Subscriber OnlyTV & RadioReview

Pat Kenny goes from dropping clangers to a raw conversation about a distressing subject

Radio: The Newstalk host draws out detail rather than showily sympathising when he speaks to Mary about her experience of reporting historical abuse

Seasoned interviewer that he is, Pat Kenny is adept at grilling his guests, but he could be more celebratory when it comes to toasting them. On Wednesday’s Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) the presenter congratulates the oncologist Prof John Crown on his achievement award from the Irish Association for Cancer Research by recounting an anecdote of his own. “It reminds me of an old colleague of mine, long dead, who was given life membership by Irish actors’ Equity,” Kenny chuckles. “He went down to get his award, looked around the wall at all the other honourees, and they were all dead.” Talk about killing the mood.

Crown sounds admirably unfazed by this morbidly baffling introduction – “It’s a sobering thought,” he replies – but his host isn’t done yet. “I was looking into your background,” Kenny continues, “and you were not a posh boy.” Enough with the flattery, Pat. After this auspicious beginning, connoisseurs of Kenny’s past clangers must be expecting a vintage display from the presenter.

But, slightly disappointingly, what follows is an absorbing conversation that moves from Crown’s (unposh) upbringing in the United States and Ireland to the importance of immigrant medical staff and the state of the health service. Crown is clear-eyed about systemic challenges but, equally, notes the huge advances in cancer care. Which is something to cheer about.

As often with Kenny, you never know what he’s going to say, but you know what to expect. Despite his unpredictable asides, he is a dependable performer when it comes to matters of importance. The host displays his skill at hearing out difficult stories when he talks to a Limerick man, Pat Sheedy, about his gambling addiction. Kenny combines curiosity and understanding with an occasionally stern air as his guest, now an author, recounts how his problem gambling ultimately led to prison.


Kenny is more sensitive on Tuesday, when he speaks to Mary about her experience of reporting historical abuse, but he’s still concerned with drawing out detail rather than showily sympathising. The pseudonymous Mary matter-of-factly recalls being sexually abused as a child, but while she had since spoken about it to counsellors and her husband, she contacted the Garda only when she was a mother in her 40s. “It’s such a daunting thing to do, to make that initial call,” she says.

The story is far from over, however: it’s now 1,000 days since Mary reported the crime, and no charges have yet been brought. Kenny notes that once a complaint has been made the victim’s only role in legal proceedings is as a witness. “I thought they’re all working on my behalf, but they’re really not; they’re working on behalf of the State,” says Mary, without recrimination. She doesn’t regret her move but is still waiting for closure. “Has it liberated you from the captive memories of your past?” asks Kenny. “That’s probably a bit ambitious,” says Mary. It’s a raw conversation on a distressing but vital subject, well handled by Kenny. In this instance, at least, he finds the right tone.

A tone of bemused levity prevails on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays) as Kieran Cuddihy covers the chaos at RTÉ in a manner befitting the farcical situation. “The temptation every day is dwell on RTÉ,” he comments on the ongoing media circus. Nor does he always resist the temptation, giggling uncontrollably at blooper clips of the People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett talking about RTÉ executives receiving “golden showers”. But the host also avoids being too gleeful about the national broadcaster’s woes. “I know they’re a competitor with us in a radio sense, but they are a huge cultural institution in this country,” he says.

Cuddihy seems genuinely interested in RTÉ's endgame, even interviewing the network’s director general, Kevin Bakhurst, the week before. But when his fellow broadcaster Meghann Scully suggests that RTÉ still makes some great shows, Cuddihy baulks. “Not on Radio 1, though, let’s just say,” the host mutters conspiratorially. Ouch. Never waste a crisis, particularly one engulfing your rival.

Anyone seeking to rebut Cuddihy’s harsh verdict might start with The Business (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday), presented by Richard Curran. The show takes an imaginative approach to its titular brief. Inevitably, Curran covers the RTÉ saga, albeit in arresting fashion, asking Eileen Gleeson of the Institute of Directors Ireland who might replace Siún Ní Raghallaigh as the network’s chairperson. Few people in their right mind, it appears. “Why would you put yourself into the line for this type of onslaught?” asks Gleeson.

Curran also deals with other topics. He talks to a Ukrainian journalist, Nataliya Gumenyuk, about business in the war-torn country, such as the new bookshops still opening in Kyiv two years after Russia’s invasion – a small miracle, in Gumenyuk’s telling. There’s a tale of hope amid despair closer to home, as a Mullingar baker, Una Leonard, recounts how she overcame an eating disorder before establishing her own patisserie business. This seems an odd trajectory, but Leonard says the kitchen was always the only place she felt at peace: “Food wasn’t the problem. Eating was the problem.”

Leonard’s disorder and distress became so overwhelming that she resolved to take her own life, a moment she describes with uncomfortable honesty. “I really did feel I was making the right decision,” she says, tearing up as she remembers how she “internally said goodbye” to her family before taking an overdose. Always a thorough host, Curran also proves a reassuring presence – “Take your time” – talking through the aftermath of his guest’s suicide attempt before hearing how making a cake for a nephew provided the inspiration of Leonard’s business. “Baking became a happy place for me,” she says. It’s a tough yet uplifting item, exemplifying why The Business is one of Radio 1′s most popular shows. At last, a reason for RTÉ to celebrate.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here