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Death becomes the Irish

American comic Rich Hall doesn't live in Ireland but he has spent enough time here to recognise a trademark attribute of Irish life: our pre-occupation with death. For years, his stand-up featured an amusing rumination about the distinctive quirks of the Irish death notice, especially the curiously common claim that the deceased died both "peacefully" and "suddenly".

Hall's riff about the improbability of dying in a manner that was both abrupt and tranquil culminated in a gag about the frequency with which Irish people are evidently knocked down and killed by trucks carrying camomile tea.

Death notices are indeed a source of endless fascination in this country - and nowhere is their popularity more apparent than on local radio.

It was only right, therefore, that the inimitable Paul Claffey was among the latest batch of broadcasters inducted into Irish Radio's Hall of Fame.

Claffey, the founder of MidWest Radio, has many strings to his bow but is widely credited as the originator of radio death notices as we know them today.

Would-be sophisticates who scoff at the phenomenon are missing a crucial point.

The sombre litanies may sound hokey but their very existence actually demonstrates a more grown-up approach to the facts of life than is usually apparent elsewhere in the media, and particularly on national television.

TV is a profoundly ghoulish medium - relentlessly obsessed with murders, executions and autopsies - but it also promotes a sanitised and euphemistic perception of death itself.

Death is humanity's oldest adversary but our capacity for talking about it remains primitive. 'News' has been defined as something somebody doesn't want you to know but it can also be defined as something you would rather forget.

If nothing else, the radio death notice provides listeners with an opportunity to contemplate their own mortality, suddenly and peacefully.

Indo Review