Sunday 22 April 2018

Remembering the Great War a century later


RTE presenter Myles Dungan. Picture: Tony Gavin
RTE presenter Myles Dungan. Picture: Tony Gavin

Eilis O'Hanlon

With RTE Radio 1's History Show and Newstalk's Talking History both off air for the summer, it fell to others to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One.

History Show presenter Myles Dungan, who's done more than almost any other broadcaster to keep the Great War at the forefront of attention, was on Sunday's Marian to talk about the anniversary. On Newstalk's Sunday Show at the same time, Shane Coleman was discussing "What if the First World War had never happened?" with Tim Pat Coogan, Eunan O'Halpin and Brian Hanley.

Coogan was initially sceptical of the merits of such speculative history, likening it to saying "if my aunt had testicles, she'd be my uncle"; but he soon warmed to the debate. The what ifs turned out to be quite extensive. No Russian Revolution, possibly. No Hitler. Irish history arguably taking a very different course. Though all agreed that tensions between Germany and Britain surely made war inevitable, so perhaps Coogan was right and it was a little pointless, albeit informative.

As part of the BBC's four-year-long commemoration of the conflict, Monday's World Tonight on Radio Four marked the day war was declared with a special programme from the Imperial War Museum featuring real-time reports of events as they unfolded.

It's a bit of a hackneyed broadcasting device at this point, but knowledge of the slaughter to come certainly gave an added poignancy to the programme.

More effective still is the same station's 1914: Day By Day, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Each day brings a rundown of what was happening on that day 100 years ago. Most ambitious of all, from a scheduling point of view, is Home Front, a new drama series written by Kate Sims that follows the lives of a group of characters in Britain as they cope with the war, with each episode again being set exactly a hundred years ago to the day. It's hard to say how successful this project will be, but Radio 4 must have faith in it - they've commissioned no less than 600 episodes.

Back on RTE, Bowman:Sunday:8.30 trawled through the archives for clips to mark the centenary, with one Irish veteran describing the arrival in Belgium of his cavalry unit in the early weeks of the war and how they came across the Germans and "knocked them for six". How things would soon change…

More happily, John Bowman also marked the 80th birthday of Gay Byrne with extracts from a recorded interview in which the great man was typically modest about his contribution to changing the face of Irish society.

"I never took myself as seriously as other people take me," Gaybo said with the usual twinkle.

He also admitted that he often hears shows on radio covering exactly the same topics that he tackled years ago and thinks: "I'm very glad I'm not in there, going over it again." He might be, but we're not, because nobody did it better, before or since.

Sunday Independent

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