A TV week overshadowed by a big loss

A TV week overshadowed by a big loss Gay Byrne Photo: Offaly Express

With the debate about married men becoming priests stirring it up at the Amazon Synod, we got to hear a somewhat related story closer to home last Friday.

Nationwide (RTÉ1) featured the intriguing and uplifting story of Fr Seán Hyland from Portarlington. He married Liz, they had two children Seana and Ciaran, but sadly the children died very young, and later Liz died of cancer. Eventually Sean decided to become a priest and apart from ministering as a priest he has also developed his interest in the relationship between science and religion, speaking in schools and developing a website whisperingsofmysoul.com.

He has also written a book of the same name, which, I suspect, will now become very popular.

The show also highlighted the annual pilgrimage of St Macdara on Oileáin Mhic Dara, off the Connemara coast. Presenter Mary Kennedy (soon to leave Nationwide unfortunately) spoke fluently in Irish as well as English as she interviewed the enthusiastic locals.

The pilgrims (a wide variety of ages) included composers Bill Whelan and former Galway hurling captain Joe Connolly.  The ancient island church was described as an ‘architectural gem’ – a striking artistic reconstruction on the mainland will in future act as a substitute when the weather is too bad for people to get to the island.


One of the big media news items of last was week was the death of Gay Byrne. My sympathies go out to his family and friends. He was a consummate broadcaster and you’d have to admire the longevity (if not always the quality) of his Late Late Show, probably the longest running chat show in the world. His long running radio show was a landmark broadcasting phenomenon as well, and listening to all the tributes early last week it was obvious that he was very generous and supportive of new talent.

His work with the Road Safety Authority may well have saved many lives, and his TV series The Meaning of Life at least got people thinking and talking about the big issues.

The tribute programmes were rather self-congratulatory I thought, especially in relation to RTÉ. It seemed so many of the clips showed the Catholic Church and conservative people in a bad light. And that was the aspect of the show I disliked most – a tendency to mock many of the old ways, to make fun of those of a conservative leaning along with a childish prurience when it came to sexual matters.

From the 60s on we seemed to have moved from having a Church that over emphasised sex to a media that took over the same function with the Late Late Show an enthusiastic vehicle for that change over.

And yet this tendency existed side by side with openness to many other aspects of genuine religion – I particularly remember Gay’s interview with St Mother Teresa. (That strand of the Late Late Show tradition continued with last Friday night’s positivity towards religious faith by the Barr sisters from the Irish women’s hockey team).

Too much of the coverage was a smug ‘Oh how mature we are now after casting off the Catholic shackles’, while so many other items on last week’s News and chat programmes suggested we  have let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction – with stories of bullying, kidnapping, torture, children murdering children and human trafficking.

As a society we may not be as mature and progressive as we think.

Deserving of special mention, on last Thursday’s Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1) broadcaster Aidan Matthews delivered a poetic reflection, describing Gay Byrne as “the fairest presider” over our society’s “cultural punchups”, and referencing “a clerical culture that wasn’t all bad and a secular one that isn’t all good”.

It was unfortunate timing that RTÉ’s financial woes became a hot issue almost immediately after the death of Gay Byrne.

The good programmes make me lament the difficulties, the indifferent raise a shrug of the shoulders and the poor programmes drain away my sympathy. My enthusiasm for RTÉ’s role in public interest broadcasting wains when I see so much bias in certain areas of news and current affairs.

There was a particularly blatant example of this yet again last Saturday morning when Dr Peter Boylan, prominent pro-choice campaigner, was given yet another soft interview, palsy and mostly unchallenging, this time on Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1).

The bubble expands, the echo chamber sounds louder than ever.


Pick of the Week:
RTÉ Radio 1 Extra LW, Sunday, November 17, 11 am 

Mass for missionaries, with members of Misean Cara and music from the In Caelo Choir from Newbridge, Co. Kildare. The Celebrant is Fr Cornelius Nwaogwugwu.

Channel 4, Monday, November 18, 10 pm

Dispatches explores the issue of pregnant mothers who find themselves with no place to call home.

EWTN, Friday, November 15, 7 pm

Susan Conroy concludes her mini-series by focusing on specific saints and how their examples lead to true happiness for the soul.