Radio: In the week that Prince Charles visits Mullaghmore, humour brings light relief from the heavy hand of history

Review: ‘Morning Ireland’, ‘Today With Sean O’Rourke’, ‘Drivetime’, ‘Marian Finucane’, ‘The Anton Savage Show’, ‘The Pat Kenny Show’

Loaded with symbolism: Prince Charles at Mullaghmore, in Co Sligo, where his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten and three others, including two children, were killed by an IRA bomb in 1979. Photograph: Arthur Edwards/AFP/Getty

Loaded with symbolism: Prince Charles at Mullaghmore, in Co Sligo, where his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten and three others, including two children, were killed by an IRA bomb in 1979. Photograph: Arthur Edwards/AFP/Getty

 

With the increasingly fractious marriage-referendum debate saturating the airwaves during the final week of campaigning, light relief arrives in the form of a once divisive figure visiting the scene of his great-uncle’s murder. Prince Charles’s visit to Mullaghmore, in Co Sligo, where Lord Mountbatten and three others (including two children) were killed by an IRA bomb in 1979, is one of those moments so loaded with symbolism that it’s treated on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) less as a State occasion than as a pilgrimage.

On Thursday RTÉ’s northern editor, Tommie Gorman, repeatedly stresses the resonance the trip has for the prince, using the adjective “personal” with immodest abandon. True, Gorman admits, “some of the most significant emotional moments were completely off camera”, so “we didn’t see how much the place meant to him”. But the mere fact of what the Morning Ireland anchor Audrey Carville, getting into the spirit of things, calls “those personal, private and deeply emotional moments” is evidence enough of the visit’s “healing” effect. Gorman believes that it has given Mullaghmore “the opportunity to remove the stain” of the Mountbatten murder.

On a flagship news show all this loaded language comes perilously close to soft-focus conjecture. But Gorman shows off his reporter’s credentials by providing well-sourced background context, noting that the prince talked about wanting to visit Sligo with the former minister for finance Ray MacSharry, a native of the county. And although Gorman is alive to the reconciliatory overtones of Charles’s handshake with Gerry Adams, he also reminds listeners that the next leg of the royal tour is in the North, where worrying political gridlock prevails. Clearly, symbolic actions have their limits.

But the respectful tone means that the radio coverage generally avoids controversy, with shows such as Morning Ireland, Today With Sean O’Rourke and Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) preferring straight interviews with local clerics about the itinerary.

Occasional flashes of humour provide rare breaks from the heavy hand of history. The Morning Ireland presenter Gavin Jennings quips that the royal historian Kate Williams has a fortuitously appropriate name for her job, and the Drivetime anchor Mary Wilson, in a rare outbreak of levity, teasingly calls the reporter Pat McGrath the “royal correspondent”.

But it will take more than a royal visit to bring closure to all those who suffered in the Troubles, judging by the discussion hosted by Áine Lawlor, sitting in on Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday & Sunday). She talks about the still unanswered questions that surround the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings with the campaigner Margaret Urwin and Aidan Shields, whose mother died in the explosions.

The main issue is the information still withheld by British authorities about the extent of security-service knowledge of and responsibility for the outrage. But Shields’s story provides the greatest impact. His mother, Maureen, went into town to surprise her husband at work when she was killed. “She was walking to let him know she was outside and, well, just never made it.” His father, a shop assistant who had only narrowly escaped the blasts, went home unaware that his wife was dead.

Shields’s low-key retelling underlines the scale of the crime as well as his personal tragedy. But the journalist Brendan Keenan, who worked in Belfast at the time, argues that the moral minefield of the peace process makes it difficult for the UK government to admit to any high-level British army collusion in the outrage. “There might be a case for not bringing the truth out,” he says, sounding uncomfortable. “If we all tell the truth, will that make things better or worse?” Lawlor’s response is nuanced but unmistakable in its thrust: “That brings me back to the Primo Levi question: ‘If not now, when?’ ”

Such instances of clarity and eloquence help make Lawlor an engaging host. She brings a news anchor’s seriousness to topical matters but also has an appealing habit of interjecting quirky personal asides, even if she sometimes gets carried away. Overall, however, Lawlor sounds as if she actually enjoys presenting the show, which gives a real lift to the slot.

A similar atmosphere prevails on The Anton Savage Show (Today FM, weekdays), where the host’s audible joy at helming three hours of daily national radio remains undimmed and, indeed, infectious. His schoolboyish enthusiasm at chatting with the celebrity chef Michel Roux is evident as he discusses his guest’s unexpected taste for beer and proficiency with a rifle. It’s only trumped by his laughter when the line goes down – twice. “They never call,” he muses, mock mournfully.

Savage sounds even more enlivened by his interview with the sometime pop-punk singer Billy Idol, whose vivid tales of Los Angeles hedonism are punctuated by a throaty cackle and unabashed profanity.

Four months into his tenure Savage seems to have hit on the right persona for the job. For all his past versatility – he can handle current affairs – he is at his best when dealing with topics that benefit from his zesty confidence and wry sensibility. And with the week that was in it, any laughs didn’t go amiss.

Moment of the Week: Pat Kenny’s Junior Cert humour
The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) looks at the apparent breakthrough in the dispute about Junior Cert reform, as the host talks to the guidance counsellor (and Irish Times contributor) Brian Mooney. Kenny cannot hide his dubious tone on the new proposals – “the teachers have won” – but reserves the kicker for the end of his phone interview. “Right, Brian, I heard a knock on the door there,” he says, correctly. “They’re coming to get you, obviously.” Just a little sinister.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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