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Ryan Tubridy drops the politeness and gets blunt: ‘This is a horrible thing to have to share’

Radio: The host is unabashed in his repugnance for Putin and admiration of Zelenskiy

Throughout his career, one of Ryan Tubridy’s main characteristics as a broadcaster has been his determination not to cause offence, either to guests or audience. But his politeness, whether motivated by smooth professionalism or innate civility, has its limits: there are some subjects which cause him to abandon his tactful instincts. For instance, on Tuesday’s programme (the Ryan Tubridy Show, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), one topic in particular prompts a withering tirade.

“British pubs are the worst pubs on the planet Earth,” the host says, with theatrical disdain. Chief among his objections is the (admittedly disagreeable) practice in English bars of whipping drinks from customers’ hands at closing time. “They were just short of Morris dancing on my head to get me out,” he laments.

For Tubridy, who habitually affords pints of stout the kind of reverence a cleric reserves for a chalice, such acts are barbaric. It’s a suitably harmless red line for someone so diplomatic, but as Omar Little observed in The Wire, a man gotta to have a code.

Tubridy doesn’t just get exercised by the small stuff, however. His repugnance at Putin’s war in Ukraine is unabashed, as is his admiration for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whom he calls “this man who has answered history’s call”. He’s particularly appalled at the impact of the Russian invasion on ordinary Ukrainians, voicing distress about a photo of a mother writing personal details on her toddler child’s back, lest they be separated. “This is a horrible thing to have to share with you, but life is not easy,” he says, with unusual bluntness.

As if to underline the existence of such trials, on Tuesday the host talks to documentary-maker Zlata Filipovic, who recounts her ordeal as a child trapped in the siege of Sarajevo, which began 30 years ago.

“The fifth of April was the first time I heard gunfire,” Filipovic recalls, describing it as the day her previously “idyllic” life was cut in half. She is matter-of-fact rather than angry about the hardships she and her parents endured, which she chronicled in a diary. But she’s clear-eyed about the nature of the sustained Serbian assault on the vibrantly multi-ethnic Sarajevo, describing it as “urbicide”: “they were trying to kill the spirit of the city”.

The contemporary parallels are obvious, but Tubridy articulates them anyway: “you could be talking about Ukraine”. Filipovic, who escaped the city in 1993, agrees: “I know what they’re feeling.” It’s a quietly gripping interview, which initially seems to underplay the drama of the story, but ultimately makes its broader points with resonance. “It’s a horrible history repeating itself,” Tubridy concludes.

But for all his interest in the sweep of history and politics, Tubridy is at his strongest when dealing with personal stories. On Wednesday, he hears former RTÉ newsreader Una O’Hagan share her experience of bereavement, as she remembers her husband Colm Keane, the author and broadcaster who died in January, and her son Seán, who died in 2007. It’s an understandably charged conversation, which Tubridy approaches with sensitivity from the off. O’Hagan, for her part, is reflective, recalling her late husband with affection and even serenity: “I have no problem talking about Colm.”

The mood grows more hesitant when talk turns to the death of Seán, O’Hagan’s only child. “I don’t want to bring you somewhere uncomfortable,” Tubridy says, describing such a loss as “the great unimaginable”. But he quietly persists with his questions, while O’Hagan is open about the grief she and Keane felt: “It shattered both of us separately and together.”

She takes comfort from her belief that her husband and son have gone “into the light”, drawing on Keane’s newly published posthumous work about life after death. Tubridy, who on Monday had described himself as “not particularly religious”, is inquisitive and sympathetic throughout. The fact that Keane was a “mentor of sorts” to the host helps, but it’s an absorbing human interest story, and surprisingly hopeful. At such times, Tubridy’s emollient instincts come into their own.

Elsewhere, Ray D'Arcy (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) begins Tuesday's show with an urgent question. "Do I sound different?" he asks in vaguely perplexed tones, explaining that he's broadcasting from a different studio than usual. "I sound different in my headphones, but maybe I don't sound different to you at home." Nope, it's the same old Ray, for better or worse.

For one thing, the host hasn’t lost his ability to ramble on about inane subjects. He waxes nostalgically about the confectionery of his youth, rhapsodising about the Calypso bar, a molar-busting combination of hard toffee and chocolate. Bland as this reminiscence may seem, it sparks a flurry of texts from listeners fondly recalling their own favourite treats from the time that dentistry forget. D’Arcy is clearly in tune with his audience’s tastes.

Equally, he's well capable of handling more challenging subjects, as shown during his discussion on George Gibney, the former Irish Olympic swim coach who fled Ireland after avoiding trial on multiple rape and sexual abuse charges in 1994. On Wednesday, D'Arcy talks to Mark Horgan, producer of an acclaimed podcast on Gibney, and Trish Kearney, who was raped by the coach.

Initially, the host approaches the harrowing subject matter tentatively, concentrating on the making of the podcast. Eventually, however, he talks to Kearney about Gibney’s crimes. She is candid about the traumatic effect of the predator’s repeated sexual violence – “there are definite blanks” – but no longer lets it define her. “I don’t feel I need to heal anymore,” she says, “I accept my scars”.

Kearney’s hard-won composure is astonishing. The vile Gibney, living at liberty in Florida, certainly doesn’t deserve such equanimity. But the discussion is grimly compelling, throwing light on broader issues of predatory abuse, yet is humane too, placing Kearney’s story front and centre. She has her own advice for anyone going through the same horrors: “Just tell somebody,” she says. “Share your secret, if you’re ready.” Speaking the truth is always best.

Radio Moment of the Week

On Tuesday, Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk) hears roving reporter Henry McKean recount his attempts at hitchhiking from Mullingar to Tullamore, to joyous effect. Intrepid and courteous as ever, first-time hitcher McKean picks up hints from the public – “no scowling” – and Moncrieff himself: “you have to look positive, but not insane”. When he eventually gets a lift, McKean asks his driver if he was worried his passenger might be “a weirdo”. “No, you looked sad,” comes the reply. Along his journey, McKean hears evocative anecdotes from former hitchers and makes wry observations. “Anyone in an expensive German car just totally blanked you,” he notes. It’s a marvellous slice of reportage on a disappearing practice, and in McKean’s telling, “the most fun I’ve had in ages”. The feeling is mutual: thumbs up!