Hanly makes Morning Ireland's day

Fri, Nov 6, 2009, 00:00

RTÉ’s flagship morning show celebrated a 25-year journey from the era of David Hanly to Twitter, writes ROSITA BOLAND

MORNING IRELANDbroadcasts live to 461,000 people every morning, but it was the 100 listeners who turned up in person to watch the special anniversary show yesterday who had the presenters and crew uncharacteristically nervous.

“People wake up to us, and we’re part of the fabric of their lives,” presenter Cathal Mac Coille explained. “We’re just not used to seeing them.”

To mark their 25th year on air, the State’s most listened-to show went out in front of a live studio audience for the first time. Guests included Taoiseach Brian Cowen, historian Diarmaid Ferriter, comedian Des Bishop, novelist Cathy Kelly and athlete John Treacy.

From 6am, the audience started arriving, bleary eyed from early starts, but curious to get a behind-the-scenes look at the show they start their day with.

“I want to put a face to the names I listen to every morning,” said Peter Heffernan, who’d come in from Skerries. “Today is a little bit of history.”

Marjorie Campion (81) from Blanchardstown declared that she’d “been listening to the show ever since it started in 1984”.

Megan Wilson (15), a student at Muckross College, Donnybrook, Dublin, wasn’t even born when Morning Irelandfirst went on air. “I’ve never got up this early before,” she confessed, looking horrified to be awake. However, her mother does get up early, as she’s presenter Áine Lawlor. “When I wake up, I hate it,” Lawlor admitted, “but once I’m in here, I love it.”

Yesterday, the show temporarily moved into Studio 1 to facilitate its audience, the large space usually used by the RTÉ concert orchestra. It was only partially cleared out, and when the audience weren’t scrutinising the presenters, they were looking at the cellos, harps and double basses lined up around the studio walls.

Morning Irelandstarted as a one-hour show from 8am; in 1997 it began airing at 7.30am, and it’s been going out at 7am since 2001. The surprise is how low-tech it all looks. A round table, covered with an unironed blue tablecloth, a few microphones and headphones, presenters and newsreader Brian Jennings scribbling notes as guests speak: the well-rehearsed choreography of Morning Ireland’s team looks deceptively simple.

“Unions warn of a revolt over pay . . . A black hole has been discovered in the Irish economy.” John S. Doyle read headlines from the papers 25 years ago, many of which had an uncomfortably contemporary resonance.

In a prerecorded interview, President Mary McAleese promised a 12.5 per cent cut in the Áras household budget. “It’s nip and tuck everywhere,” she said.

“I didn’t think I’d be doing make-up for a radio show,” the Taoiseach confided, before a conversation about the economy with Garret FitzGerald, his counterpart in 1984.

“The make-up was supplied by RTÉ, in case anyone was wondering,” quipped Mac Coille.

Mr Cowen may be the country’s Taoiseach, but it was former presenter David Hanly who brought audience, presenters and crew alike to their feet with a standing ovation when he walked carefully into the studio shortly before the end of the show. Along with David Davin-Power, who was also there yesterday, he presented the first show.

The sound of Hanly’s familiar gruff voice, telling listeners his favourite interview on Morning Irelandhad been with Seamus Heaney when he won the Nobel prize, raised a flurry of nostalgic Twitters from listeners. “David Hanly is a legend,” tweeted @dervlam. “Would have liked a lot more of David Hanly. Like years,” read @eolai. “His voice = sounds of childhood (and teenage) mornings,” tweeted @urchinette.

Not that Hanly will be reading these comments. “I’ve heard of the name, but I don’t know what Twitter is,” he confessed sheepishly after the show.