As Ireland loses its head, the reliably dotty Mary O’Rourke is an oasis of calm
‘How lovely to die on a rug in the garden with the sun beaming down,’ she tells Ray D’Arcy
Ray D’Arcy’s interview with Mary O’Rourke brought a light touch to a tense week
The movement of people is restricted, the gardaí are shutting off streets, while confusion and scepticism grow about official measures. Never mind the ongoing coronavirus crisis, this is the hellish scenario that listeners have to contemplate as fresh details emerge about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s visit to Ireland.
It’s bad enough that AA Roadwatch bulletins on all stations convey the news that motorists in Dublin face delays due to the royal motorcade. But then the more ominous rumblings start, this time about the official itinerary for the couple known by the commoner-but-still-posh handle of “the Cambridges”. Matt Cooper, fretting that the royal pair may view their trip as “awful old boring nonsense”, is particularly perplexed by the revelation that they are visiting a leading Dublin tourist attraction devoted to a certain brand of stout. “Does it always have to be the Guinness Storehouse?” Cooper asks in exasperation on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays). “That any time we get a foreign dignitary that we have to bring them on the piss?”
It’s a question that also arises on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), as guest host Damien O’Reilly hears youth campaigner Ruairí McKiernan wonder if the alcohol-themed venue plays up negative Irish stereotypes. “What type of Ireland do we want to portray to the world?” McKiernan asks. An answer, of sorts, comes from another caller, a straight-talking Dubliner called Frank. “Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, Ireland is known as a nation of garglers,” he says, sounding like he might like it a little bit.
Frank concedes that alcohol can cause health and social problems, but thinks that it’s intimately tied up with that great trope of Irish hospitality, and indeed culture, “having the craic”. He remarks on the many tourists who visit Ireland for St Patrick’s Day: “They don’t come here to stand in the rain to watch a poncey parade go by, they come to go to the pubs.”
It’s an uncomfortable point, for all that we still convince ourselves otherwise with updated variations on the land of saints and scholars cliche. It’s also hilarious radio, which is possibly why O’Reilly largely absents himself from the conversation.
Much like the royal visit itself, such exchanges provide some levity as the sombre topic of Covid-19 continues to command airtime. On Wednesday, O’Reilly speaks to Teresa, a mother upset that her local secondary school has allowed a pupil to return despite having been on holiday in northern Italy. Teresa says that the school cites HSE advice to support its decision, but thinks that it’s too much of a risk, a sentiment apparently shared by other parents.
O’Reilly sympathises, to a point. But he’s more interested in why his caller trusts medical expertise for information on the virus’s contagion period, but not when it comes to advising the school. “With all due respect, a lot of this is based on ifs and buts, and little bit of hearsay,” the presenter says.
Teresa, for her part, says that she doesn’t agree with the medical advice: “I’m entitled to my opinion.” Which brings to mind the late US Senator Daniel Moynihan’s phrase about people being entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.
At any rate, as Teresa continues to express her fears in strong terms – “I felt I was violated sending my children into a potentially dangerous situation,” she says of the school – interactions between guest and host grow tetchier. Eventually, O’Reilly cracks. “Will you stop picking up on every little thing?” he snaps, after his guest cuts across him. He quickly assures her that he knows she’s just being protective of her children, but his momentary loss of cool is indicative of how charged the subject has become. One can only imagine how frayed tempers may get if significant numbers of people actually get sick.
If Ray D’Arcy is to be believed, such an eventuality could have a serious impact on radio output, if Montrose studios are “compromised” by Covid-19. “I can tell you now, I probably shouldn’t, but there’ll be people broadcasting from all over the country,” he says. This sounds like a rather drastic way to go about decentralisation, though when D’Arcy adds he’ll be broadcasting from his spare room, one suspects he may not have revealed the full plan. Still, his darkly humorous take on coronavirus makes a change from the earnestly foreboding tone elsewhere.
Not that The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) can be accused of excessive thematic heft. On Wednesday, prompted by the week’s other big story, he interviews the proprietor of a Co Kildare convenience store visited by Prince William and Kate Middleton. It’s cheerful in tone, but even by the lightweight standards of royal stories this feels inconsequential.
Still, there are bright spots, in the form of the reliably dotty Mary O’Rourke. Promoting her online RTÉ Player show Agony OAPs, the former Fianna Fáil minister dispenses candid political wisdom (the party would be “annihilated” in a new election, she thinks) and pithy phrases, such as “coronavirus is the new Brexit”.
Things get odder after D’Arcy asks if his guest prefers cats or dogs. O’Rourke fondly recalls her pet Basset Hound, Jason, in particular the manner of his passing: “How lovely to die on a rug in the back garden with the sun beaming down.” Talk then turns to mortality, with O’Rourke contemplating her own eventual exit. “I’d like to go with no fuss,” she says, without any self-pity. “I just want to die, like Jason did in the back garden.” “Now there’s a lovely thought,” says D’Arcy, sounding as sincere as wry.
It’s daffy and poignant all at once. While others are losing their heads, D’Arcy and O’Rourke provide an unlikely oasis of offbeat calm.
Radio Moment of the Week: Marty’s Montrose mirth
It may be many things – giddy, surreal, flippant – but Marty in the Morning (Lyric, weekdays) isn’t normally a hotbed of dissent. But when Marty Whelan reads Monday’s letter from Hugo, his fictional correspondent chronicling the activities of an eccentric Anglo-Irish family, there’s a distinctly subversive message aimed at Whelan’s RTÉ employers. Hugo recounts that Myrtle, the dotty family matriarch, wishes to apply as Head of RTÉ Radio. “I’d be forming the national consensus, and encouraging upcoming but unthreatening talent,” Whelan says, chuckling as he reads the lines. It’s an unmistakable crack at the national broadcaster, which has left Lyric’s future uncertain. Whelan then reads a remark from another of Hugo’s family, Heather, that she’d be happy “tidying the studio and polishing the knobs”. Say what? In a suitably amused fashion, Whelan reads the reply: “There’s no scarcity of talent like that at Montrose.” What can he possibly mean?