Out with the old and in with the new

‘New Year’s Day saw the launch of the UTV Ireland channel and I thought it was rather low key… Maybe they didn’t want to raise expectations too high’, writes Brendan O’Regan

It was a labour of love on so many fronts. The Longford Phoenix (RTÉ 1, Tuesday of last week) told the story of the fire that destroyed St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford in 2009 and the five-year restoration that culminated in the recent Midnight Mass.

I felt this marvellous documentary was a labour of love for narrator and presenter Ciaran Mullooly, RTÉ’s Midlands Correspondent for many years. This cathedral obviously meant a lot to him and he remembered his father taking him to Confession there every Christmas Eve.

He covered the story comprehensively and enthusiastically, from those heartbreaking hours outside the burning cathedral five years ago to the Masses of Christmas just gone. The film was beautifully framed by the height of emotion felt on both occasions – from devastation to elation.

I was also impressed by the labour of love of all the architects, builders and artists who put so much of themselves into the project. There was new art work, as in the striking stone stations of the cross and the modern stained glass windows, but sometimes it was a matter of painstaking restoration, as with the Harry Clarke stained glass window or the painting of the Holy Family, which – mysteriously or miraculously – survived the inferno, even though it was one of the cathedral’s most flammable items. It was fascinating to watch the interplay of theology, design, art, liturgy and building craft.

There were images that had impact – the sight of plaster angels arriving in crates, that stunning baptismal font right at the front door, the new lift with a mosaic of the Holy Spirit on its floor, the master plasterers who dressed almost formally for work, parishioners embracing Bishop Colm O’Reilly on the morning of the fire, parishioners in awe on their first sight of the restored cathedral.

It wasn’t all sentimental – questions were raised about spending so much on such a project in recession times (though most of the cost was met by the insurance), and not everyone was enamoured of the modern art, but on the whole the tone was hugely positive and the Would You Believe team excelled in capturing an important slice of faith life in rural Ireland. Catch it on the RTÉ Player while you can.

New Year’s Day saw the launch of the UTV Ireland channel and I thought it was rather low key – five minutes of a muted introduction followed by a soap. Maybe they didn’t want to raise expectations too high. Of course, it’s not entirely new, since it’s an offshoot of UTV, and I think there will be some confusion for a while with some TV subscribers having their current UTV replaced by the new channel, which will mean some programmes displaced.

Pat Kenny returned to television with an opening night special, Out With the Old and in With the U, and it was a tame but genial, optimistic show, with a selection of disparate interviews. I particularly liked the item about the quads – the Slattery family from Limerick had four babies and were looking forward to their first birthday. Interestingly, one baby wasn’t given much hope of survival but is now thriving. (I fell asleep after that item but I’m not sure if that was me or the programme.)

UTV Ireland’s flagship news and current affairs programme is Ireland Live. Every week night, there’s a short version with Alison Comyn at 6.30pm and a longer version with Comyn and Chris O’Donoghue at 10pm. It’s rather like what RTÉ 1 does (long programme at 6pm, shorter one at 9pm) but in reverse. The show’s first outing last Monday night went well. O’Donoghue was suitably serious, as he was on Newstalk’s Breakfast Show before Ivan Yates started winding him up.

Comyn was likewise professional and there were new faces among the reporters, always good to see. So far, Mary Regan is doing well as political editor and the few little technical glitches could be forgiven.

Finally I thought Ben Conroy of the Iona Institute (and of this parish) did really well in defending gender-balanced marriage last Monday, both on Louth Meath FM’s Michael Reade Show and Today FM’s The Last Word. If all spokespersons on the no side in next May’s referendum are as reasonable and articulate, things could get really interesting.


RTĖ Radio 1 Extra, Sat, Jan 10, 5pm

Story of Fr Aidan Troy who went from the Ardoyne in Belfast to a parish in Paris.

The Big Questions

BBC 1, Sun, Jan 11, 10am

The moral, ethical and religious discussion series presented by Nicky Campbell returns for an eighth series.


EWTN, Sun, Jan 11, 4pm

Fr Barron presents the Catholic vision of death, judgment, Heaven, Hell and purgatory as he journeys to Florence, Ireland and Rome.