Radio: Kathleen Chada’s unforgettable testimony as she deals with the unspeakable

Review: Heartbreaking moments as mother recalls her ‘bright, gorgeous, happy boys’

Kathleen Chada outside Dublin Central Criminal Court this week after her husband was jailed for murdering their sons. Photograph: Collins Courts

Kathleen Chada outside Dublin Central Criminal Court this week after her husband was jailed for murdering their sons. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

The murder of Eoghan and Ruairí Chada is a crime that truly warrants the term “unspeakable”. Mere language seems inadequate to convey the horror of two young boys meeting a violent end at the hand of their father. To have to talk about it as the dead children’s mother is almost beyond imagination.

So just listening to Kathleen Chada on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) as she talks about the horrific tragedy that befell her family is gut-wrenching, even as it testifies to her remarkable resilience.

Inevitably, Chada admits struggling to express how she feels. She tells Kenny that when her filicidal husband, Sanjeev, was this week sentenced to life imprisonment her emotions were beyond words. But Chada perseveres, recalling the life and death of her beloved sons.

Unsurprisingly, it is tough hearing how Sanjeev, fearing the loss of custody as his marriage strained under trading debts and fraud, drove off with his sons without warning. “He left with the decision made,” says Chada, her economy of language at odds with the enormity of what followed. She tried convincing herself that her fears were exaggerated, even after Sanjeev phoned her to say he had crashed the car (in a botched suicide attempt) and that, chillingly, “the boys were in the back of the car”.

Kenny, who hasn’t always used the most sensitive technique when dealing with such devastating items, handles the interview deftly, giving his guest emotional breathing space while asking the difficult questions. Asked whether she wished Sanjeev had succeeded in killing himself, Chada concedes that she once felt he should have taken his life if he was sorry. “But now I feel if he’s truly remorseful he’ll do his punishment.”

The most heartbreaking moments come when Chada remembers her “bright, gorgeous, happy boys”. “I have happy memories of the boys, and that’s important, because that’s all I have now,” she says, her measured tone wavering briefly. Putting her dreadful bereavement into words may have been difficult, but Chada’s testimony is unforgettable.

A family fractured by violence also features in Documentary on One: The Lost Orphans (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday), although in this case it’s the carnage of war that tears the young protagonists from their parents. In 1945 two boys, John and Michael Shannon, arrived in Dublin from the recently liberated Philippines, from where they had voyaged without their Irish mother and father, whose fate was a mystery.

Nicoline Greer’s documentary recounts the boys’ tale by gathering together what their cousin Patricia calls the “jigsaw” of memories, a task made harder by the fact that John remembers so little of his parents. Beyond being taught card tricks by his father, and his mother suffering from headaches, “I don’t have very clear memories of them,” he says.

John’s long silences as he tries to recall them hint at the depth of his feelings for this long-absent parents.

Gradually, the story emerges of how Oliver Shannon, a bank executive, and his wife, Eileen, made their lives in the colonial splendour of the prewar Far East only to have it shattered by the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941. As neutral Irish, the family avoided internment but led an increasingly precarious existence, particularly as Japan faced defeat. They ended up sheltering with a shopkeeper who worked for the resistance. In the end they were raided by Japanese forces. John recalls being awoken by a soldier and glimpsing his parents facing three interrogators: “After that we never saw them again.”

Subsequent events mixed trauma with Boy’s Own adventure, as the young Shannons escaped to American lines with their Filipino nursemaid and a Swiss family before being shipped home by the US navy.

“You didn’t know with certainty you were an orphan, and at the same time you were seeing new experiences,” says John. Ireland was a land he had never known, leading to more movement and, eventually, closure over his parents’ fate.

At once intimate and panoramic in scope, the programme weaves world events with family history, with captivating results. At the end Shannon draws a simple but poignant moral from his wartime upheavals. “It’s certainly made me feel more pressure and responsibility to knit the family together.”

Over on The Ray D’Arcy Show (Today FM, weekdays), the presenter is joined by the author and Irish Times columnist Michael Harding for an enjoyably meandering chat about the reality of grief. D’Arcy has taken on an increasingly curmudgeonly hue of late – earlier, he harrumphs his way through an item about the perils of social media – but he clicks with Harding.

D’Arcy revels in his guest’s singular ideas – “Nodding off is an Irish version of meditation” – and empathises when Harding tells how he found himself immersed in grief over his mother’s death. “I didn’t do enough for her,” he says, adding that he overlooked her loneliness.

But Harding ultimately feels it was a positive experience, allowing him to move on. “If you don’t grieve you’ll be carrying the person with you for years.” It’s a joy to listen to, with a hopeful message. But some losses are harder to accept than others.

Moment of the Week: Cowen’s timely quip

On Today With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) the journalist Fionnan Sheahan and the Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen join the host to dissect Irish Water’s latest woes. The most striking thing about the discussion is Sheahan’s voice. Normally very articulate, Sheahan sounds alarmingly slurred – one can’t help recalling the infamously lubricated Morning Ireland interview with the former taoiseach Brian Cowen, Barry’s brother. Happily, O’Rourke clarifies any confusion. “We’d better explain your voice is being mangled by the ISDN system,” he chuckles. “You’re not actually drinking this early in the morning.” Cowen sounds a more rueful note. “It’s a good job it’s not my voice being distorted.”

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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