Contributed by Fintan Hoey
Who would Ryan Tubridy, UCD history graduate, former auditor of the college’s history society, and current favourite of mammies and grannies across Ireland, have on his ideal Late Late Show panel (alive or dead)? Who else? Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy and Daniel O’Connell, with Frank Sinatra providing musical accompaniment.
Tubridy was back in UCD on Monday to give a talk to his old society about his current book project on Kennedy’s visits to Ireland and his selection was prompted by a question from the floor. Hitler is apparently Pat Kenny’s ideal guest (a puzzler at first but the idea is oddly compelling), JFK was a natural choice given Tubridy’s project, and the Liberator was chosen by Diarmaid Ferriter (who was in the audience and was asked by Tubridy to chose an appropriate Irish historical figure).
Tubridy spoke for approximately fifty minutes (including questions) in a relaxed and engaging manner on a wide range of topics. These included his fascination with American politics, the recent death and contested legacy of Edward Kennedy, and his pride in his republican ancestry (he is a grandson of Todd Andrews). Given the evident importance of his revolutionary forebears to his sense of identity, he revealed his horror at recently learning, during the filming of the episode of Who Do You Think You Are? on him, that he is also a descendent of King Edward III of England. This prompted, he disclosed, a snide text message from a friend which read, ‘Ya Plantagenet ya!’.
Tubridy spent most of his time sketching his book project for an audience mostly made up of history students (both under- and post-graduate), a smattering of post-docs and Ferriter. Recounting a visit to the National Archives in Bishop St. he displayed the novice’s excitement with the experience; for the self confessed history-nerd this was a chocolate factory and he was Charlie Bucket. Opening the folders and reading the correspondence of historical actors brought to life for him the 1960s of sharp suits and stylish women typical of the HBO series Mad Men [edit: Mad Men is an AMC series], a world, one imagines, very far from the experiences of Seán Lemass and T.K. Whitaker whose letters and memos Tubridy was reading. Besides this excitement, however, the experience impressed upon Tubridy the daunting magnitude of the task before him.
He highlighted the importance of Kennedy’s presidential visit over three days in June 1963 for the Ireland of the early 1960s, a time when visits by heads of state were by no means as commonplace as they have become, by pointing out how those who remember the visit recall it as giving a ‘splash of colour’ to a drab and dreary Ireland. Indeed it seems that the cultural impact of the visit on Ireland will be the main focus of his work since he is undecided on using the relevant White House papers housed in the Kennedy Library in Boston. I hope that he will make use of these sources and produce a more rounded work which would set Irish excitement regarding the visit in a broader perspective.
Does it really matter if he doesn’t though? Whether or not he uses these (or any other) archival materials he is an excellent communicator and will produce a popular work that will strike a chord, particularly with those who remember the Kennedy visit. Ideal, one imagines, for the Christmas market.