Saturday 20 January 2018

TV lives: Talk to Joe - about 1916 and spirituality

Man of the people: Joe Duffy says Dublin city-centre is turning into an 'unadulterated kip'. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Man of the people: Joe Duffy says Dublin city-centre is turning into an 'unadulterated kip'. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

Joe Duffy might joke that he has "a face for radio" but this autumn the veteran broadcaster will also be a major part of RTE's television schedule, as two programmes, which are fronted by him, light up our screens. Call Back - a television version of Liveline - has been in the works for some time and is slated to air in November. But before that there are the gentle pleasures of Joe's new series, Spirit Level, to enjoy. With its early-afternoon-on-Sunday time-slot, it's been described as having been made for the "after-Mass crowd" but, as Joe points out, the series is much broader than that.

"There is a desire in people for reflection and remembrance, I believe", he begins. "Everything in media doesn't have to be hurly burly, and every programme doesn't have to be politicians arguing. We're trying to create something slightly different without losing the run of ourselves. It's from the religious affairs department of RTE, so they have a certain remit obviously. We talk about different cultures and religions and the new Ireland."

It wouldn't be accurate to call the Liveline host a Holy Joe, but he has already had a healthy respect for religion.

"I got that from Gay Byrne; I have always had a healthy respect for people of faith. My mother still does the collection at Mass, and some of my good friends are priests. In one way or another, religion has always been a part of my life."

This month marks one of the busiest periods in Duffy's long career. In addition to the imminent six-week run of Call Back, which will be "a look back over the stories from the Livelines over the years" and Spirit Level, he is also just about to bring out a book on the children who died during the 1916 Rising, called The Children Of The Rising.

"Liveline is the love of my life, it's my bread and butter and my reason for getting up in the morning, but the book has been a huge passion for me also. I spent three years writing and researching it.

"A lot of the books about 1916 are telling a story we all know. But there were 40 stories of that week that have never been heard before and this will tell of the young lives that were lost. Brendan O'Carroll will be doing the launch because his mother is mentioned in the book in relation to one of the children who was killed."

Despite his years in the Liveline chair, Duffy says he never suffers from compassion fatigue, and on the day we speak has had a particularly emotional show; he felt himself well up when Karena Keogh discussed her late brother David, who drowned in the Algarve.

"It's no use to people if I break down every day, but today was one of the days I got a lump in my throat. But I always try to remember that I'm a radio programme, not a politician and not a social worker. We give people a platform that they wouldn't have got elsewhere."

He's been described as a man of the people, and Joe uses the literary allusion of Strumpet City in referring to what he sees as the degeneration of standards in the streetscapes of the capital.

"The reality is that it's turning into an unadulterated kip, and nobody is shouting stop. Look at Marlborough Street, it's just one long trench at the minute. I walked through the city centre with my mother and we saw [electronic store] Peats and it's been turned into a liquidation store for Clerys!" He may have taken some minor flak for being outspoken about the situation, but Joe is unapologetic: "I say this out of love for the city. I walk around it on my own on a Sunday morning. All the children in my book were killed in the city centre. And I suppose when I spoke out on this, that was in the back of my mind as well: They were city kids."

Joe Duffy's Spirit Level is on today at 1.10pm on RTE1

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