The Late Late Show St Patrick’s Day Special: It was cheesy, misty-eyed – and just right

The historic broadcast made it a little easier to feel green on a strange March 17th


A historic first ever St Patrick’s Day Late Late Show (RTÉ One, 9.35pm) captures the essence of March 17th in that it is glittery, silly, exciting and occasionally a bit weird and dull. The big opening set-piece features the Late Late theme performed / mimed arms-around-the-world style by Irish people with the Eiffel Tower, Pyramids of Egypt, Great Wall of China, Mines of Moria etc in the background.

In the studio Ryan Tubridy is effusive, if occasionally a tad overwrought. He may also have swallowed a thesaurus before going on – how else to explain lines such as: “Whether by glad choice or necessity every Irish family knows that salty goodbye.”

A St Paddy’s Day Late Late was never going to be an event comparable to the juggernaut of the Toy Show. And to RTÉ’s credit it doesn’t overthink the premise. The result is a laid back if mildly cheesy evening of thigh slapping and misty-eyed reminiscing. It does what it says on the tin and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Above all, its heart is in the right place.

An opening set-piece saw the Late Late theme performed by Irish people around the world – at the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, and Sydney Opera House
An opening set-piece saw the Late Late theme performed by Irish people around the world – at the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, and Sydney Opera House

The headline guest is actor Brendan Gleeson who pops up at the end wearing green ear-muffs. He speaks out against the demonisation of young people during the pandemic, saying they should be celebrated rather than denigrated (and he wants teachers and retail workers pushed up the vaccine list).

His ultimate message is one of hope. We’ve clung on this long – just a little further and the clouds will part.

“I feel if we can hang in for another couple of months, things will change utterly as they say,” says Gleeson. “In terms of mental health, if people can continue with small kindnesses in as much as they can or remember to ring somebody who might need it and not slam the phone down on somebody who rings ... that is what is will get us through it.”

He’s also brought a mandolin and bashes out some tunes. The transportive power of song is the unofficial theme of the night: Mario Rosenstock sweats his way through a Nphet-parodying Christy Moore impersonation. And the opening third of the broadcast is given over to a socially-distanced shindig featuring Andrea Corr, Horslips’ Barry Devlin, Moya Brennan of Clannad and others.

There is earnestness and solemnity. But there is space for absurdity too, as demonstrated when Brennan re-creates her faux-haunting “Olé, Olé, Olé” intro to the 1990 World Cup theme song and then Devlin performs the Dearg Doom riff on a tin whistle. Have we reached peak lockdown fever dream yet? If not, this might be it.

Opinions will differ as to how much fun St Patrick’s Day is to begin with. Some love the crowds and the drinking. Others batten down the hatches and wait for the storm of tricolours and spilled pints to pass.

Either way, a March 17th Late Late Show is a reminder of the weird moment in which we live. It is perhaps a pinch too saccharine to be proclaimed a roaring triumph –  but RTÉ should be commended for making it a little easier to be green during these strange days.