Maeve's circle of friends out in force
RADIO REVIEW:AS A MEDIUM that essentially operates on a small-scale, subjective basis – a voice or two talking about random topics, maybe playing music as well – radio is nonetheless able to reflect the eddies of the wider public mood to a degree that eludes other forms of mass communication. Following the death of Maeve Binchy, a tangible air of sadness settled across the dial on Tuesday, as a succession of voices captured the fondness with which she was regarded.
John Murray sounded genuinely moved by the news, to the extent that he even toned down his perennially jocular manner by a couple of notches. As he opened his programme (The John Murray Show, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), he sounded uncharacteristically melancholic, at least by his own hail-fellow-well-met standards. Alluding to the frequent characterisation of Binchy as a “national treasure”, a term always jokingly dismissed by the writer herself, Murray described her passing as “very, very, very sad news”, before giving a more personal perspective.
“I felt the same way the morning we heard about the death of Garret FitzGerald. We’ve lost a very good one, inextricably linked with Ireland,” he said.
It was an odd note for the presenter to strike: as upright and principled a figure as FitzGerald was, a party politician can hardly unite the affections of the nation in the way that the late writer did. The minor tonal glitch of his introduction aside, Murray provided ample proof of Binchy’s beloved stature, as guests testified to her warmth and kindness.
Authors Cathy Kelly and Sheila O’Flanagan spoke of the role Binchy played in encouraging their efforts. They recalled how she hosted a party for other Irish female writers and generally nurtured an inclusive spirit among the women who followed her example as a bestselling novelist. “A candle doesn’t lose its own light by lighting another candle,” said Kelly of Binchy’s generosity: it was testament to the prevailing ambience that such greeting- card wisdom struck a poignant chord.
O’Flanagan and Kelly also highlighted their late friend’s talent as a writer, feeling that her “genius” was often overlooked. It was a notion echoed by Dermot Bolger, whose enthusiasm for Binchy was at odds with his image as a highbrow novelist.
Perhaps the most telling moment on the show came courtesy of Gay Byrne.“I was filled with sadness and bereavement and loss,” he said. “She was a very favourite person of mine, and I of hers.”
Notwithstanding the strange need to emphasise the reciprocal nature of their bond, Byrne underlined the emotion surrounding his friend’s passing. It was one thing for the President and the Taoiseach to pay tribute, but quite another for Gaybo to come on air and soothe the country’s sorrow.
Henry McKean, the roving reporter on Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays), captured the wider sense of sadness when he interviewed people in Binchy’s hometown of Dalkey. “I feel like it’s a personal loss,” said one woman, fighting back the tears to such an extent that the habitually courteous McKean was discomfited: “I’m sorry, madam.”