Scots and Irish


RAIDIO na Gaeltachta has tapped into a rich treasure over with Sruth na Maoile, a weekly exploration of musical and literary links between Ireland and Scotland. A co-production between R an G and its Gaelic sister across the water, the programme is presented in both Irish and Scots Gaelic.

Sunday's edition focused on Bonnie Prince Charles, the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and the songs, laments and battle hymns of the time. It moved along at a brisk pace, with a few sentences in each language to give the historical backdrop to each song. These were no mere translations, but fresh material every time that added to what had been said in the sister language a moment before.

The formula worked well: this listener was provoked into his ear a little and trying to make out what the Scotswoman was saying. Thus it was with some small sense of achievement that I deciphered the introduction to Mo Ghile Mear as meaning the song was a portrayal of Eire as a widow waiting for her Saviour (Prince Charles). Petty, I know, but it added an extra sense of adventure to a programme that was already interesting enough in its own right.

Saturday saw the last in the present series of Leagan Cainte, which ploughs another fertile furrow: the huge changes in the way the language is being spoken nowadays, especially by the young. Many of these changes can be traced to the influence of English (ta siad ag fail away le gach sort seafoid sa nGaeltacht), others have only been happening for the last 700 years.

The programme works well, even if some of the contributions seem more than a little pedantic at times then they are bound to, given the subject matter: The addition, of a younger panellist might add life to a future series, as the present crowd seem disinclined to disagree too strongly with each other.

Of all the recent scheduling changes on Raidio na Gaeltachta, putting Norita Ni Chartuir in the morning chatshow slot with Do Bharuil has been easily the most successful. Ni Chartuir's dynamic presence comes as a welcome relief, and she has developed a wry and slightly irreverent style that is refreshing to hear.

Other changes, over a longer timespan, include a noticeable improvement in the music broadcast, especially on programmes such as Ard Trathnona. In days gone by certain programmes had a tendency to overplay recordings of local notables - often fairly elderly and missing a few teeth - as they fought their way through the 13th verse of some well known sean nos song. That such recordings should have a place on R na G is undeniable, but some kind of quality and quantity control was badly needed.

The station is also helping develop contemporary music in Irish through its Realta competitions, and has recently released a compilation CD of some of the entries. Ronan Mac Aodha Bhui's return to the airwaves is also welcome, and it is to be hoped that he won't have to do his penance on Foinn agus Faisneis for too long.

That's the good news. The bad news is that programmes like Dialann Earraigh, An Saol O Dheas and Togha agus Rogha are as boring as ever. The format seems to be take a topic that might make an interesting three minute or five minute item, flog it to death over 15 or 20 minutes, throw in a bit of chat about the weather, and hope no one notices.

During a fairly sustained bout of listening over the past two weeks, these programmes seemed to blur and melt seamlessly into another on an endless wave of chit chat and the odd bit of music. Almost nothing that was memorable stood out: everything was submerged in the featureless, blanket bog of the overall context.

One example: Irial Mac Murchu's interview with a gentleman in Dungarvan about a festival in the town some weeks away. The man didn't have great Irish but tried hard, which is fair enough for a couple of minutes. But he was given plenty of scope, and far too much time, to mention every last little shindig on the festival programme. Bearing in mind that the festival was still some time away, this was stretching things a lot, and stretching his Irish a lot further than it could bear.

Surely the thing to do would be to give a brief two minute synopsis of the festival programme, throw in a quote from the gentleman, and move on quickly to something more interesting? If R na G can do the business on Sruth na Maoile, why can't it do it on other programmes?