Halloween may be just around the corner, with the reopening of nightlife scaring public-health officials, but Ryan Tubridy (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) is already looking to seasons afresh. "This is the Toy Show time," he tells listeners, plugging his Christmas TV extravaganza before the pumpkins have even had a chance to turn mouldy.
By way of whetting the appetite for this year’s show, Tubridy describes the theme as “postwar fun and games”. This mightn’t sound especially enticing for anyone other than any older listeners pining for the return of ration cards, but the host is undeterred. “It’s very special,” he promises.
But while The Late Late Show is a reliable source of fascination for Tubridy on the wireless – he spends a fair amount talking about past and future episodes – he doesn’t always seem as enthusiastic about his guests’ television ventures.
Nadine Coyle, well drilled in offering blandly unrevelatory answers from her years as a pop star, tells Ryan Tubridy about her frustration in lockdown and her love for her daughter but doesn't give much away
When the former Girls Aloud singer Nadine Coyle appears on Tuesday's show to promote Last Singer Standing, RTÉ One's forthcoming television talent-show-cum-gameshow, the host is decidedly tepid about the programme. "It sounds like a mix of all the great quizshows of the last 10 years," he says. If he didn't sound so chipper you'd swear he was damning with faint praise.
There’s a rote air to the whole conversation. Though both parties are warm towards each other – Tubridy dubs his guest “the original Derry girl” – the conversation lacks excitement or, indeed, much interest. Coyle, well drilled in offering blandly unrevelatory answers from her years as a pop star, talks about her frustration in lockdown and her love for her daughter but doesn’t give much away.
The singer’s cheerful reticence is maybe understandable, particularly when talking about the recent death of her erstwhile bandmate Sarah Harding, but it’s hardly challenged by the host’s questions, which are softball even by celebrity-chat standards.
In fairness, Tubridy’s next interview, with a graffiti artist named Asbestos, has the host gamely venturing outside his cultural comfort zone. But though some intriguing issues arise – Tubridy wonders if there’s any point discussing visual art on the radio – the item never, ahem, catches fire.
An altogether different mood pervades Wednesday's interview with Marie Sullivan, whose 23-year-old daughter, Arwen, took her own life last year. Surprisingly, given this dreadful event, Tubridy adopts a breezy tone when talking to Sullivan. The host's approach may be unexpected but isn't inappropriate; rather, he helps put his guest at ease as she recalls her "kind, caring, loving" daughter.
It's not exactly the season to be jolly, but Ryan Tubridy's naturally upbeat manner plays a crucial supporting role in a poignant conversation about personal resilience in the face of tragedy
Sullivan recounts how Arwen, a physiotherapist, suffered from anxiety at secondary school, and had suicidal thoughts at college, before receiving counselling for both. The pandemic exacerbated her anxiety – “I knew she was worried,” Sullivan says – but, even so, what happened came as a horrific shock. After her daughter went to her room in an upset mood on Easter Sunday night, her mother checked on her. “Then I found her,” she says, devastatingly. Sullivan, hitherto so eloquent and composed, falls silent. Tubridy, for once, appears winded, as though uncertain how to proceed. “I’m sorry,” he eventually says, “though it feels like quite a redundant thing to say.”
The host’s instinct is to take the conversation into more positive space: “I don’t want to bring you to any darker corners.” He does this by discussing his guest’s experience of coping with her unspeakable loss. Sullivan says she takes things one day at a time: “That’s how I’ve managed my grief: I just look at the very next thing I have to do, and I can do that.” She adds that the Covid-19 lockdown actually helped. “The whole world stopped, and that felt right.”
It’s a tough interview but far from despairing: Sullivan has established a mental-health charity in her daughter’s memory. For his part, Tubridy is a comforting presence: by the end, both host and guest are laughing together. It’s not exactly the season to be jolly, but Tubridy’s naturally upbeat manner plays a crucial supporting role in a poignant conversation about personal resilience in the face of tragedy.
Farce is more the order of the day on Tuesday's Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), as host Cormac Ó hEadhra surveys the confusion that initially surrounds Government guidelines for nightclubs and concerts. After hearing venue owners talk of "peak frustration" over the lack of clarity, Ó hEadhra speaks to the Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, who appears dismissive of such concerns. "I heard the nightclub owner of the Tramyard on a rival station and he was very pleased," the deputy says, referring to an earlier interview on Kieran Cuddihy's Newstalk show The Hard Shoulder; the club in question is actually called the Tramline, but sure close enough.
'I heard the point that you can have a bop at a nightclub but you can't at a live event,' the TD says. 'You actually can. You can stand up.' This is feeble stuff, speaking of bullishness rather than logic
MacNeill concedes there are “anomalies” but tries to make the best of the situation. “I heard the point that you can have a bop at a nightclub but you can’t at a live event,” she says. “You actually can. You can stand up.” This is feeble stuff, speaking of bullishness rather than logic.
Pressed by Ó hEadhra, the TD admits there’s “no rationale” to the new guidelines beyond having to make difficult choices in order to reopen society safely. Fair enough, and many anomalies are indeed ironed out as the week progresses. But MacNeill’s unapologetic performance echoes the prickly condescension deployed by many Ministers when faced with criticism during interviews. It’s not a good look for an administration seemingly unable to organise a bop in a nightclub, never mind a booze-up in a brewery.
If Ó hEadhra makes it his business to discomfit political guests, he's far more welcoming to others. He's curious and engaged when discussing the insidious effects of social-media camera filters with Ciara Whelan, the reigning Miss Dublin, who posts untouched photos of herself. The interview touches on issues of mental health and body image, but more striking are the host's giddy asides. "You mean you don't look amazing all the time, Ciara? I do," he jokes at one point, before signing off as "Mr Connemara". He's a compelling broadcaster, but one hopes Ó hEadhra hasn't started to fancy himself too much.
Moment of the Week
October continues to be a sad month for the arts in Ireland, as the passing of the poets Brendan Kennelly and Máire Mhac an tSaoi is marked across the airwaves on Monday. Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) carries particularly strong tributes, with Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh noting how Mhac an tSaoi used the Irish language to push boundaries in her verse while Gerald Dawe remembers Kennelly as a "great human being" whose poetry had an "epic reach". Host Mary Wilson also talks to President Michael D Higgins, who reminds listeners of his poetic and academic background, praising Mhac an tSaoi for "writing directly about sensuality" and recalling Kennelly as a poet "who had so much to give and gave it so generously". It's a fitting remembrance of two remarkable lives.