Friday 22 February 2019

How the national archives rose like a phoenix from ashes

 

Free State snipers during the Civil War
Free State snipers during the Civil War
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

"I'm not an archivist, or a historian," Patricia Baker says in Charred Remains (Newstalk, Sun 7am), her documentary on an obscure but very significant piece of Irish history, centred on events in 1922. She goes on, "but what I really like are stories."

The story she tells is amazing in its own way. Ireland's Public Records Office, located in the Four Courts, was a historical Aladdin's Cave of legal and church records, genealogies, wills, population censuses, right down to parish registers. An entire other history of this country: much of life as it was actually lived by the people, beyond the "great" deeds of nation.

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It was destroyed by explosion and fire during the Civil War - an act of unpardonable cultural vandalism, regardless of one's politics. Charred Remains charted the heroic efforts of a team of scholars who basically rebuilt the National Archive, from ashes metaphorical and actual.

An incredible tale of incredible people. Baker does them justice with her customary mix of rigorous research, personal warmth and - important, to me at least, in radio - a beautiful speaking voice. Latest in her series of excellent productions for Newstalk, the show went out, as usual, at a weirdly early time - who the hell but someone like me is listening at seven on Sunday morning - but happily, it's repeated tonight at the more civilised time of 9pm, and well worth tuning in for.

Also excellent, and worth making the effort for, is The Indignant Muse, a 10-part series just begun on brilliant Dublin-based local station Near FM (Fri 6.30pm). Based on the mammoth, much-praised 2016 Lilliput Press book of that name, this chronicles Ireland's revolutionary past "through song and poem".

Host Terry Moylan is joined by a variety of singers for performances, interpretations and discussion of the material and those times. It's ambitious, imaginative and lively; there's fun to be found, alongside education.

More importantly, and in common with Charred Remains, The Indignant Muse is more than a little different from the normal method of exploring history. These programmes show another way of doing it, rather than the usual "straight" - and, let's be honest, often dreary - approach.

Ryan Tubridy (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 9am) had a very amusing piece about people on public transport blaring movies on their smartphones, without using headphones. Journalist Ellen Coyne described her "incredulity" that people carry on like this; one can't help agreeing, and sympathising.

She admitted, possibly tongue-in-cheek, to "dark fantasies about coldly and aggressively handing out headphones on the Dart or the Luas" to fight "this absolute public scourge".

Another caller, Denise, told of a man on the bus watching pornography on his phone. Incredulity doesn't cover it.

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