Monday 14 October 2019

Reasons to be cheerful about modern Ireland


The AA's Conor Faughnan.
The AA's Conor Faughnan.
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

St Patrick's Day is usually accompanied by "shocked and appalled" news and hand-wringing analysis, because of a minority of idiots fighting, littering, drinking too much and so on. But just as it's remiss to gloss over anti-social behaviour, so it is inaccurate to suggest it defines 2019 Ireland in some way.

As a counterbalance, I tuned into The Lyric Feature: Stranieri (Sun 6pm). Lyric FM itself is one of the jewels in Ireland's cultural crown, as good as any comparable station in the world. And The Lyric Feature is always educational and imaginative, and often fascinating. Stranieri told the story of the musicians recruited to the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra - another fine Irish institution - from when it formed in 1948.

Produced by Angie Mezzetti and Patrick Wall, Stranieri explained how, in the aftermath of World War II, the then Radio Éireann orchestra held auditions in more than 30 cities across the continent over the next two decades. We heard the life-stories of some of these virtuoso musicians with exotic names - Corinna Salvadori, Arthur Nachstern, Victor Malirsh.

Domenico Galassi was a German Jew, despite the Italian name, who'd survived the concentration camps, where he was forced to play for Nazi officers. His was the most incredible story, but they were all marvellous.

Something else to be proud of in modern Ireland is how safe - relatively - our roads are. On The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 9am), we heard five people had died over the weekend, raising the number of road fatalities this year to 39.

That's a 30pc increase on last year, which sounds disastrous, but as the AA's Conor Faughnan pointed out, this "overstates" and "dramatises" the situation. We can be blinded by "small numbers", by considering short-term data as a long-term statistical trend.

"We have to look at the long-term numbers," he said. And in the last 20 years, deaths have been reduced by two-thirds: "We've gone from being the sick man of Europe in road safety to one of the best-practise countries."

So while there's room for improvement - cyclists and pedestrians are especially at risk - things are actually pretty good, despite any cynical doomsaying.

Meanwhile, as Brexit limps along like a three-legged dog with the DTs across every second show, Book of the Week (BBC Radio 4, Mon-Fri 9.45am/12.30am) told the story of someone the British can be proud of. Collingwood "Cherry" Ingram, born in 1880, was one of those remarkable Victorian/Edwardian chaps who get a notion to do something and, following it, change the world to some degree.

In his case, it was to preserve and regenerate Japan's iconic cherry blossoms (sakura).

Ingram was one of a kind, and this was very charming.

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