From the brink of diaspora


AS cultural trends go, you'd have to call it a positive one. The current media focus on the plight of the returned emigrant" implies, at least, rich pickings for the researcher who goes out in search of specimens.

Those of us who have been living through it may have trouble recognising evidence of the economic growth of recent years, but the Irish people who have been lured back from the brink of diaspora have no doubts. To hear some of them on Coming Home (RTE Radio 1, Thursday), it seems the country has changed beyond recognition in just five or six years.

Then again, some of the interviewees intercut into this documentary just came back to Ireland to hear the birds singing, or stand upon her western shore. Some are disturbed by how little has changed. One reflects on what it means to be Anglo Irish in England and Ireland. Another is proud of her American accent.

A returned development worker worries about the air of sanctity around him. A young man complains that people here are less interested in the emigrant experience in Britain than they are in the tales of those back from the States. At least one woman interviewed didn't even grow up here.

I lost count of the voices, and in the cacophony I lost interest in their stories. Or, more accurately, I lost track of them - most of them sounded interesting enough to have merited something much more than this jumbled treatment. There you'd be, listening to someone musing about shifting identities, then suddenly someone else would start waffling about regional accents.

On balance, they seemed to celebrate their return from exile. The prospect doesn't seem to have tempted Samuel Beckett, but fine programmes from the archives over the past weeks on Bowman: Saturday Eight Thirty (RTE Radio 1, Saturday) brought us rich memories of the misunderstood writer's frequent contacts with Dublin and his unerringly kind personality. Fascinating listening.

Eamonn Dunphy, on the other hand, wouldn't live anywhere else in the world. As he told us on Rhythm Of Life (RTE Radio 1, Friday), he can live a rich intellectual life right here in Dublin - even though that richness is net reflected in Official Ireland. Funny the way when he named his richly intellectual friend's (Paul McGuinness, Noel Pearson, etc) - all are people who feature prominently in Irish public life.

The highlight of Dunphy's musical selection on the programme was Elton John's dirge for Marilyn Monroe, Candle In The Wind - "Your candle burned out long before your legend ever did". Was this Eamonn's tribute to the status of Wimbledon's move to Dublin?

The Sunday Show bunfight his week (RTE Radio 1) was about Michael Collins (God help us all when the film opens here), with the usual disproportionate heat/light ratio. Paul Bew and Maureen Gaffney focused on the film's apparently self evident implications for the present conflict.

Like most of his guests on the show (Bew was an exception), I must preface my comments with "While I haven't actually seen the film yet .. ." However, I have heard something worth throwing into the discussion.

in Eoghan Harris's robust article amassed evidence that Neil Jordan has a contemyorary agenda, with Michael Collins that its not among the Harris clues is a note in Jordan's "Film Diary about "things missing ... a funeral, a hunger strike".

Eoghan Harris, of all people, hardly needs to be told about funerals and hunger strikes in 1920 - events in Cork and Brixton that were as central to the War of Independence as the H Blocks are to the more recent Troubles.

The most prominent hunger striker, the city's Lord Mayor, Terence MacSwiney, is the subject of Annie Diary's (Cork Campus Radio, Tuesday). This drama belies its campus origins it's a truly remarkable adaptation of his sister's account of MacSwiney's last eight days of life.

Eoin Brady's production - recorded in Cork jail - is no hagiography; in MacSwiney's delirium we hear his complex motives, which range from an almost obscene idealism to a literally consuming guilt about having obeyed the countermanding order in 1916. Away from the deathbed, rather stiffly acted exchanges tell a (nonetheless) fascinating, gruesome story, about force feeding and the political/medical tyranny in Brixton Prison and the British Home Office that kept Annie and Maire from their brother's side.

It's a complex, compelling story. Who can sensibly argue that it shouldn't be told?