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Last Night’s TV: Mamo


When I first heard that RTE would be showing a series in which an Irish-speaking woman from the North would visit people’s houses and give them advice about their problems, I thought that perhaps Mary McAleese was planning a new career as a reality tv star after she leaves the Aras in November. Building bridges, fixing fridges, eliminating midges: whatever your difficulty, Mary Mc has the answer.

Mamo was a much different kettle of tosh altogether. Ten minutes in, at least some viewers must have been wondering: who is this woman? Why is she giving advice to Irish-speaking Moonies living in Cavan? Why is it on the television?

The answer to that third question is coming up, but first, some background. Mamo is Maire Andrews, a Northern Irish woman with far too much time on her hands. She speaks only in Irish, which only became a problem in her life when, many years ago, she married a sadly monolingual Protestant minister whose family didn’t speak Irish either.

That marriage might have made a documentary, or at least a very good sitcom, but instead Maire has been making regular cross-border incursions to give advice to Southerners made of less stern stuff than she is. Last night, she met the O’Cionnaths.

Colm, who’s Irish, and Dani, a Bulgarian, are Moonies who live in Cavan with their three children. Their religion is the most interesting thing about them from a documentary point of view but, of course, that wasn’t discussed after the first mention of it. Instead, we had 30 minutes of Mamo making a nuisance of herself fixing problems in the family which weren’t apparent to this viewer, but which may have centred on the fact Dani has no Irish.

The obvious suggestion – just speak more English, then – wasn’t canvassed for the simple reason that Mamo exists only because it was grant-aided by a fund devoted to television programmes made in Irish. The money seems to have come from the North, so it was very cheap tv from RTE’s point of view. But where was the quality control?

Dani may not have much Irish but she does possess a range of old Bulgarian sayings. “Your husband may be the head of the family, but you’re the neck” was one of the more puzzling ones. More familiar was: “A woman’s work is never over”.

In Mamo’s case, that’s sadly true for a little while yet. There are three more weeks of this nonsense to come.

A Northerner of much more attractive hue is Rory McIlroy, subject of Major Breakthrough, a BBC Northern Ireland documentary. The programme makers had very close access to McIlroy from February this year, travelling with him to Augusta in April to witness his last round collapse in the US Masters, and to Washington where they were present for his breath-taking performance in last month’s US Open.

Sensibly, they got the golf out of the way in just 20 minutes. The rest of the documentary followed McIlroy from the morning after the US Open victory until he arrived home In Northern Ireland the following night.

Anybody who thought the delay getting home was because he couldn’t tear himself away from the celebrations would have been quickly disabused of that notion. He didn’t get to bed after winning the Open and had to be in his hotel lobby with his father at 5am in order to travel to Cape Cod to play a round of golf for one of his sponsors.

That was followed by an overnight flight to London, for more promotional work, before he finally made it home to his mother, his girlfriend and his dogs, who all got equal billing on his list of who and what he missed when he was away.

He gets well-rewarded for such a lifestyle, and spends his money freely – a nice house, some fantastic cars, a replica golf course in his back garden – but it can be tough work too. He does remarkably well to stay so calm and approachable.

One of the reasons for that may be his girlfriend, Holly Sweeney, with whom he split up earlier in the year. The couple are now happily back together. “I realised pretty quickly I’d made a mistake”, he said last night. ”I had to do a lot of begging, grovelling to get her back”.

It’s hard to think of another sporting superstar – certainly not Tiger Woods -who would admit that in a documentary. Despite his success, McIlroy is still a bit of an innocent abroad. That’s what makes him so likeable.

Despite the title, there were no Irish people on Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model on Sky Living last night. They’ll turn up in a few weeks when we’ll see hundreds of Irish wannabe models whittled down to just one or two who are regarded as having the potential to make it in such a cut-throat business.

Judging by the prizes on offer – magazine shoots, a £50,000 advertising campaign for Selfridges, cars, holidays etc – this is a serious competition. Unlike The X Factor, where most of the winners enjoy a few weeks of fame before never being heard of again outside pantomime or the Celebrity Big Brother house, the victor in Next Top model really does have a shot at the big time.

What a pity the whole thing is so dull, then. The young pretenders are as painfully alike as they are worryingly thin. It was very hard to distinguish genuine personalities in any of them. I’m told that the fun and games will start in a few weeks when the chosen few start living in the same house but Irish contestants or not, I don’t think I’ll be tuning in. Exposure to such high-levels of low self-esteem gets tiring after a while