Wednesday 16 October 2019

Patricia Casey: 'Why history and Lyric FM form an unlikely cultural couple'

Ploughing on: Marty Whelan with Neven Maguire on ‘Marty in the Morning’ in the RTÉ stand of the National Ploughing Championships in Screggan, Co Offaly. Photo: Kinlan Photography
Ploughing on: Marty Whelan with Neven Maguire on ‘Marty in the Morning’ in the RTÉ stand of the National Ploughing Championships in Screggan, Co Offaly. Photo: Kinlan Photography

Patricia Casey

There are debates taking place in Ireland, almost out of sight and certainly muted, as if behind the scenes. The first question relates to the value of history in our schools' curriculum and the Government has shilly-shallied on whether it should be reinstated as a core subject for the Junior Cert curriculum or remain optional. History is out one day, in the next.

Without historical literacy, will future generations not be impoverished in their understanding of our own heritage and that of Europe? For a country that is so pro-Europe, it is difficult to understand the hesitancy about promoting knowledge of our European and wider origins.

Perhaps the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has decided in its wisdom that a new course, focusing on the here and now, atomised from our past, outweighs any insights that history might illuminate into our struggles as a nation, our national boundaries, the mistakes of the past, and the tragedies of war and ideology.

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The plan is to replace the history course by one on wellbeing. What could be more symbolic of our age than a course that focuses on the here and now and personal autonomy at the expense of understanding where we are coming from and whither are we going as a nation? It is impossible to imagine a wellbeing course having the power to stimulate creativity or the imagination, in the way that history can tap into our aspirations. And what raconteur in a wellbeing project could compare to David Starkey telling the history story?

The second debate is the proposal to possibly shut down our only classical music and arts station, Lyric FM. This is prompted by the dire financial state of RTÉ. Yet Lyric FM is run on a shoestring, just short of 2pc of the total RTÉ budget with a not insubstantial listenership of around 273,000 per week, or around 6pc of the population. Other stations cost vastly more and the content of RTÉ 2, for example, is replicated by other stations that attract a similar audience.

Lyric is an escapist station that removes us from endless politics, at home and abroad. The joy of turning on Lyric on the journey home from work with ne'er a mention of B****t is one good reason for its existence.

But escapism is decidedly not Lyric's main asset, as Toner Quinn, in online music magazine 'The Journal of Music', points out. It is the only arts channel on these islands with "a huge remit".

It has to cater for the diversity that exists in the arts in general and music in particular. It does not play classical music all day, but is adhering to its function as a public broadcaster. So it has jazz, new music, roots music, light music and indeed other art forms. It creates a community for those interested in the arts, with its promotion of local concerts, exhibitions, talks and so on.

With very limited advertising revenue and little obvious promotion by the main RTÉ stations, it has survived for 20 years, an anniversary marked at the National Concert Hall recently. It has some delightful programmes and all its presenters are superb, from the light and breezy 'Marty in the Morning' to 'The Full Score' hosted by Liz Nolan, and John Kelly's 'Mystery Train' after 7pm.

And even insomniacs cannot but be helped by the therapeutic tones of 'Lyric Through the Night'.

Were it to be shut down, where could we turn for our cultural stimulation and education? Clearly we would have to listen to Britain's BBC Radio 3 or Classic FM, a station that is broadly similar to Lyric. But not being local, we would be deprived of the benefit of Irish broadcasters, artists, musicians and composers.

There is also a great and palpable affection for Lyric. It has had regular petitions over the years when various changes were made. I recall the large number of signatories to the appeal that followed the sudden announcement in 2016 that Tim Thurston's Sunday morning programme 'Gloria' was being replaced.

Beautiful music is therapeutic and Irish audiences deserve this from our native station. We would be the poorer culturally without it and there is nothing to replace its content. Yet, culture is a soft target because it is considered elitist and snobbish, and of course not populist enough.

Concerning history, President Michael D Higgins had this to say: "To be without historical training, the careful and necessary capability to filter and critically interpret a variety of sources is to leave citizens desperately ill-equipped to confront a world in which information is increasingly disseminated without historical perspective or even regard for the truth."

Similar sentiments could be expressed regarding music. Do we want to be impoverished by the loss of our only cultural radio channel that brings various art forms together? Do we want to shed an icon in broadcasting that provides cultural programming to all socio-economic, age and ethnic groups? Do we not want our communities and our children to be both entertained and uplifted by the duende Lyric brings?

Ireland has a cultural heritage with local and European ties, depicted in music, literary, artistic and historical works that are interwoven. We must not lose sight of this by closing our culture-based radio station and removing history as a core subject from our educational system. Cultural and historical ignorance befits nobody.

  • Patricia Casey is consultant psychiatrist in the Mater Hospital and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, UCD

Irish Independent

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