Claire Byrne Live final episode: The wigged-out current affairs show plays it straight

Series carries on strange tradition of Irish current affairs programming that lurches towards the surreal and bonkers

It would be an overstatement to describe the departure from the airwaves of Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ One, Monday, 10.30pm) as the end of an era. It’s only been around since 2015 and never quite registered as essential viewing. But the series has nonetheless carried on that strange tradition of Irish current affairs programming that lurches towards the surreal and bonkers.

An item on recycling bins that left you more confused at the end than at the start. Byrne in her shed early in the pandemic. A segment in which she received a flu jab in her car from former TD Kate O’Connell. This was Irish broadcasting at its most wigged out — with Byrne at the centre of the pandemonium as TV’s ultimate straight woman.

The final episode is, alas, short in meme-worthy highlights. Having announced out of the blue last week she was stepping down from the slot to focus on her morning radio show, for her big farewell Byrne just gets on with things. It is Claire Byrne Going Through The Motions slightly.

First up is a report on the weekend chaos at Dublin Airport. A woman in the US explains how her husband had been left fend for himself when hours of queuing triggered an epileptic fit. A pregnant passenger talks about being stopped for spot checks as she dashed to make her flight.

“Everybody around me was running, crying, panicking,” she says. “When you got passed the shops, there were two people spot-checking and swabbing more people. I saw them stopping people as they were running.”

Then it is on to a segment about homophobic abuse in Dublin. We’ve all been patting ourselves on the backs since the Marriage Equality referendum. However, wrenching testimonies by DJ Stephen Byrne and rugby player Evan Somers confirm homophobia is alive and stalking the streets of central Dublin.

“It was 7pm on O’Connell Bridge,” recollects Byrne. “I heard that slur. I was on the floor, blood all over me.”

“A lot of people thought the fight for equality in Ireland is finished,” adds Somers. “In 2022 we can get married but we can’t walk down the road without the fear of being attacked.”

This is followed by an interview with Meath football star David Beggy about the hereditary genetic condition haemochromatosis, in which excessive amounts of iron are absorbed, potentially causing tissue damage and organ failure.

“It was chronic fatigue,” he says. “A lot of abdominal pain”. His testimony is accompanied by a clip of Meath beating Dublin — a haunting reminder of that far-off era when the Leinster football championship was something other than a foregone conclusion.

As it’s the last episode, Byrne and her team make a small concession to posterity with a closing item in which she discusses the upheavals of the passed seven years with a panel. “These have been unrelentingly interesting times,” says columnist Alison O’Connor. “Marriage equality is great — at the same time it didn’t make much of a difference to those two guys,” says campaigner Martin Beanz Warde, referencing the earlier item on homophobic abuse.

“That does bring us to the end,” says Byrne, finally. “It has been an honour to be with you to see really challenging times for our country”. And then the credits roll and it’s the close of an interesting, sometimes bizarre chapter in Irish current affairs broadcasting. Whatever RTÉ plans for the slot next it will have its work cut out reaching the absurd heights to which Claire Byrne Live often ascended.

Ed Power

Ed Power

Ed Power, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about television and other cultural topics