Saturday 25 January 2020

Listening to the changing voice of Ireland

Brendan Balfe must have the greatest archive of radio recordings in the world -- or at least the greatest memory of radio recordings and access to RTE's archives, which is really the same thing.

For years, across different programmes like Sounds Of The Century and The Spice Of Life, he has been digging out interesting, unusual, little-heard or long-forgotten clips: comedy, music, entertainment, speeches, documentary.

How he remembers all these things -- and more to the point, how he remembers where the hell they're archived -- I do not know. But I'm grateful, all the same.

The Irish Voice (RTE Radio 1) is another such gem, an 11-part series based on "the sounds of Ireland over the last century". Voice, in this sense, is taken to mean both the actual speaking apparatus and the spirit or character of the Irish nation.

There's a huge scope and diversity of material here, drawing on radio and TV archives, ads, cinema and more and bringing together such disparate characters as George Bernard Shaw, Sean O'Casey, Count John McCormack, Roddy Doyle, U2, even Irish-Americans like Gene Kelly and Raymond Chandler.

What most fascinates me is how the voice itself has changed over the decades. A hundred or 80 years ago, for instance, people often spoke in a sort of clipped, quasi-BBC way, and had that odd quaver to their voices: think of how de Valera sounded making those iconic speeches. Nowadays, you're more likely to hear a regional accent or Americanised twang.

And speaking of which ... Summer on One (Radio 1), Kathryn Thomas' seven-week stint, had a feature this week on Irish kids crossing the Atlantic on a J1 visa. It focused on the problems they face in earning the money to stay there.

What I found odd about the whole thing -- and here's that long-awaited link to the Balfe programme -- is that most of them seemed to speak like Americans anyway, so I would have thought they'd fit right in.

It was almost weird to hear Irish people drawling on about how they tried 'rilly' hard to, like, get a job, and had done up their resumé (usen't those be called CVs?) and didn't 'pardee' too much, but it was still, like, 'rilly' hard to find work?

And they had that annoying thing where every sentence sounds like a question? Even when it isn't?

That's called "the moronic interrogative". It's hard to imagine Dev using it. Isn't it?

Irish Independent

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