Thursday 23 November 2017

Talking History's range of subjects is truly Divine


Gay Byrne reacts to Stephen Fry on The Meaning of Life - the interview stirred up reaction on Liveline
Gay Byrne reacts to Stephen Fry on The Meaning of Life - the interview stirred up reaction on Liveline
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

One of the truly great things about Talking History (Newstalk, Sun 7pm) is that it doesn't always cover the sort of stuff you expect from a history show. You know the kind of things: wars, economic crises, elections, mass political movements. . .

Historians, both Irish and further afield, are obsessed with all this: the dreary, endless march of power and money, basically. I realise these events were undoubtedly seismic is shaping the course of human affairs, but they're often very boring to listen to.

Talking History, by contrast, often burrows off in search of rarer truffles. They do a lot of culture, and art, and social history (itself an awfully patronising term, but that's an argument for another place and time).

This week, for example, Dr Patrick Geoghegan and his experts examined the life of Dante: the Italian genius who wrote The Divine Comedy. I love that they did this. Even if it hadn't been handled well - which, of course, it was - I still would have loved them, simply for doing it in the first place.

There's something so cool about an Irish radio programme devoting a good chunk of airtime to discussing a medieval Italian poet. Yes, The Divine Comedy is quite iconic, but you're still talking "relatively well-known", not instantly recognisable.

Few of us will ever read it, many will never have heard of man or book, and he was doing his thing seven centuries ago, in another country and (in many ways) a different universe to ours. That didn't stop Talking History; for this, and all the other curios of human life they shine their light on, I am very grateful.

You'll all know, by now, about Stephen Fry and what he said about God to Gay Byrne. Naturally, it threw half the country into a splenetic frenzy while the other half looked on, amused and bemused. (I'm in the latter category, I must admit.)

And where better place for this explosion of daftness to take place? Liveline (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 1.45pm), where else? That's not meant as an insult, by the way; there's a place for everything in this world, including a place for people to get irrationally upset because an actor made disparaging remarks about the supernatural being they believe in. (It is irrational; even if God exists, do you think he/she is so petty as to get upset over this?)

Liveline's good like that: whether you like it or not, literally any view is welcome to be aired, on any crackpot subject, within the limits of legality and good taste. It's a sort of sounding-board for the nation.

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