This first week of August is always a slow one for radio, beating even the days after Christmas. So the interest is not so much in tuning into the many holiday stand-in presenters – RTÉ in particular has a strong subs' bench, each seamlessly taking the baton from the regular presenter – as in seeking out programmes that replace the regular offering.
The national broadcaster appears prepared to try (slightly) different things at the weekend, though oddly not in the weekday slots, where there's so much potential to give the general chat formula a rest and, for example (pick your own interests here), broadcast a nature programme in the Ryan Tubridy slot or a books programme until Ray D'Arcy comes back.
Second Captains (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) return to RTÉ with their perfectly formed radio programme – skills honed by the independent production company's unparalleled Irish podcasting success story. In each episode Eoin McDevitt talks to a guest about the ways sport has affected them, good and bad. The free-flowing conversation always spins out to much more, before the guest reveals their sporting achievements or disasters as they vie for the title of Greatest Non-Sportsperson Sportsperson.
Dave Balfe talks passionately about trying to capture the lives of working-class Dublin northsiders in his music, the lack of mental-health services, male friendship, and the challenge of keeping those who have died alive in the memory
In the most recent edition McDevitt says the show will be a little different: the guest is the musician Dave Balfe, who performs under the name For Those I Love. He's a less well-known figure than is typical for the series. Balfe talks about appearing on Jools Holland's TV show, a childhood dream, and the album he wrote to memorialise his best friend, Paul Curran, who died by suicide in 2018.
McDevitt gives his guest space, and the Dubliner talks passionately – and at times lyrically – about trying to capture the lives of working-class Dublin northsiders in his music, the lack of mental-health services, male friendship, and the challenge of keeping those who have died alive in the memory. Also, why football matters, or at least why, for Balfe, following Shelbourne FC matters – “the glory, the pain, it’s all there” – and why Tolka Park is “holy ground”.
The programme is cut for Olympics coverage, but the full interview is on the RTÉ podcast stream and worth listening to. Incidentally, Balfe is now second on the non-sportsperson sportsperson leaderboard after Richard Ford, edging past Bonnie Greer. But after all that has gone before, this moment feels incidental; by the time they get to that segment – usually a light-hearted bit of blokey fun – it doesn't seem so important.
Lorna Siggins, the documentarymaker (and former Irish Times journalist), makes a good decision to let us hear from Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn at the start of the perfectly named Miracle in Galway Bay, a superbly vivid – and tense – telling of their story in the Documentary on One slot (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday). Because at least listeners going through that night adrift at sea with the young women as they cling to their paddleboards, with the rain so heavy it hurts, and the lightning fierce, know they are alive.
The paddleboarding cousins Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn, then aged 23 and 17, wore only bikinis and life jackets during their ordeal, and Miracle in Galway Bay captures the real danger they were in on that August night a year ago
Still, even knowing that, it is hard not to tear up at the moment the pair are spotted after more than 15 hours on the boards, having drifted 33km from the beach, and picked up by the everyday heroes Patrick and Morgan Oliver, father-and-son fishermen.
The cousins, then aged 23 and 17, wore only bikinis and life jackets during their ordeal, and the documentary captures the real danger the young women were in on that August night a year ago. Recordings from the Irish Coast Guard of the search for the pair, together with a subtle musical score, add to the drama, and interviews with RNLI members and fishermen build a vivid picture of the desperate search.
As well as the efforts by the rescue services, there is a powerful sense of a seafaring community coming together through the night to look for the pair, from Galway and Clare fishing vessels to kayakers and sailors, to the Aran Islands ferries from Doolin and Rossaveal. All the while, the girls' parents search the shoreline. Feeney and Glynn are able to articulate their experience with moving clarity.
There is an awareness, threaded lightly through the documentary, which itself never falls into the easy trap of sensationalism, that it could all have ended very differently. So many lose their lives in the sea. When the coast guards collect the young women, Feeney and Glynn’s first reaction is to apologise for the fuss, only for it to be brushed off with a firm, “No, we never get days like this.”
Another short summer series returning to fill the holiday gap is Reignite (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday), a programme presented by Áine Kerr that's hard to categorise. It's about business, though broader than balance sheets and start-up finance, presenting a range of issues and workplace experiences from the personal to the professional.
Prof Luke O'Neill says of the young people queuing for a Covid-19 jab at the weekend, 'I haven't stopped smiling; that's amazing. We can be very proud of the young people. They want their lives back, that's the bottom line'
In one item Kerr interviews Dr Jud Brewer, an American psychiatrist, neuroscientist and author of Unwinding Anxiety: Train Your Brain to Heal Your Mind. And, although the word anxiety is now heard over the airwaves like never before, this is the first time I've heard a definition being asked for.
“What is anxiety?” Kerr asks plainly. “There’s a simple definition,” answers Brewer. “It’s a feeling of nervousness or worry or unease about an imminent event with uncertain outcomes.”
We worry to manage anxiety, he explains, and a “habit loop” is formed. It’s about breaking that loop, of coming to understand worrying is pointless. He gives the example of worrying about your family’s health in these Covid times as being pointless as it won’t keep them safe.
When worrying, he advises, we can shift to ask ourselves “What am I getting from this?” and so we can see that worrying is not solving the problem. The work is “to calm myself for one moment at a time”. Sound advice.
Moment of the Week: Take a queue
Anton Savage, sitting in on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays), welcomes "back by popular demand" Prof Luke O'Neill – he really is the breakthrough star of the pandemic – to talk about vaccines. Of the young people queuing for a Covid-19 jab at the weekend, the professor says: "I haven't stopped smiling; that's amazing. We can be very proud of the young people. They want their lives back, that's the bottom line."
Throughout, he balances informed optimism with caution, and even though it’s August he gets a rare pass for mentioning the – whisper it – festive season: “I would predict a pretty normal Christmas, the way things are going.”