Entertainment Radio

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Putting different faces on Ireland's first residents

Dancers Fiona Stone and Mariam Elbadri with members of the Kilfenora Ceili Band in 2010
Dancers Fiona Stone and Mariam Elbadri with members of the Kilfenora Ceili Band in 2010
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

As usual, St Patrick's Day degenerated, to some extent, into the usual orgy of cretinous drink-fuelled mayhem. However, I am going to ignore that, and accentuate the positive by focusing on some lovely Irish-themed radio from the past week.

Dublin-based community station Near Fm are excelling themselves with two new series, which began a few weeks back and runs until about the end of this month. First, New Perspectives on Irish History (Fri 6.30pm).

In concentrating on the "first inhabitants" of this island, and how they viewed and interacted with the natural environment, it takes "perspectives other than the military-focused accounts" of other histories. This is a long-time whine of mine: how history (radio, books, TV) is obsessed with wars, to the exclusion of what's patronisingly termed "social history"; or as the rest of us know it, "normal life as actually lived by real people".

Here, in refreshing contrast, they examined the "dreams, themes, myth and ecology" of ancient Ireland. Devised by John Haughton, it's full of thought-provoking insights from philosophical, poetic-minded contributors.

Ireland was once covered in a great oak forest, and that landscape has impacted on our consciousness as much as we have changed it. As priest-mystic John O'Donoghue says at one point: "Landscape is the first-born of creation."

The second excellent series is If Ever You Go: a Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song (Mon 6pm). It takes its name from last year's choice for the Dublin: One City, One Book campaign. Edited by Pat Boran and Gerard Smyth, the book captured something of the essence of the capital through poetry and song.

The show concentrates on the Northside - its people, places, customs and memories - through writers including Paula Meehan, Theo Dorgan, Colm Keegan and Jessica Traynor. Poetry readings, discussions, art, music - what better way to mark the national day? And how nice to hear some "real" Dublin accents on radio.

Meanwhile, The History Show (Radio 1, Sun 7pm) went on an arty detour, with nice bits on the Kilfenora Céilí Band, writers with Sligo connections (not just Yeats), post-war Irish emigrant culture and the Irish harp.

Finally, bualadh bos to 2FM for giving the Irish language a good push over the last few weeks, ie Seachtain na Gaeilge and the run-up to Patrick's Day. Eoghan McDermott (Mon-Fri 8pm) brought in actor Clíona Ní Chiosáin for nightly bilingual chats, and on the day itself, Chris and Ciara (Sun-Thur 10pm) moved from their usual slot for a lunchtime of classic Irish songs and snippets of Gaeilge.

Promoting the language on popular shows, aimed at young people, probably does more for Irish than all the well-intentioned, po-faced initiatives in the world.

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