Monday 22 January 2018

Radio review: The past is gone, but sadly not forgotten

Matt Cooper (left) in the Today FM studio.
Matt Cooper (left) in the Today FM studio.

Eilis O'Hanlon

According to Today FM's Last Word, Matt Cooper's interview with historian and commentator Ruth Dudley Edwards last Tuesday prompted a "huge reaction" from listeners.

There was a similar response to fellow Sunday Independent columnist Eoghan Harris's recent appearance to talk about the election on Newstalk's Lunchtime With Jonathan Healy. Both proof, if any were needed, that audiences are open to hearing points of view which don't always find expression on national radio.

Dudley Edwards was on to talk about her new book on the 1916 Proclamation signatories, The Seven, and to make her case that there was "no justification" for taking up arms at that time. Some listeners were irate, but iconoclasm is always much healthier than hero worship. As she put it, commenting on the recent criticism from some viewers when RTE period drama Rebellion showed the shooting of an unarmed policeman: "We either want the truth, or we don't want the truth. If we want a myth, let's be honest and say that's what we need".

It followed her appearance on the previous day's Start The Week on BBC Radio Four, when she took part in a panel discussion on the Easter Rising as the British start to get to grips with the centenary too. On this occasion, there was a ripple of controversy back home when describing Padraig Pearse as "nuts".

The theme of that programme was whether we'd be better off, as societies, forgetting the past rather than memorialising events which in turn can simply be used as excuses for bad decisions in the here and now.

David Rieff, who has written a book called In Praise Of Forgetting, recalled being in Belgrade at the height of the Bosnian conflict and being handed a piece of paper referencing the fall of Constantinople in 1453, adding with considerable understatement: "I don't see how remembering that has been useful to a single living soul in the Balkans."

His point is that collective memory is always a matter of "cherrypicking the past in the service of… some political view struggling for dominance in the present."

At the moment, the dominant voice telling the story of the Easter Rising on RTE remains overly earnest and reverential, though it should be noted that Keelin Shanley did conduct an excellent, detailed interview with Ruth Dudley Edwards on Tuesday's Today With Sean O'Rourke, showcasing Shanley's worth again as easily the equal of the veteran, and much more highly paid, O'Rourke.

Finally, if the George Hook vs Vincent Browne bouts are to become a regular thing on Newstalk's Right Hook, then George really needs to challenge his guest harder, as he does with the hugely entertaining US shock jock Michael Graham, rather than letting Browne take over as if he's at a lectern. Also, at least put Vincent on a decent phone line. The ear shouldn't need to strain to hear.

Sunday Independent

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