Posted tagged ‘RTE’

Television and nation building

October 18, 2011

Travelling between Ireland and Scotland recently. I was struck by one aspect of Irish life that may not, or at least not yet, be part of the Scottish experience in the same way: there is a shared conversation that accompanies Irish national life and that reaches into the community; and its fuel is television. Apart from the ongoing soul searching about the recession, national insolvency and the attempted economic comeback, the national conversation involves analysis of the current presidential campaign. This is not because the campaign has caught the public imagination; if anything, the conversation is often about how the candidates fall short. But the campaign is being fought over the airwaves, and the various live debates have been a major talking point. It helps that one or two candidates seem to be self-destructing in public, but generally the coming election is a shared experience of the national community, made possible because it is being broadcast to the country as it unfolds.

In fact, the shared experience of television is part of Ireland’s recent history. Almost everyone has some reference point, whether that is the iconic Late Late Show, or the political magazine programmes over the years such as Today Tonight and Prime Time, special series such as that on Charles Haughey, or just the Nine O’Clock news. Even as hundreds of channels became available through cable or satellite, the main national channels (and RTÉ in particular) stayed there as the focus of national conversation. This shaped the country’s identity: who can deny that Gay Byrne’s Late Late made modern Ireland what it is much more than any politician’s manifesto?

Over here in what is now my home in Scotland there is also something of a national conversation, but it is not securely anchored in the same way. Interestingly the key topic of that conversation is nation building, in the setting of the anticipated referendum on independence. But even as this topic is developed, it lacks the compelling support of national broadcasting, lacking in part because the broadcast media are part of a wider United Kingdom heritage. The BBC has a good bit of Scotland-specific programming, but is interspersed between the dominant shared British output. The same is true of STV, which is still on the whole the Scottish arm of the UK’s ITV. The iconic programmes are mostly British. Of course the national debate about Scotland’s future gets along fine anyway, but I do miss the immediate and compelling nature of the  national conversation I am used to in Ireland. I suspect that Scotland needs this also to secure its identity. Perhaps the time has come to consider a genuinely Scottish television station, to share the airwaves with the undoubtedly excellent BBC and other broadcasters.

Mary Riordan, RIP

November 21, 2010

Well actually, it’s Moira Hoey (or Deady). If you are not familiar with the cultural history of twentieth century Ireland, you may not know anything about Mary Riordan and her family. She and her husband Tom, their sons Benjy and Michael, their daughter Jude, and their daughter-inlaw Maggie lived on their farm at Leestown in County Kilkenny. Together with other local friends and acquaintances they provided entertainment and prompted national debate, every Sunday evening on RTE Television for much of the 1960s and 1970s. At a time when public debate never really ignited about such matters, they handled complex social and moral issues. And they presented the viewing public with strong characters that became public property. They also launched or maintained the careers of some key actors, some of whom (like Gabriel Byrne and Tony Doyle) became global celebrities.

The series ended in 1979, and as far as I know no re-runs ever took place, and no videos or DVDs of any of the series have ever been sold. Maybe they wouldn’t fly now. The only clip I can find, on youtube, is this one, and to be honest it is not necessarily one that would make the nature of the show clear to those unfamiliar with it. But you can see Moira Deady, a.k.a. Mary Riordan, who died last week, and whose obituary was published in yesterday’s Irish Times.

Nostalgia can distort reality, but I would love to see The Riordans again.