Historians unimpressed by RTÉ 'greatest' shortlist


HISTORIANS HAVE expressed reservations over the omission of certain historical figures from RTÉ’s Ireland’s Greatestshortlist.

The five figures in the running to be Ireland’s greatest will be profiled in a series on RTÉ during the autumn, having come top in a public vote to decide Ireland’s greatest man or woman.

The finalists are Mary Robinson, Michael Collins, John Hume, James Connolly and Bono.

Tim Pat Coogan, author of books on Eamon de Valera, the IRA and the 1916 Rising, said there were names missing that defied belief. “It’s popular entertainment. I would have Michael Davitt on the list instead of Bono. Davitt founded the Irish Land League which ultimately forced the British to pass successive Acts that ultimately allowed the dispossessed Catholic Irish to buy land.”

To leave Daniel O’Connell out was “odd”, Coogan said. “Apart from what he did in terms of persuading the British to allow Catholics take seats in Westminster, he was truly international in terms of his legacy. The civil rights movement in the US and Ireland had its roots in what he achieved.

“In terms of our writers, James Joyce is a titan of world literature and is up there with Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky. Parnell should have been on that list as well,” he said.

UCD professor of history Diarmaid Ferriter also said writers deserved more credit. “Where are all the Irish literary giants who have contributed to intellectual life? I think it’s a shame the RTÉ list does not include people like Joyce, Yeats, Beckett and Shaw.

“I would have included Eamon de Valera and Daniel O’Connell on that list,” he said.

Historian Dr Maurice Manning, who is chancellor of the National University of Ireland, described the RTÉ list as being popular but not very scientific and said that if the same poll was conducted 10 years ago, the outcome would more than likely have been different. “Who is to say that Count John McCormack didn’t make a bigger impact in his day than Bono does today?

“Looking at Michael Collins, one could argue WT Cosgrave or Seán Lemass had a more lasting impact on the development of the country since independence. Any list that omits O’Connell and Parnell raises many questions.”

A spokeswoman for RTÉ said the names were chosen from a poll conducted at the end of 2009 by Ipsos/MRBI, the independent market research agency.

“The public were asked to name the top five people who they considered to be the greatest Irish man or woman who’s ever lived. The public were then asked to vote online for their favourite Irish person over a 12-day period. From this list the final top five contenders were chosen,” she said.