Wednesday 18 September 2019

Creedon's Atlas of Ireland review: 'It’s the same formula as his earlier series, except the premise is even more vague'

2 stars

John Creedon in Creedon's Atlas of Ireland, available to watch on RTE Player
John Creedon in Creedon's Atlas of Ireland, available to watch on RTE Player

Pat Stacey

John Creedon is a lovely fella, what a Dubliner of a certain age would call a “decent skin”. Of this, there seems to be little, if any, doubt.

You need never have met the man — and I never have — to recognise this straight off. It’s one of those things you somehow just know instinctively.

It’s unlikely anyone has ever said,  “Christ, I can’t stand that Creedon bloke, he really gets on my nerves.” They may say it about other RTE types (throw a stick, etc), but it seems inconceivable that anyone, anywhere has said it or ever would say it about the amiable Corkman.

Creedon radiates likeability, warmth and good humour, all undervalued qualities, in the same way a bulb radiates light. Unlike a few of his RTE contemporaries, he always seems less interested in himself than in other people.

He invariably comes across as a person rather than a persona. What you see is, I suspect, what you get.

He’s an excellent radio broadcaster, of course. His eclectic weeknightly RTE Radio 1 music show is, like Paul McLoone’s overlapping programme on Today FM (and more of that gentleman presently), one of the very few not shackled to the flavour-of-the-moment chart playlist.

After such a glowing encomium, I wish I could say I like his latest three-part RTE One vehicle Creedon’s Atlas of Ireland a bit more.

“Vehicle” really is the operative word here, as Creedon flits about the country in, literally, planes, trains and automobiles, including a vintage Volkswagen Beetle and — I think — an Opel of some description.

In this respect, it follows exactly the same well-worn formula as his earlier series, including Creedon’s Retro Road Trip, Creedon’s Wild Atlantic Way, Creedon’s Epic East and Creedon’s Road Less Travelled, except the premise is even more vague and fuzzy.

The peg this time is that Creedon wants to find out the hidden meanings behind well-known placenames. He’s supposedly following in the footsteps of John O’Donovan, a 19th-century Celtic scholar who, at the behest of Thomas Colby, the director of the Ordnance Survey, hiked around the country’s frequently daunting terrain (no VW Beetle for him) to collect placenames for the 1820 survey, a task that often involved tangling with all manner of hostile bowsies.

O’Donovan — played by an actor in a half-hearted and pointless bit of reconstruction — ended up with 140,000 of them, all scrupulously recorded in his notebooks, which now rest in the National Archive. So off Creedon goes, gifted a notebook of his own by the archive’s curator, zipping through Derry, Donegal, Leitrim and Cavan.

Along the way he meets the aforementioned Paul McLoone and his fellow Undertone Mickey Bradley, who talk — all too briefly — about growing up in what the late Gerry Anderson memorably christened “Stroke City”.

Moving swiftly on, Creedon meets the son and best friend of a man who cultivated a portion of a forest in the shape of a Celtic cross, but never lived to see it in its maturity. It looks spectacular from the air, yet we never really heard about what drove the man to do such a thing.

The best segment was Creedon’s visit to the Cavan and Leitrim Railway in Dromod, a splendid historical attraction with a splendidly colourful guide, Michael Kennedy, which previously featured in one of politician and railway enthusiast-turned-television traveller Michael Portillo’s own programmes for the BBC.

As with the Derry stop-off, though, it was over almost before it began as Creedon headed off for a chat with Michael Harding by a river.

At the end of the hour, I was less than clear about the point of the whole excursion, beyond demonstrating, again, Creedon’s fondness for hitting the open road. Despite his good humour and boundless enthusiasm, it was an enervating experience that might have worked better at half the length. Nicely photographed, but then so is a John Hinde postcard.

Creedon's Atlas of Ireland is available on RTE Player

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