Don't have a cow, man: Shane Coleman's festive fare causes uproar

Newstalk hosts discuss Christmas menus while Mary Wilson uncovers the facts of eviction

The new controversialist: Shane Coleman. Photograph: Newstalk

The new controversialist: Shane Coleman. Photograph: Newstalk

 

As he settles into his on-air partnership with new co-presenter Kieran Cuddihy on Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays), Shane Coleman has been recalibrating his role. While he was cast as the voice of reason alongside previous co-host Paul Williams, who never missed the chance to sound off contentious opinions, Coleman has now donned the mantle of resident controversialist. But whereas Williams would go for the low-hanging fruit by merrily ruffling liberal sensibilities, the newly provocative Coleman opts for a more taboo route, breaking a Christmas tradition that has remained sacrosanct even in secular Irish society.

On Monday, as the presenters discuss their plans for Christmas dinner, Coleman makes a startling admission. “We’re not getting a turkey this year, we’re going for roast beef,” he says, sounding sheepish, or perhaps bovine. As Cuddihy assumes the straight man role with ease - “You’re what?” – Coleman succinctly lays out the reasons for his choice: “Turkey’s crap.” As befits the panto season, Cuddihy cheerfully slags off his partner – “You’ll be having battered sausage and chips next year” - while playing to the audience: “If Shane disgusts you, let me know.”

It’s all great fun, so much so that the topic carries over to Tuesday, when food writer Ross Golden-Bannon discusses seasonal culinary customs. He gives a diverting overview of how cherished festive traditions arose, while also suggesting that Coleman’s preference for beef is indeed “kind of blasphemous”. Golden-Bannon explains that as red meat was the “Viagra of medieval times”, fish, poultry and pork were viewed as “less lustful” choices for such a feast day.

Coleman is unrepentant, however: “I’m a bit of a trailblazer.” Cuddihy is unsure. “Irishman eats beef, breaks mould,” he shoots back. Everyone is having such a rare old time that, as ever with Newstalk Breakfast, it’s easy to forget that this is a news programme. The two presenters can do the trimmings well, but where’s the beef? 

Such items establish the factual context of the story while airing the ambiguous attitudes surrounding it. But being Newstalk, the programme also serves up a big side helping of opinion.

When it comes to the serious stuff, such as the vigilante attack on private security men who had repossessed a family farm in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, the pair acquit themselves well. On Monday, Coleman hears from local newspaper editor Emmet Corcoran, who explains that people were “viscerally annoyed” by the heavy-handedness of the original eviction, carried out by security staff from the north, leading to ambivalence about the incident. “There’s nobody condoning it, but nobody’s overly surprised,” Corcoran says. Tuesday has Cuddihy uncovering the legal technicalities of repossessions, while on Wednesday, after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s jibes at Sinn Féin on the issue, Coleman has a vigorous but balanced interview with the party’s TD, Pearse Doherty.

Such items establish the factual context of the story while airing the ambiguous attitudes surrounding it. But being Newstalk, the programme also serves up a big side helping of opinion. Coleman dismisses the idea that all repossessions should cease as “a lot of big mouths talking nonsense,” as it would lead to higher mortgage repayments. Cuddihy, on the other hand, questions the wisdom of evictions being carried out by “heavies from outside the jurisdiction”. As they forge their fledgling partnership, the two presenters may get exercised over poultry, but at least they don’t duck meatier topics.

For those seeking really comprehensive coverage of the Strokestown affair, the destination has to be Drivetime

That said, for those seeking really comprehensive coverage of the Strokestown affair, the destination has to be Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). On Monday, reporter John Cooke conducts a telling vox pop with local residents, who speak of resentment towards the banks: for one (English-accented) respondent, the attack represents a “fightback”. Meanwhile, presenter Mary Wilson interviews John Fitzpatrick, the former County Sheriff for Dublin, who provides an illuminating insight into what evictions actually entail.

Initially, Fitzpatrick describes the task with bracing brevity. Having notified the people involved, he says, he would “just go in and do it”. This turn of phrase doesn’t satisfy Wilson. “And what does going in and doing it involve?” she asks, briskly inquisitive as ever. Thus upbraided, her guest says how he tried not to call in security staff or the gardaí, preferring negotiation to confrontation.

Perhaps the most startling revelation involves the legal terminology surrounding eviction, as Fitzpatrick outlines how the law allows the sheriff to “raise a posse”. “That’s extraordinary language,” says Wilson, her unflappability briefly disturbed. But it also highlights the often centuries-old age of the laws governing repossession and, by implication, how Irish legislators have avoided dealing with such a historically charged subject.

All the while, of course, evictions happen. Fitzpatrick concedes that on the occasions when talking failed, he had to call in back-up and physically remove people from their homes. “That was one part of the job I didn’t like, to evict someone with children, with tears. That’s horrific.”

It’s hard to feel much cheer after that, but Wilson gets in the holiday spirit with Tuesday’s item on Christmas food. Reporter Grainne McPolin talks to suppliers, retailers and caterers across the country to discover what people are eating on the big day. The answer, unsurprisingly enough, is turkey.

McPolin hears from Leitrim farmer Rosemary, who has been raising the birds since the 1950s, enthusing about the succulence of the white turkey she helped introduce into Ireland. Tralee food shop owner Muhammad describes the high demand for halal turkey, killed in “the proper Muslim way”, despite Christmas being a Christian festival. “We are here in Ireland so we have to follow the customs,” he says.

Hospital catering chief Mary, meanwhile, is upbeat at the prospect of working on Christmas Day for the twentieth year in a row. “It’s a pleasure, there’s a beautiful atmosphere,” she says, describing how the staff lay on special events and turkey dinners (of the halal variety) for the patients. “As long as people are happy at the end of the day, that’s all we can do,” says Mary. “A lot of them would prefer to be at home, that’s why we do our best for them.”

It’s a fitting way for McPolin’s brief but quietly uplifting report to end. After all, where you spend Christmas matters far more than what you eat.

Radio Moment of the Week: Divided by a common language

Ciara Kelly tackles a tricky topic on Monday’s Lunchtime Live (Newstalk, weekdays). “Forget Brexit, we get more reaction to bad grammar than anything else,” Kelly says, as she discusses English language rules with author Caroline Taggart. Sure enough, people are exercised, none more so than Scottish caller Hugh, who complains about American slang. “Stop it, we’re British, we use the English language, we don’t use Americanisms,” says Hugh, who adds, “I just wish people in Britain, or Ireland or wherever, would be more proud of the language.” Never mind bad grammar: with geography like that, it’s no wonder Ireland has proved a problem for Brexit.

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