By Kevin O’Sullivan
‘We’re better craic when we’re poor’. Des Bishop, who arrived in Ireland just after Italia 90 and is now unofficial ambassador for the Irish language, on Ireland, now and then. Bishop appeared on RTÉ Radio 1 yesterday morning to discuss the last twenty-five years of Ireland’s history, the period since Morning Ireland began broadcasting on 5 November 1984; an era in which that institution that for many has become, to echo the words of one of a special live audience, ‘part of my morning fix every day’.
The tone of yesterday’s anniversary programme was of a return to those (insert the opposite of halcyon) days of the mid-1980s. In the first hour Richard Downes interviewed Mary McAleese, who emphasised the importance of the peace process, having a positive mental attitude and cutting her salary, and left us with the image of her running after her husband and children in the Áras switching off the lights. Diarmaid Ferriter and Noel Dorr chatted about the events of 1984, the IRA attempt to murder Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton that occurred just before Morning Ireland’s first broadcasts, and the historic processes that followed and led eventually to the Good Friday agreement. But it was economics that dominated: Avoca (who came bearing cake) and Microsoft represented the business community; Ferriter and Dorr discussed social partnership and development, and the importance of striking a balance between the various elements of Irish society to overcome differences and inequality. Not all doom, but more than a little gloom.
The atmosphere lightened a little in the second hour. Clips from the programme’s history were soundtracked by ‘How Soon Is Now’ (The Smiths), ‘Holiday’ (Madonna) and ‘Pride’ (U2) – someone has a good sense of humour. John S. Doyle’s ‘What it says in the papers’ included a round-up of the headlines from 5 November 1984, leading with a story of trouble from the trade unions. And when Doyle came to the front page of The Irish Times and the OECD’s warning that Irish standards of living were likely to remain low, it was hard to know if he had really reverted to 2009. Plus ça change, particularly when Garret FitzGerald took Brian Cowen to task over the current administration’s attitudes to taxation and the search for an escape akin to that which raised Ireland from the mire at the end of the 1980s.
Some of the choices of material were more questionable. John Treacy and former Ireland rugby international Ciarán Fitzgerald were selected to represent the entire sporting community. Yes Grand Slams, boxing and athletics victories are important, but there were few words on the two biggest sporting transformations in the last twenty-five years of Irish sport. No Ray Houghton, Packie Bonner or Roy Keane? No Tony Cascarino wondering why he was being introduced to the owner of an Irish ‘tea shop’ (Charlie Haughey – think about it)? Nothing on the transformation of the GAA? And am I the only one who thought former agricultural correspondent PJ Nolan’s comments that the only green revolution we’ve had in Ireland was the Famine and suggestion that GM foods should be adopted wholesale were a little off the mark?
Still, there was more than enough to celebrate to cover these minor bumps in the road. The Morning Ireland team saved the best until last, with the arrival of original presenters David Hanly and David Davin Power to discuss their highlights from a quarter century of radio. In his distinct voice Hanly remembered the initial opposition the programme faced in replacing Mike Murphy in the morning slot and the highlight of interviewing Seamus Heaney on the morning after the latter had been awarded the Nobel Prize, and both presenters remarked on its transforming effect on news coverage on Irish radio. But when we come to speak about Morning Ireland’s legacy, they offered one insight that will endure with this listener (and the minister who lodged an official complaint, presumably) for a long time to come: David Hanly’s favoured ‘night before’ meal – a strong garlic-infused curry – and his colleague Davin Power’s recollection of the resulting effects on a small RTÉ studio. Listening will never be the same again.
The podcast of yesterday’s show is also available from iTunes or you can listen again at the Morning Ireland website, which has lots of additional material to celebrate the last twenty-five years.