Glueing gaelgeoiri to the wireless


TWENTY five years a-growing was very much the theme of Raidio na Gaeltachta's recent anniversary celebrations. The station began broadcasting on Easter Sunday, 1972 and has provided a continuous service to the Gaeltacht regions in the west of Ireland ever since.

Surprisingly, the President, Mrs Robinson's visit to the station on Friday, March 14th, to kick off the celebrations was the first official visit since its foundation by any president. She certainly said all the right things in her short commemorative speech, emphasising the importance of the language, its unique contribution to Irish life and culture and wishing it long life and happiness. It was all very standard - and sincere - revivalist talk, though at one point I had to pinch myself to remind myself it was Mary Robinson speaking and not Dev talking through her from the grave.

"Talk radio" was a concept practised by Raidio na Gaeltachta long before the term was invented in English. Indeed, the tone of the days following the President's visit was very much on talk, with many listeners being asked the question: "An bhfuil tu ag eisteacht linn on tus?" - "Have you been listening to us from the beginning?" Many openly admitted that, "Sea", they had been glued to the wirelesses for the last quarter of the century. This is the stuff fakirs of made of.

It is difficult to understand the appeal of Raidio na Gaeltachta if you don't (like me) come from the Gaeltacht or if you are not a fluent Irish speaker. Essentially, it is three local stations broadcasting nationally. If you are interested in the areas under the discussion, it will hold some fascination for you. If not, the alternative pickings can be few and far between.

This is not to question the professionalism of the station's staff. The production standards are excellent and in Ronan Mac Aodha Bhui, for example, they have a broadcaster of great talent. Many of us still have fond memories of Mac Aodha Bhui's anarchic evening programme, Ronan Cois Life. Mac Aodha Bhui's latest programme, Barrscealta (Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 12.30 a.m.), however excellent in its talk content, is hamstrung by the station's music policy which is aimed at the geriatric and the dead.

Friday, 11 a.m. to 12.30 a.m.),. however excellent in its talk content, is hamstrung by the station's music policy which is aimed at the geriatric and the dead.

Certainly, there often seems to be a perverse pleasure in ignoring TAM ratings and listeners who, though Irish speakers, do buy CDs by the Cranberries and Ash and U2 and Thin Lizzy. Such preferences do not mean they don't want to hear the occasional fiddle but, notwithstanding its reasonable pride in saving many neglected traditional musicians from the musical dustbin, the station has to make room for those who really don't know their bodhrans from their banjos. The station will soon be getting extra hours in the evening, and hopefully, the management will take a chance and look towards the new millennium - though I wouldn't bet on it.

Meanwhile, on the news front, Trathnona Inniu is a weekday news programme (5 p.m. to 6 p.m.) which is first class. There is a nice mixture of politics and general interest, with subjects varying from Mary Robinson's chances of a job in the UN to the GAA's proposals to appoint two referees for big games. The journalists asking the questions and the contributors responding were all intelligent and articulation. They all had something to say and said it well. An added bonus is the lack of any traditional music. Now you can't be bad to that.

Rounding off the anniversary celebrations, Sean Ban Breathnach was in fine voice from Parkhead (March 16th, 2.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.). I honestly thought he was going to have a heart attack as he commented on the Celtic Rangers match. Breathnach was like a runaway train throughout the first half. Unfortunately, he was derailed by Rangers scoring the only goal of the game. It was as if someone had throttled him live on air. Ferocious, frantic commentary for 45 minutes and then a gasped, horrified "Cul do Rangers". Undoubtedly, the rest of Gaelic Ireland took refuge in coarse Saxon swear words unavailable to Breathnach. Despite the result, it was a wonderful broadcasting occasion and one which, once again, showed the station's technical expertise at its best.