A TV postcard from Dublin

Forget about the Lisbon Treaty vote and the economic crisis, the burning topic in Ireland is the new Late Late Show host.

Patrick West
Columnist

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I suppose that on this day I should be ruminating about the anniversary of 9/11, but frankly I’ve found all the commemorative television documentaries and films shown during my stay here in Ireland a bit sickening.

How many more times must we watch people falling to their deaths, or hear those heartfelt last phone calls before the victims met their sorry end? How many times must we watch the Twin Towers collapse and see those New York fire fighters walk heroically to their infernal doom? The appeal of all this footage resembles the thrills people get from watching snuff movies.

I don’t think this kind of programme brings out the best in people. These 9/11 docs seem designed to pander to a pornographic obsession with death or to engender a general dislike of Muslims. Nor do I appreciate the attitude of other religious types who are fond of deriding ‘Islamic extremism’ in contradistinction to their own ‘normal’ religions.

Watching a repeat of United 93, Paul Greengrass’ film about one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that crashed over Pennsylvania, a Roman Catholic relation concluded: ‘Them and their stupid religion.’ I thought: ‘What about you and your stupid religion?’ But then I realised this was the kind of thing Richard Dawkins or Michael Moore would say so I decided to pull myself together and keep schtum.

No, no, there are far more important things than 9/11 commemorations going on in Televisionland here in Ireland. No, it’s not programmes about the vote on the Lisbon Treaty or the calamitous state of the Irish economy that are gluing television viewers to the box, nor are they preoccupied by that nebulous economic rescue package known as NAMA. Instead, everyone’s talking about the new presenter of The Late Late Show.

Most people in Britain will only be aware of one The Late Late Show episode: that time Boyzone appeared on the programme and made bloody eejits of themselves in front of Gay Byrne – a clip that is forever repeated on those nostalgia shows on Sky and Channel 4. But in Ireland the show remains a staple of life, a kind of mixture of a David Frost/Michael Parkinson show and Newsnight; a combination of low- and high-brow infotainment that is considered a barometer of Ireland’s cultural temperament.

So it was with a sense of trepidation that Ireland greeted Ryan Tubridy as the latest presenter of The Late Late Show on Friday night. He’s no sombre heavyweight, unlike his predecessor Pat Kenny. Nor could he match Gay Byrne, the avuncular and slightly grumpy presenter who made the show his own. By consensus, Ryan Tubridy is thought of as a bit of an arse.

In the end, Tubridy, who had been dismissed as an egomaniac lightweight, came up trumps. He turned out to be clever, cerebral, amusing and disarming. His first guest was the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. Tubridy asked Cowen if he had a drinking problem, and if he ever wished he didn’t have to follow in Bertie Ahern’s footsteps.

Poor old Cowen, or ‘BIFFO’ as he is also known (‘Big Ignorant Fat Fucker from Offaly’). He reminded me of Gordon Brown. Here was a chubby, not very good looking, leader of a country who had inherited an economy that went swiftly down the toilet soon after his more charismatic predecessor had left his post. And yet: Brown and Cowen may both be incompetent, but they both seem far nicer and more decent than their predecessors, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. Brown and Cowen may be rubbish leaders, but at least they are sincere in their rubbishness. It’s easy to forget in these times of economic woes just how phoney and transparently ridiculous Blair and Ahern were.

Ryan Tubridy was an excellent host. He was strangely reminiscent of Henry Kelly, not just because of his big ears and long visage, but also in his ability to straggle the low brow and the middle brow. For all his bad publicity, Tubridy is the kind of bloke you’d like to have a pint with. Just like Henry Kelly, who I have had a pint with (even if he was grumbling surreally that David Trimble wasn’t talking to him that night).

After Friday’s The Late Late Show, Irish television moved to even more pressing matters: Sunday’s hurling final between Kilkenny and Tipperary on RTE. Hurling has to be the most insane sport in the world. It’s even more mad and violent than rugby league. I learnt from a Dublin cabbie that safety helmets were introduced to the sport 10 years ago. I just wonder how hurling players hadn’t already dashed their brains in completely, what with their penchant for swinging large clubs around and appearing to smash each other’s teeth in. In the end, Kilkenny beat Tipperary by 2-22 to 0-23 (28 points to 23 in real money).

Luckily, the commentary was in English. Some Gaelic games have commentaries in Irish, which is really quite difficult, especially when you find yourself inexplicably watching the Fermanagh vs Longford women’s Gaelic football match. I used to think that I could learn Irish merely by watching enough of it on television, much like Daryl Hannah’s mermaid character from the 1984 film Splash!, who became fluent in English after spending an afternoon in front of the telly.

After all, I’ve learnt enough German by watching Das Boot, Die Welle, Heimat, Downfall, Goodbye Lenin! and the subtitled version of The Longest Day. I’ve garnered enough French from reading La Peste, L’Etranger and Tintin and Asterix comics. But still Irish remains impossible. Agus, agus, agus… that’s all I understand.

If you thought Irish wasn’t difficult enough, then try watching Aon Sceal on TG4, which is a Gaelic equivalent of Call My Bluff, that old parlour game about guessing which meaning of a word is the real one. The original, in English, was baffling enough.

Patrick West is spiked’s TV and radio columnist.

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