Entertainment TV & Radio

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Why I say . . . Hooray for good old Henry

The Truth About Irish Bloodsports RTE1 Sisters of the Lodge BBC1 The Secret war on terror BBC2

John Boland

Foxhunting has always been regarded as the preserve of the landed gentry, but in Henry McKean's The Truth About Irish Bloodsports (TV3) there wasn't a posh accent to be heard. Indeed, the only person who sounded at all like a Hooray Henry was Henry himself.

Given Irish people's propensity for deference, Henry's upmarket inflections may have been crucial in persuading the participants to doff their caps to his microphone, but he has another distinctive quality as well -- alongside the plummy tone and the breathlessly golly-gosh delivery, he's an expert at putting people at their ease.

This he accomplishes by the simple, if infrequently encountered, technique of being studiously non-judgmental. Indeed, even when he feels obliged to ask a hard question he does so with an apologetic air, as if the last thing in the world he intends is to offend the sensibilities or beliefs of his interviewee.

Refused admittance to a hare-coursing meeting, he pleaded to an unseen organiser at the gate, "I'm not here to try to catch you out." That fell on unreceptive ears, but the basic sentiment being expressed gained him access to the Laois Hunt's first meet of the season, at the end of which -- after very politely asking various participants if their sport didn't entail cruelty to foxes -- he concluded that "a fiercely proud ancient tradition continues".

That wouldn't endear him to anti-bloodsports campaigners, though he also entertained the argument that foxhunting was "a barbaric sport that should be consigned to history". And as he happily cavorted with a pack of hounds, he noted that they were "friendly to me, but then again I'm not a fox and they're not trained to kill me".

Henry also bumped into an animal rights group protesting about hare-coursing in Offaly and had a highly engaging chat with a cheerful young Polish woman who didn't at all fit the stereotyped image of the scowling activist.

And at a hare-coursing meeting in Kerry, he encountered Brian Purcell, who's Bill Cullen's sidekick in The Apprentice.

Would Bill not fire him if he knew he was dabbling in hare-coursing, Henry wondered.

Not a bit of it, replied Brian, especially given the fact that Bill's paramour, Jackie Lavin, came from the same place in Kerry and anyway "she's my aunt".

"And so my mission in the countryside ends," Henry declared at the conclusion, "and I return to Dublin a little more knowledgeable of rural pursuits."

So what did this newfound knowledge entail? Simply that "there's a lack of understanding" between city and country folk. That didn't amount to a lot and, to be honest, the viewer learned just as little, but Henry made it all seem very diverting.

If the bloodsports enthusiasts in Henry's film are an endangered species, you'd never have known from their demeanour and the same held true of the women in BBC1's Sisters of the Lodge, a documentary about the various female Orange associations in the North of Ireland.

Recalling her own Protestant upbringing in the North, reporter Alison Millar wondered why these associations were "so steeped in the past", and indeed the women she interviewed went about their lodge rituals and practices as if they were in a world hermetically sealed from any contemporary influences.

Recalling July 12 scenes from her childhood 30 years earlier, she noted at a recent parade that "nothing seemed to have changed. The rhetoric was the same, the message was the same and even the faces seemed to have the same expressions".

And rules set down in 1912 were also unchanged -- including a directive that if a member of an Orange association married a Catholic, she was automatically expelled.

So what did Olive Whitten, the Most Worshipful Grand Mistress of the various associations (and to be addressed as such), think of that? "In everyday life," she conceded, "we can work with them, live next door to them, be friendly to them and all that. . ." and then her sentence tailed off into silence.

Her colleague Joan Beggs, who's County Mistress of Tyrone, agreed, noting sadly that nowadays young Protestants socialised in a "mixed crowd". In Joan's considered view, there should be "a line that you don't step over". Or to put it another way: what's the world coming to?

Certainly to no good if you were watching the concluding instalment of Peter Taylor's The Secret War on Terror (BBC2), which considered western responses to Islamic terrorism. Some major planned outrages have been foiled, but new plots are being hatched all the time and the only place in which al-Qa'ida doesn't seem to have a foothold is Antarctica. A pity the climate's so inclement there.


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