walking a tragic road with gaybo
impact: tragedy on irish roads (TV3) arts lives (RTE1) power to the people (BBC2) six nations rugby (rte2) against the head (RTE2)
Having recently pondered the meaning of life for RTE, Gay Byrne is now confronting the meaninglessness of violent death for the rival TV3 channel. In the two-part series, Impact: Tragedy on Irish Roads, the former Late Late Show host is using his role as chairman of the National Roads Authority to remind us of the carnage and misery caused by speed, drink and carelessness.
"This is not a happy programme," he said at the outset of Monday night's opener.
Indeed, such were the gruesome details concerning the eight featured fatalities and so raw was the grief of those mourning the victims that the film was hard to watch.
"On Friday night, everything's all right and on Saturday morning in the lashing rain, you're picking a spot to bury your daughter," said Terry Peoples, recalling the crash in which 21-year-old Rochelle and four friends had their lives abruptly extinguished by a 49-year-old man who was driving drunk at 100kph on the wrong side of the road.
One of the four friends was Charlene and her mother Rosaleen showed Charlene's broken watch to the camera. It had stopped at 3.15am, the moment of impact. She also showed the Garth Brooks CD the five had been playing just before their obliteration on a Donegal road.
After an initial wrong assumption that the young people had been drinking and following a three-year Garda investigation, their killer got a four-year jail sentence.
Brothers Paul and Dave Kirby, 20 and 10 respectively, were killed in a head-on crash near Midleton, Co Cork. Kissing them goodbye in the morgue, their mother Kathleen saw a picture of the Sacred Heart on the wall. "I looked up at him and I said, 'You f..king bastard'. Sorry for the language, I don't like cursing, but that's what I said. I was so angry."
The viewer felt angry too at the pointlessness of it all -- though not as angry as Kay Walsh, mother of 16-year-old Kevin, who was killed instantly when the four-by-four driven by former rugby international Eddie Halvey ploughed into the back of the stopped car owned by Kevin's uncle, Vincent. The DPP dropped a dangerous-driving charge against Halvey, allowing him to plead to the lesser charge of careless driving, for which, after numerous postponements, he was given a suspended sentence.
"I will never forgive him," Kay said. "He took the most precious thing in this world off me. Eddie Halvey has his life and I visit my child in a graveyard. I hate him with a passion."
Kevin's uncle recalled of his nephew: "He was my godson, my friend, he was everything to me. I adored the ground he walked on."
Jenny McCudden's film was full of such wrenching moments, although I wondered -- as I also wonder about those terrifying road-safety commercials -- at the efficacy of what I was watching.
From the comfort of our armchairs, we may be appalled (as we're meant to be) at what we're seeing, but does it have any effect on how we behave and react when we're snug in our cars and out on the road? I'd like to think it does, but I fear otherwise.
I spent a good two decades of my adult life addicted to thrillers, mainly by Americans. Indeed, I think I've read everything ever written by Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, John D McDonald, Ed McBain and Elmore Leonard, while I'm constantly urging friends to acquaint themselves with the marvellous Hoke Mosley series by Charles Willeford.
In recent years, however, I've been concentrating on contemporary so-called literary fiction, and so, although I've read some of the excellent private-eye books by Dublin author Declan Hughes, I've never got round to fellow Dubliner John Connolly, who was the subject of RTE1's Tuesday night Arts Lives film.
RTE almost spoiled this for me by transmitting an extended radio interview with Connolly a couple of nights earlier, but Maurice Sweeney's film was so engrossing that repetition of many of the same basic facts didn't prove too irritating.
Much of the film was shot in Maine, where Connolly spends some of the year and where he sets most of his books, and the director found some strikingly bleak landscapes to provide visual accompaniment to the edgy extracts from the novels that were being read in voiceover.
Connolly, we were told, hasn't written a single fictional line set in Ireland and he was amusing about his wish to keep away from this country's "leather patches on tweed jackets" literary clique, whose loftily dismissive attitude to what he's doing takes the form of a wearily condescending "Come back when you've written your novel about the Famine."
Instead, he seems set on immortalising Maine and the best tribute I can pay to this film is to say that I immediately wanted to pick up one of his books and discover why his legions of admirers think he is the bee's knees.
In Power to the People (BBC2), Michael Portillo fretted about how politics in Britain had gone "so badly wrong that something radical is needed to fix it".
Meeting up with 19-year-old Natasha in Liverpool, he asked her why she felt so utterly apathetic about politics and so alienated by politicians.
"Because they all speak posh," she replied. "They all speak like you."
Down on the pitch at the start of Six Nations Rugby (RTE2), former international Scott Hastings predicted that Scotland would play a running game. "A load of horse manure," George Hook scoffed.
Then Scotland ran the ball, which forced George at half-time to "conditionally apologise" to Scott. A further and unconditional apology was due at full-time but George didn't see fit to utter it.
Over on Monday night's Against The Head (RTE2), there was less testosterone in evidence, largely because this programme is presented by Joanne Cantwell, who's unfussily authoritative and doesn't indulge in the grandstanding of Tom McGurk and his match-day mates. Instead, she asks good questions and gets good answers from her panel, which is how it should be.