Television review: mother's love and surprise revelation
A seasoned entertainer once said, " What people are mainly looking for in a live show are things that are not supposed to happen".
Last weekend, we saw just that on The Saturday Night Show with Brendan O'Connor. Initially, it didn't look promising. George bloody Hook? Oh dear God, I thought, he isn't going to rant about the state of Irish rugby, is he? Because, if he is, I'm switching over. Something, perhaps O'Connor's more than usually thoughtful demeanour, made me hang on.
I'm glad I did, because if I hadn't I would have missed what was, ostensibly, the interview which perfectly complemented Gay Byrne's triumph with Stephen Fry a week earlier. It started off with religion. George was scheduled to have a knee operation at the beginning of the year. As he told O'Connor; "On St Stephen's Day... I became utterly convinced that I wouldn't come out of the operation, truthfully, I thought I wouldn't come out". O'Connor gently suggested that perhaps, at his age, Hook was consumed with his own mortality.
"No, this was different", said Hook, "this was deep". And in an extraordinarily moving way, it was. This was not the usual conversation one gets from two media-savvy blokes sparring together on national television. O'Connor gently teased out that the real reason for Hook's "re-conversion" to Catholicism, and his newly passionate belief in the afterlife, was in order to right a "deep regret that had haunted him for 20 years".
George Hook admitted that he was a bloody awful son to his doting devoted mother. "She gave me everything," he said. His mother had sacrificed her life in order to give him a decent private education. "And I treated her like shit," continued Hook.
The audience was hushed and O'Connor knew to let him continue uninterrupted. "I attempted to sell the house from over her head while she was still living in it to pay for my debts.... and, and... when my mother is dying of cancer and I'm over in America coaching rugby - and I'm fucking around". He paused and took a breath. O'Connor waited. "I come home and she's been in a coma for a week and hasn't opened her eyes or said a word and I go up to her bed and I say 'Hello Mam. And then she says; 'Hello son'. 'How are you feeling, Mam?' I say. 'Not great, son.'"
Those were the last words his mother spoke - she died later that night after waiting for her son to return to her. "I just want a heaven," said George, a sad little boy who wants his Mammy's forgiveness. "And I want to get there and meet Peter at the Gate and he'll say: "George, your mother is waiting for you" and I want to say; "Mam, I'm so, so sorry..."
At that stage I'll bet I wasn't the only person in the country biting their cheeks to stop the tears from flowing. And the tears are starting to come again even as I type. It was utterly beautiful, heart-wrenchingly honest television. And from that most unexpected source - the curmudgeonly Hook in conversation with tough O'Connor.
I made my young son watch it so he'll appreciate me while I'm still alive - let that be a warning to all Irish men who take their mammies for granted. And the wise entertainer who said that great live telly is all about the things that are not supposed to happen? Coincidentally, that just happened to be Brendan O'Connor.
A few days later, we saw another man on Irish telly making pronouncements about Irish Mammies - but, unlike George, not in a way that sounded genuinely apologetic or caring. When Enda Kenny told Clare Daly in Dail Eireann, on the day of her Private Members Bill, that "you don't own the Constitution", some mothers around the country felt as if he was taking them for granted, treating them perhaps, as George would say, "like shit".
Daly, in a passionate speech, accused him of "condemning these people [parents of children with fatal foetal abnormalities] to a lonely journey... while the bottom falls out of their world... and then to come home and have the ashes [of their baby] sent home in a Jiffy bag in a DHL van. It's inhumane, it's torture, it's a violation of human rights and it is avoidable," she pleaded. But Enda was not for turning, regardless of the distress of so many Irish mothers who have found themselves having to take that lonely journey, he remained resolute and unmoving. "It's the people's Constitution", he insisted piously. "And only they can change it." And if he would give us a chance to do just that, maybe the mothers of Ireland will eventually forgive him.
The Saturday Night Show (RTE1)
Oireachtas Report (RTE1)