Rua the day


Redheads are celebrated in a new film made for TG4

ARE REDHEADS an endangered species? There is a scientific strand of thought that suggests the gene pool for red hair is dwindling rapidly, and that the trait will be extinguished in 100 years. Ginger won't be minger then, will it? Geneticists haven't specified the cause, so one can only presume it's yet another symptom of global warming, one which will make hot-headed people redundant. Boom, boom. Lord knows, red-haired people have had to put up with a lot of wisecracks over the years. Rua, an hour-long documentary in Irish directed by Mary Crumlish for TG4, aims to change that by illustrating the lustrous history, mythology and cultural significance of this rare and enviable hair colour.

Redheads account for only two per cent of the world's population, and 10 per cent of the Irish (up to 30 per cent these days of women aged between 18-34, if you count those who get by with a little help from their hairdresser).

It has long been regarded as a positive legacy of the fair-skinned Irish and Scots. The mythology of red hair is supported by a solid cast of florid adjectives and sweeping generalisations: feisty, intense, sexual, vibrant, mystical. From Mary Magdalene to Maureen O'Hara and from Red Hugh O'Donnell to the man on our cover known as The Irish Curse from Cabra, pro wrestler Sheamus O'Shaunessy, red hair has always been associated with strong characters.

This film is a pleasure to watch and was made by the same production company that made Wave Riders, the award-winning documentary about the Irish surfing phenomenon. It interweaves interviews with an interesting bunch of (mostly red-haired) scientists, historians, cultural commentators and poets, with lively accounts from hugely likeable redheads of all ages. The camera roams from the sacred site of Eamhain Mhacha in Armagh, where Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill evokes the spirit of the warrior queen Macha Mong Rua, to contemporary street scenes, with plenty of archive footage of Titian and pre-Raphaelite beauties in between. The comedienne Catherine Tate is in there, too, as is Bruce Springsteen's song It Takes A Red Haired Woman to get a Dirty Job Done.

Paul Drury, editor of the Irish Daily Mail, admits that tabloid culture has been cruel to redheads in recent times, and there is much speculation as to why redheads are maligned in Britain, yet adored in America. A stunning Polish redhead broadens the picture. Director Mary Crumlish confesses to being a propagandist for redheads everywhere, and in this she has succeeded handsomely. Rua is a gift.

Patsey Murphy

Ruawill be shown on TG4 on March 19th at 9.30pm