RTÉ’s new season is a mixed blessing

This week’s TV brought the welcome return of the music slot offering old classics and ‘pleasant’ new faces, writes Brendan O’Regan

RTÉ 1 launched quite a few new programmes last week, with mixed results. I was glad to see the return of Joe Duffy’s Sprit Level last Sunday, but I’m not sure about the new lunchtime slot or the inclusion of a cookery item. 

I’m all for table fellowship but engaging in it is more meaningful than watching. And are there not enough cookery shows on TV? At least the segment was blended into the main item by the inclusion of Syrian chef Ghandi Mallak, who prepared the food and joined Fr Alan Hilliard and journalist Colette Brown to discuss the refugee crisis. 

Fr Hillard was critical of church and state for inadequate response and Browne referenced times past when we didn’t welcome the stranger, though Gandhi said he had been welcomed here and pointed out times when we had been welcoming of refugees. 

It was good to see the return of the music slot, which this time featured an interview and music with Frances Black and Kieran Goss. They performed a pleasant song about learning and peace, though the backdrop, which used to be a stained glass window motif is now a more generic stage, symptomatic perhaps of a more watered-down approach to spirituality. 

Like Goss and Black, the music of Hozier is also in the contemporary singer-songwriter vein. He was the first guest in a new series of The Meaning of Life With Gay Byrne, broadcast last Sunday night. He came across as a pleasant and thoughtful young man, but one who still has a lot of life to experience and a lot of deeper thinking to do. His answer to many questions was ‘I don’t know’, which is unsatisfactory but certainly better than arrogance. 

His parents, originally Catholic, became Quakers and while he has fond memories of Quaker events he hasn’t attended for years. His parents didn’t want him to experience the culture of physical abuse they encountered in Catholic education but they sent him to a Catholic school in Bray. 

They never taught him any anti-Catholic hostility and yet he has many gripes against the Church. Gay Byrne said he could understand people of his older generation having such resentments but he asked would there be many in Hozier’s age group who give ‘a hoot’ about what the Church teaches? 

I also wondered how Hozier developed such resentment or even prejudice, having being schooled in more recent times when religious education placed much more emphasis on love and social justice. Could the attitude come from lazy caricatures about the Church presented by media, films or fiction? He wanted the Church to keep its nose out of sexual relationships, but there was no mention of the Church’s huge social commitment. 

In response to Byrne’s standard questions, he thought that Jesus was ‘an important political figure’ but couldn’t get his head around the divinity. He wasn’t sure about God, but if God existed then his talent, like all else, must have come from God. If he met God at the end of life he’d want to say ‘Thank you’, but would have lots of questions. 

The Pope’s visit to the USA received plenty of media coverage last week. I was pleasantly surprised to see his speech to Congress covered live on Sky News last Thursday. It’s so rarely that we get a chance to hear Pope Francis speaking English. As usual many special moments were captured, moments that will live long in memory and on YouTube! 

Hearts were touched no doubt by the little girl who approached the papal cavalcade with a t-shirt and a letter for the Holy Father. The little car he had for some journeys spoke of his trademark humility and at one stage we saw him stopping it to greet a young person with cerebral palsy. 

But there was muscle in his addresses and it was interesting to see him drawing criticism from right and left – from the right (often on US media) over what they saw as overemphasis on issues like climate change, from the left (often on Irish media) over what they saw as him not hitting the right notes on women or child abuse. One thing guaranteed – he continues to have a huge and challenging impact. 

There was a surprise epilogue… by last Monday morning, the Irish media was buzzing with the prospect of a papal visit in 2018 for the World Meeting of Families. 


Pick of the Week


RTÉ 1 Sun 4 Oct 11.00 am

Father Paul Kenny celebrates Mass in the RTÉ studios. With music by Anima Chamber Choir under their Music Director Bernard Sexton.

Joe Duffy’s Spirit Level

RTÉ 1 Sun 4 Oct 1.10 pm

Joe and the panel will discuss whether or not the Pope should be involved in political issues such as the environment.

EWTN News Synod Update

EWTN Mon 5 Oct 2 pm

Start of daily reports from the Synod on the Family.