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Donal Broughan

The presenter of the best programme on RTE radio died last week. And unless you were paying close attention, you might not be aware of it.

Indeed most of us had no idea what Donal Broughan looked like, and certainly had no idea where he lived -- apparently he passed away at his home in Mountrath, Co Laois -- but we knew his voice very well, as a continuity announcer but mainly as the presenter of The Weekend on One.

This was the truly brilliant music programme on RTE Radio 1, cleverly scheduled to begin absurdly early on Saturday mornings, ending just before the 8 o'clock news.

You never heard it ? Maybe that was the idea. (When I praised it in articles in this paper, I would worry that the mention might do it some harm, that if the executive class really knew just how good this programme was, they would feel they had no option but to stop it.)

Broughan provided cover for himself with his bilingual fluency and his playing of jigs and reels next to a bit of Joy Division or Pere Ubu or Iris Dement.

It wasn't just that he had abnormally fine taste in music, it was the coherence of his sensibility which was most impressive, the unique aesthetic at work, the way he could make it seem that there was a common thread between the Tulla Ceili Band and Joy Division and Iris Dement, and that he alone had spotted it.

His voice was urbane and understated, as if he was indeed just the continuity announcer filling up the dead air in the early morning, yet doing it with the most esoteric sounds -- if you woke up from a deep sleep and switched on his programme by accident, you'd know after about three seconds that you were hearing something extraordinary.

Equally understated was his part in a gig at the National Ballroom in Dublin back in the summer of 1979, an event which has been largely and mysteriously forgotten, but which might eventually be seen as a seminal moment in the story of Irish rock 'n' roll.

Broughan was one of The Defenders, a group thrown together to help a fanzine called Heat fight a libel action against Paul McGuinness, manager of U2. While it was accepted that the article was libellous, in the mood of the times it was widely felt by the cognoscenti that suing a fanzine, even a very good and professionally produced one such as Heat, was. . . well, it just wasn't rock 'n' roll, was it?

Against this, it can be argued that McGuinness was declaring he had a bottom line, that U2 were not going to take any crap from anyone. And perhaps the isolation they must have felt for a while back then, put some of that famous iron in their souls.

Certainly The Defenders, with Donal Broughan on vocals wearing a gold lame jacket, were formidable adversaries, featuring as they did Horslips greats Charles O'Connor and Eamon Carr (whose brother Jude was a founding father of Heat), and a guest appearance by Steve Rapid of the legendary Radiators, himself one of the main men at Heat.

In the weird showband setting of the National, it seemed that U2 had gone against their tribe in some fundamental way.

But the moment passed, as many Irish moments do. Paul McGuinness was able to remain on good terms with men such as Rapid, aka Steve Averill, who would design covers for U2 and who thought of the name U2 in the first place.

In fact it was such an enjoyable night all round, it seemed to transcend all the unpleasantness which brought it about. A lifetime later, every Saturday morning, Donal Broughan was still fighting the good fight.

Sunday Independent