Rock 'n' rolling for Ireland


It was another funny week in the annals of Anglo-Irish relations and the permanent "national identity" crises of these islands. On Tuesday afternoon, as English-accented footballers lined up in Yokohama to share their delight with the Irish nation, one of the Beatles - who themselves could have played rock 'n' roll for Ireland - was getting hitched in an Anglo-Irish castle, with natives and journalists left to doff their hats and flash their cameras out at the gates.

And meanwhile, on Simon Mayo (BBC Radio 5 Live, Monday to Friday), the presenter mischievously fielded and relayed a stream of phone calls and e-mails that started something like this: "As a proud Englishmen, I cheer for the Irish unreservedly. But . . ." (So much for "unreservedly".) The reservations were of course about the way that proud Irishmen and women refuse to reciprocate the magnanimous gesture.

Mayo said 5 Live's own voice of sport Fergus Sweeney had to be browbeaten into saying that, for the sake of his BBC job, he'd back England; and an e-mail told the ever-so-poignant story of a young visiting English boy who had the misfortune to watch last autumn's England-Greece match in a pub on Dublin's North Strand. (No, of course nothing happened to him - but the things he heard, they weren't one bit nice.) It didn't seem to help that any Irish accents who came on air said they were perfectly happy to support England. No, Simon and the panellists knew better, as loose talk about "home nations" and the "British isles" slipped on air, prompting Mayo into sneers about how the Irish don't like such terms, "despite the clear evidence of geography". Oh, those politically correct but hopelessly benighted Irish.

And yes, it's true (though I think, perhaps, decreasingly certain as a generalisation). We know David Beckham is a poor dumb sweetie who can be magic on the pitch; we don't find Michael Owen nearly so loveable, but we recognise his striking strokes of genius; we reckon Scholes and Butt have been great in the World Cup considering they couldn't get into the United midfield for half the season; we spotted long ago that Rio Ferdinand is a touch of pure class. We know and care about these guys as much as our neighbours to the east do; they play for the clubs we support; and when they took the field for England on Wednesday morning we linked arms with our beloved asylum-seekers and cheered Nigeria to a victory that would have been so very sweet.

That fact, for some reason, really started to obsess and piss-off the BBC studio on Tuesday. And they were in no mood for explanations - I think the word "history" was used in passing, with the usual phone-in reverence for that academic discipline in evidence. Pretty soon the "plastic paddies" slur was wheeled out about our players, and they re-roasted the old, old chestnut about the new Irish cap who, at the end of Amhran na bhFiann before his first match, turned to his teammate and said: "Cor, I hope ours ain't that long".

Fine, grand, off you go, you BBC lads, put the boot in, show that bulldog spirit to a listenership that includes tens of thousands of people living in Britain who consider themselves Irish and were perhaps in celebratory form on the day that was in it. But one English comment about the success of the Irish team and the ingratitude of the Irish went too darn far: "It was our managers who got them there." Ooo, don't let Mick McCarthy hear that he was England's gift to the Irish people. Compensation for the Famine then, was it? (Perhaps I'm being harsh; the poor old English would love to be able to claim a manager who can actually win matches, given the dominance of foreigners in their national and club game.)

On that same in-it day, The Last Word (Today FM, Monday to Friday) found someone with no interest whatsoever in football to chat about Paul McCartney's wedding. B.P. Fallon and Eamon Dunphy sounded (for some reason) like a pair of dissipated old lads reminiscing about the 1960s. Dunphy had impressive and fond memories of watching the Beatles blast their way through rock 'n' roll covers in the early days at a Manchester club (no, not United, where Dunphy had his own problems getting into the midfield). But B.P.'s memories, as usual, were absolute top of the pops: his job at Apple Records was, he told us, "testing Paul's grass". (Fallon is always refreshingly direct about drugs. The Beatles, he said, were broken up, in some measure, by John and Yoko's heroin use: "Yoko would be comatose under John's piano while they were trying to record".)

Fallon freely admitted he loved John but merely admires Paul. No begrudgery though: Paul, he insisted, was the genuinely cool Beatle during the Swinging Sixties, mixing with Allen Ginsberg and Salvador Dalí in his London flat while John was at his mansion in the stockbrokers' belt, "stoned, looking at the swimming pool". It was Paul, sez Beep, who clued-in the rest of them as to what was hot and what was not. Fallon wouldn't even knock the pathetic "Sir Paul" persona of recent times. It's "a pattern that's been going on since Nero" for once-funky cultural figures to become "establishment tools", seemingly.

The free-associating B.P. seemed to have fond memories of his own tool in the days of the Beatles establishment. As Fallon alluded to pilferage at Apple, Dunphy asked: "What did you walk out with, Beep?" B.P.'s reply: "A hard-on."

Fallon, of course, couldn't maintain his tumescence about the likes of Mull of Kintyre in McCartney's post-Fab career. "Give me the Sex Pistols, or the Ramones. God bless Dee Dee. And Joey. And Sid." The bewilderingly Beepy allusion to the recent death of the immortal Dee Dee Ramone - the only bassist who ever counted "one-two-three-four" (or "ahn-oo-ee-aw") with more passion than Paul - was a rarity on Irish radio, and a reminder that heroin is still destroying musicians.

And if you think that's funny, or even if you don't, you should check out Gone But Forgotten (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday), which had its first programme last Saturday morning amid various footballing distractions - but can be heard safely today between the jammy-German game and the Come-On-England match.

This is a series of mockumentaries about the fictitious not-quite-famous, written by Karl McDermott and starring, along with McDermott, the substantial comic talents of Conor Lambert, Risteard Cooper, Morgan Jones, Karen Ardiff and Deirdre Monaghan. Last Saturday's opener told the tale of Oisín "Mad Dog" Madden. This Chicago mobster of the Roaring Twenties started out as an "unassuming and quiet boy from a ridiculously large family" in Kerry, but according to his sister, Novena, he turned into a feared figure when the porridge on his mouth was mistaken for rabid foaming. A funny story, told with a perfectly bent take on the docu-bio form, this was a promising start.

The Saturday comedy slot has been almost ludicrously successful, garnering listeners and even, in the case of Roger Gregg's Crazy Dog Audio Theatre series, Big Big Space!, scooping up top prizes from US-based radiophiles who know about these things. Could it be that RTÉ radio is carving out an international identity producing pointed pisstakes on classic American radio drama, penned by a US expat? It's a funny old game.