Entertainment Radio

Tuesday 26 March 2019

History and her story make for very engaging listening

Radio

Gavan Reilly
Gavan Reilly
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

I'm not a huge fan of history on radio. As with politics, there is far too much.

In fairness, the likes of The History Show (Radio 1, Sun 6pm) and Talking History (Newstalk, Sun 7pm) are well-made and often interesting. My main bugbear is the amount of history across the schedule.

Irish broadcasters seem obsessed with the past, and unable to discuss the present without reference to events long gone, often very long. What would the IRB think of our health system? The question is so meaningless as to be almost absurd.

That said, I was happily surprised, and greatly entertained, by two history-related slots this week. The weekly 'Hidden Histories' bit on On the Record (Newstalk, Sun 11am) looked at the genuinely amazing life of, in the words of host Gavan Reilly, "groundbreaking doctor Kathleen Lynn, who a century ago founded a children's hospital, St Ultan's with an all-female staff and no money."

To describe Lynn as, say, a proto-feminist seems almost insulting - she was so much more. Medical pioneer, political activist, suffragette and revolutionary, she was also in a long-standing same-sex relationship with Madeleine ffrench-Mullen - as openly as was possible in those times.

If someone hasn't already made a movie about this woman, it needs to happen pronto.

Today with Sean O'Rourke (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 10am) spoke to historian Diarmaid Ferriter about his book The Border: Legacy of a Century of Anglo-Irish Politics. This was equally engaging, and even more surprising in that the hook was Brexit - another overexposed topic on radio - which of course now threatens to bring back that infamous "hard border".

No matter: Ferriter and O'Rourke teased out a myriad of fascinating stories and facts about this "currently invisible 500km line" with its "estimated 208 crossings".

We learned David Lloyd George was opposed to partition, and wanted the different Irish traditions "to come together". The British "often admitted in private" that this was "an absurd and artificial border" - it made no sense, politically or economically, to carve up such a small island.

Their chat ranged from serious - the IRA campaign, the difficulties of life and commerce across a border - to funny, particularly stories of smuggling. One old lady used get the train back and forth, whiskey hidden in her hot-water bottle; this she claimed to need for her rheumatism.

Meanwhile The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 9am) signed off on its last 'Eason Book Club' with the current panel of regular reviewers: Brian Kennedy, Mary O'Rourke and Kathleen Lynch (a new panel will be announced next month). Kudos to the show for bringing literature to the audience every week - and credit, too, to Ryan Tubridy as one of the first Irish broadcasters to do this.

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