Monday 20 November 2017

Radio: Hail Saoirse, national treasure and queen-in-waiting

Saoirse Ronan, wearing bespoke Helen Steele, at the Dublin premiere of Brooklyn.
Saoirse Ronan, wearing bespoke Helen Steele, at the Dublin premiere of Brooklyn.
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

The term 'national treasure' has become so over-used, it's almost meaningless. But I'm struggling to think of a better description for Saoirse Ronan.

You could call her an actress, Irish woman, native of Carlow, resident of London, Oscar nominee. And those would all be factually accurate. But they don't come close to capturing what a smashing young woman she seems to be.

The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show (Today FM, Mon-Fri 7am) had an interview with Saoirse (recorded last August), and it's a long time since I came across a movie star who was so funny, likeable and all-round sound.

The ostensible crux of the conversation was her new movie Brooklyn, but they had a relaxed chat which ranged all over the place, from acting to crazy seagulls to an impending chipper war in Dublin (really). It was great fun, and Ronan is great company.

Also, bonus points for having a proper accent (Dublin-ish with hints of her Carlow childhood). Saoirse doesn't do that ridiculous quasi-American bidda-bidda-bidda thing which has infected so many Irish women - and she's been working in Hollywood since aged 13, so she'd have a semi-valid excuse. Brooklyn doesn't sound like my cup of tea, but she's a superstar, and I don't mean in the "movie fame" way. Is she too young to be called Queen of Ireland? Maybe queen-in-waiting for now.

Funnily enough, The Queen of Ireland is the title for a new documentary about drag queen and gay icon, Panti Bliss AKA Rory O'Neill, who popped into Moncrieff (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 1.30pm) for a chat with stand-in Tara Duggan.

Rory's another likeable character: droll, intelligent, engaging. (Although the American-esque accent - this isn't an obsession, I swear - drives me demented.)

And pretty amusing: talking about the possibility of a run for President - possibly not entirely serious - he quipped: "I sometimes jokingly say that in a few more years, when I'm getting a bit stiff for the high heels and corsetry, I could see myself in the Park. You'd get two presidents for the price of one. I'm pretty good at posing for pictures and making the odd speech, and that's essentially the requirements."

Interestingly, this interview followed hot on the heels of a Sunday Independent piece at the weekend, which argued that Panti was becoming something of a secular saint and we'd want to scale back the old hero/heroine worship a bit. I'd agree with that: it's not O'Neill's fault, but you do despair of the general intelligence levels when you hear people claiming that Panti basically won the gay marriage referendum single-handed.

Like it or not, had the only Yes advocates been drag queens and gay activists, the referendum might have been lost. It was carried because of the many others who argued the case: regular citizens across all demographics, journalists, sympathisers, even - dare I say it - politicians.

Meanwhile, the Billy Walsh saga drags on across radio and other media. Apart from the obvious sports shows, his row with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association has been covered exhaustively in news and current affairs programmes, and continues to be.

To take but two of many examples, we had the affair dissected by substitute presenter Harry McGee and guests on The Sunday Show (Newstalk, Sun 10am) and, a few hours later, This Week (Radio 1, Sun 1pm).

I suppose my main response to all this is: who cares, really? Unless you're personally involved in the situation, or have an abiding passion for boxing, why would you care?

I have a theory that this stuff - these periodic sporting scandals and convulsions - it's all just bread and circuses, essentially. A meaningless distraction for the people.

I don't mean that from a conspiracy-theorist standpoint; it's not like there's some Illuminati puppetmaster engineering a dispute in Irish amateur boxing to make us look the other way while they welcome in our alien overlords. It's more of an organic development, something that just happens. But it is still bread and circuses.

I listen to these oh-so-serious discussions - between, say, Richard Crowley and Fianna Fáil sport spokesman Timmy Dooley - about what exactly took place and who's to blame and where do we go from here. And I think, again: who cares?

This is one of those times where everyone feels obliged to have an opinion and take a side. Well, here's a little secret: you don't have to. The whole thing actually is as silly and pointless as your gut is telling you it is. Ignore this nonsense, it'll all be gone soon. (Until the next one.)

Finally, a cracking listeners' choice countdown on Today FM, all day on the bank holiday, to commemorate the station playing one-and-a-half million songs since launching in 1997. I'm a sucker for these music countdowns, and dipped in and out of this one all day.

Although: 'Thunderstruck' voted as the top song? AC/DC rock, but come on lads, let's not be silly here: 'Teen Spirit' all the way.

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