Maeve's circle of friends out in force

Sat, Aug 4, 2012, 01:00

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.”

Another woman was less misty-eyed. “She had such an amazing way with words. And she was so nosy.”

It was a wry summation of a woman whose self-deprecating manner and stoicism in the face of arthritic pain was matched by her ear for people’s stories. Ireland may pride itself for its literary heritage, but Binchy had a place in the nation’s heart that few writers can hope to match, as the diverse testimony on Tuesday’s radio eloquently confirmed.

The expressions of admiration made on behalf of Seán Quinn at a Co Cavan rally last weekend were less universally welcomed, if George Hook’s incensed reaction was anything to go by. The presenter opened Monday’s edition of The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays) in bullish mood, as he witheringly parsed the speeches given in support of the beleaguered businessman. Quinn’s assertion that “we always paid our way” was met by Hook’s rebuttal that “of course he didn’t always pay his way, that’s why he owes all this money”.

The verdict on Fr Brian D’Arcy’s opinion that the “greedy finger” of Anglo Irish Bank, now the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, had brought down Quinn was even more contemptuous. “Populist bulls**t from a priest,” Hook growled, though he later regretted his frankness.

After a listener complained about the use of such ripe language at an early hour, he clarified his statement. “I should have said it was populist nonsense.”

Intemperate opinions are Hook’s stock in trade, to the point of regular self-parody. But he sounded genuinely angry about the matter, even if he billed his debate with Irish Times columnist, and Quinn supporter, John Waters with a prize fighter’s braggadocio: “I’m looking forward to that scrap.” (It was less exciting than the build-up.)

Hook’s ire continued into the week, fanned by the increased estimates for losses incurred by Quinn’s insurance business. Totting up the potential cost of Quinn’s ventures to the taxpayer at €5 billion, he heaped further scorn on “the so-called greatest businessman in the history of the State”: “How can one family cost us the bones of two whole years of austerity?” he asked.

Hook’s sturm und drang aside, it seemed a fair question. Subjective as ever, his diatribes will not have found favour with those who see Quinn as a wronged party. But he spoke for many.


radioreview@irishtimes.com

Radio moment of the week

Normally a model of clear elucidation, the newsreader Brian Jennings committed a rare but memorable slip of the tongue on Wednesday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Reading an item about the death of Gore Vidal, Jennings said the American author was renowned for, among other things, his “literacy achievements”. It was reassuring to learn that one of the most famous writers of his time had mastered the ability to read.

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