Monday 23 October 2017

Television: TV3's on the ball as Phil makes his anthemic call

New anthem: Ireland players line-up for Ireland's Call at the Aviva in the World Cup warm-up match vs Wales
New anthem: Ireland players line-up for Ireland's Call at the Aviva in the World Cup warm-up match vs Wales

John Boland

TV3's blanket coverage of the Rugby World Cup has just begun, and to get us in the mood for this game-changing triumph over RTÉ, the commercial channel offered Ireland's Call, a 45-minute documentary about the creation of Phil Coulter's official anthem.

"Dreadful", was former Irish rugby captain Keith Wood's verdict when he first heard it in 1995, "it was just too sing-songy", and he hasn't much altered his opinion of it in the meantime (me neither), even though he likes the idea of it as a non-divisive alternative to the nationalist 'Amhran na bhFiann', which alienated Northern unionists.

"It wasn't my anthem", former back-row forward Nigel Carr recalled of 'Amhran na bhFiann', and no doubt it became even less appealing to him when, driving south for pre-World Cup rugby practise with fellow Northerner David Irwin in 1987, he was badly injured by an IRA roadside bomb, thereby ending his international career.

And fullback Hugo MacNeill was struck by the fact that, when lining out for international matches, fellow backs Trevor Ringland and Keith Crossan were unable to sing its Irish words. So he was an immediate supporter of Coulter's new anthem, even though the composer himself warned the IRFU that rugby fans "are not going to fall in love with this", not least because "as a race we don't like being told what songs to sing".

The tune came first, he said, and seemingly quite easily, too, though the subsequent lyrics were something of a "minefield" as he sought to exclude any words or phrases that might seem politically "dodgy" on either side of the North-South divide - including such loaded words as "united".

This was all quite interesting, though it wasn't explained why for the past 20 years other nations have tolerated the singing of two Irish anthems before kick-off. And the film became somewhat tedious when we were required to eavesdrop at length on studio sessions in which Coulter and the High Kings fashioned a new version of the song.

The Boston Nanny (RTÉ1) was quite interesting, too, even if at the end the viewer felt cheated by the absence of any real resolution. That was largely because, although murder charges against Cavan-born nanny Aisling Brady McCarthy were dropped earlier this month by US prosecutors, it's still unknown what killed one-year-old baby girl Rehma Sabir in January 2013.

In the meantime, the Irish nanny, who had been living illegally in the US since 2002, was incarcerated for over two years, a savage fate for an innocent person, though at the end of the film, when asked about this treatment of a woman for "a crime she did not commit", district attorney Marian Ryan just replied "Well, I don't know if that's what we can say".

Neither Aisling Brady McCarthy herself (now back in Cavan after deportation from the US) nor anyone intimately connected to her were interviewed for a film that outlined the known facts efficiently but couldn't provide a satisfying conclusion.

There were lacunae, too, in The Invisible Man (RTÉ1), which told the story of Danny Donnelly from Omagh, who at the age of 17 was imprisoned in Belfast's Crumlin Road jail for IRA membership but made a daring escape from it in 1960 before fleeing south.

Narrated by his daughter Una, the film accompanied him as he returned to his former place of incarceration, related how he had escaped and re-encountered some of the people who had helped him evade recapture.

This was all fairly absorbing and the now elderly Donnelly was an engagingly loquacious presence, even if overly pietistic in his insistence that he and his colleagues in the old IRA "never considered killing anyone" and that "death was not on our agenda".

But aside from fond footage of recent family reunions in Dublin, we never really learned anything about the 50 years of his later life. An end caption told us that he had gone into business and that he was twice mayor of "a Dublin suburb", but we never learned how this had come about or whether his new life had been known to the garda authorities.

His daughter said that he had been "written out of all the history books", but a few decades of his life were also written out of this film.

The new season of Scannal (RTÉ1) began with the 1982 killing of Declan Flynn, beaten to death by five teenage thugs in Fairview Park.

"Queer-bashing" was the phrase used by Joe Little when reporting on it for RTÉ, which must have sounded startling to younger viewers of this film but was all too familiar to anyone old enough to recall those dark decades before the brave new world of contemporary Ireland.

All five killers (two of them members of the Air Corps and one a player on the Dublin minor football team) got suspended sentences and celebrated that night with a banner that declared 'We are the champions'.

There were heated Dáil debates and gay activists took to the streets, though the victim's brother Christopher told the film that Declan's sexuality was "irrelevant - he was our brother, we loved him".

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