorcan Murray guided us through this suitable "happy birthday" to an Irish cultural institution.

Coolock-based Near FM, an excellent local station, has been making and broadcasting audio dramas written by women for the past year or so. This week's was All Honey (Tue 6.30pm), by Ciara Elizabeth Smyth, an enjoyably cynical and bitter-funny drama about a group of thirtysomething friends airing some uncomfortable home truths.

Meanwhile, Down to Business (Newstalk, Sat 10am) had a surprisingly engaging interview with Phillip Matthews. I say surprisingly because Matthews was once an Irish rugby international, and former sports stars don't tend to be wildly interesting in conversation.

However, as a former president of the National College of Ireland and current business coach and leadership consultant, he was able to provide useful tips on staying sane and staying productive in the prevailing weird situation. Host Bobby Kerr handled the whole thing with his customary laidback charm.

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