Iarnród Enda: Alan Partridge might have dreamed this up in a desperate pitching session

TV review: It’s hard to dislike Enda Kenny pedalling along Ireland’s old railway lines

The accusation that RTÉ never tries anything new or different is comprehensively demolished by Iarnród Enda (RTÉ One, Monday, 8.30pm). The name alone sounds like a concept Alan Partridge (had he spoken Irish) might have dreamed up during his desperate pitching sessions to the BBC executive who'd just sacked him. Yet here it is: a free-wheeling travel series in which the former taoiseach pedals along old railways lines that have been converted into bucolic greenways.

As taoiseach, Kenny often seemed on the brink of doing or saying something toe-curling. Yet during his time in high office he never managed to quite wedge his foot in his mouth. He is much the same in this gently ambling opening episode, which sees him journeying from Waterford city to Dungarvan, interviewing, mostly in fluent Irish, the characters he meets along the way.

Iarnród Enda has been compared to those BBC travel documentaries in which Michael Portillo chugs to far-flung parts of the world that the British previously conquered by bayonet. But there is little of the latter-day Dr Livingstone about Kenny as he by turns takes in Mount Congreve Gardens and a restored narrow-gauge railway in Kilmeadan.

Enda Kenny's not exactly dynamite on screen. And you no longer have the silliest lockdown haircut of anyone you know: that honour now rests with the former taoiseach

He’s not exactly dynamite on screen. Of course, the last thing a programme such as this requires is a presenter brimming with charisma. Instead Kenny cuts a low-key figure, all tweed and flapping hair. (You no longer have the silliest lockdown haircut of anyone you know: that honour now rests with Enda Kenny.)

His destination is coastal Dungarvan, where a local sports historian explains that match specials taking Waterford supporters to All-Ireland finals in the 1940s and 1950s helped open up the county to rail travel. (You can only hope the “match special” was more luxurious than the cattle truck lined with damp newspapers by which CIÉ conveyed my brother, father and I back to Cork from the 1987 All-Ireland.)

Greenways are seen as an important part of the staycation industry, though some communities would understandably rather the Government just restore the old railway lines instead. Iarnród Enda doesn’t really delve into that, though Kenny does argue that greenways can boost tourism and help communities. He makes this point after reaching Dungarvan, where the chef (and Irish Times food writer) Paul Flynn is rustling up some manner of Waterfordian hotdog for the former taoiseach.

One funny aside is that Sky lists the show as “Iarnród Edna”. Maybe it was distracted by Horace Johnson’s decision to reopen the pubs in Blighty. Either way, that’s as close as Iarnród Enda comes to controversial, which tells its own story. Not all TV needs to set the world alight. And this really is the Enda Kenny of unscripted weeknight television. Slightly beige, maybe even forgettable at moments, but effective in its way and difficult to dislike.

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