Not so much Reeling in the Years as Reeling in the Chairs – and it’s charming

TV review: Saoi sa Chathaoir, which begins with Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, is a welcome stress-buster

Saoi sa Chathair: Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh in the seat made by Westmeath craftsman Jason Robards

Saoi sa Chathair: Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh in the seat made by Westmeath craftsman Jason Robards

 

Forget Reeling in the Years – and say hello instead to Reeling in the Chairs. Irish television could never be accused of thinking outside the box. (It would rather lock the box from inside and hope nobody notices.) But Saoi sa Chathaoir (RTÉ One, Tuesday, 7.30pm, repeated today, RTÉ2, 8pm) quietly breaks the mould with a charming premise. Over six weeks an “iconic” personality squeezes into an artisanal seat and casts a rambling look back at their life and times.

The titular furniture is hand-made by a Westmeath craftsman, Jason Robards. Not knowing much about chairs, I cannot attest to its magnificence or lack thereof. But the GAA broadcaster Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, the subject of the first episode, seems impressed. “What a lovely chair this is,” he says in Irish. “The maker certainly knew their craft. It reminded me of the pope’s chair.”

“National treasure” is a phrase that obviously ought to be outlawed immediately. But if anyone in Ireland deserves the designation it would be Ó Muircheartaigh. Incredibly, it’s 10 years since he last covered an All-Ireland final. Which means there are adults walking around today with no grown-up memories of his effusive commentary soundtracking the Great Irish Summer.

The cliche of the Irish as natural storytellers causes many of us to roll our eyes. But you begin to understand the wisdom of the stereotype when the camera fixes on Ó Muircheartaigh

He is now 89 but spry and loquacious and with a lifetime of reminisces to share. He recalls working, wet behind the ears, as a teacher at St Laurence O’Toole’s in Dublin’s north inner city, where he encountered a young Luke Kelly.

“There was an honesty in his voice,” says Ó Muircheartaigh. “He put his heart into everything he did. Whenever I heard Luke singing I’d stop. There was something about him.”

The cliche of the Irish as natural storytellers causes many of us to sigh and roll our eyes. But you can begin to understand the wisdom of that stereotype when the camera fixes on Ó Muircheartaigh.

His thoughts flowing freely, but without ever descending into rambling, he extols the genius of the Cork hurling great Christy Ring and outlines a surprise encounter with a witty and gossipy Jack Lynch.

He rhapsodies about the Special Olympics and Riverdance. We also learn that his first All Ireland final was the 1948 football decider in which Mayo suffered an agonising defeat. The more things change the more they stay the same.

There is nothing big or clever about Saoi sa Chathaoir. It’s slow TV served up without fuss or pretension. As a stress-buster it goes down a charm. These are strange times, and much is still uncertain. But here, at last and at least, is a reason to be chairful.