Thursday 18 April 2019

Marty back at the party again

Eurovision Semi-Final (RTE2)

Irish eyes are smiling ... Marty Whelan finally gets to celebrate Eurovision success
Irish eyes are smiling ... Marty Whelan finally gets to celebrate Eurovision success
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Has there been a happier moment in the history of Irish television than the announcement of the qualification of Ryan O'Shaughnessy from the semi-final of Eurovision?

Well, for me there was probably a slightly happier one the previous week when Liverpool qualified from the semi-final of the Champions League, but in terms of song contest qualification of any kind, this one was right up there.

And the reason we were so happy was not necessarily for Ryan O'Shaughnessy himself, or his excellent dancers, or the RTE "delegation" in general (ah the old delegation), or the Euro-loving people of Ireland, but for one man, Marty Whelan.

Most years now, for as long as we can remember, it has fallen to Marty to be the man who mourns the Euro-death of the Irish contestant, in this most ignominious way - one by one the qualifiers are named and hailed, one by one until the 10th and last of them is announced, and it is not Ireland. It is anyone but Ireland.

We had come to believe that it would never be Ireland, so estranged had we become from the affections of these countries who once regarded us as their overlords. Still we would hope against hope that somehow they would let us into the final again, for the first time since Jedward, so long ago now, it seems.

And as we sat there in our powerlessness, hoping against hope, indeed hoping against the hope that we didn't even have in the first place, our voice and the voice of all the dispossessed who have ever known such torments, was that of Marty Whelan.

Now, regular readers will know what I think of Marty Whelan. I love the man, and I believe that he is not just a force for good in his own right, but that somehow he is a bellwether of the good of the nation in general - if Marty is thriving then somehow Paddy on the whole is thriving.

So in one sense, the grisly task of enduring this annual Euro-rejection, these 10 Euro-rejections one after the other, could not have fallen to a better man. A lesser broadcaster simply would not have had the will to keep going, or the morale. He or she could not have summoned the optimism which always emanated from Marty, until it could emanate no more.

Yes there were times when he couldn't help but falter, when a really, really bad song would be announced among the 10, striking an ominous note, telling us that even if our song was any good, we're going to be done out of it anyway. Marty would register his objection, with a knowing sigh, imparting a sense of foreboding.

And, yet, no matter how well he had managed our expectations, somehow it always seemed so cruel, that this country of ours which had once owned this whole damn thing, was now consistently finding that somehow at least 10 other countries had come with something better - or something worse, that was still going to make the Grand Prix ahead of us.

One by one… one be one… indeed it was one by one last Tuesday too, just one bad thing after the other, until they finally got to the 10th country to qualify, and high on the improbability of it all, they gave the declaration of "Ireland" that extra little bit of Euro-welly.

It was the most glorious moment of release, for Marty, for all of us - Mandela walking out of Robben Island was good, but we'd kind-of been expecting that one. The only reason we had for some vague hope on this occasion was the fact that when the two lads came out to do the dancing, there was a big cheer from the hall.

After years of soul-searching, of wondering how we could once more crack the Euro-code which we had lost, it may just have occurred to some genius that a contest which is famously loved by gay men might welcome an interpretative dance by what could be construed as two men representing the relationship of a same-sex couple.

Or maybe the gods themselves decreed that they owed Marty Whelan this one. For everything.

Sunday Independent

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