I was in the need of some good news stories last week, something to lift the spirits and restore some pride in the country.
Nationwide (RTÉ1) provided the goods as it often does, in its own low key way, and with unfailing respect for its subjects. On Monday night they had a special show on the Irish troops in south Lebanon, working with the UN interim force keeping the peace between Israel and Hezbollah. “Blessed are the peacemakers” said the plaque on a war memorial, as those who died in the service of peace were commemorated.
This marked the 40th year of Irish UN deployment in Lebanon, and so far 47 have died in this service of peace. Apart from the peacekeeping it was also great to see the Irish soldiers so involved in enhancing the lives of the local population – e.g. playing a supportive role in a local orphanage.
The report ended with a shot of a striking but simple mural – a little girl giving a flower to a UN soldier.
On Wednesday night’s edition, the Nationwide crew focused on the stories of those buried in historic Glasnevin cemetery.
The report was greatly enhanced by aerial photography of the area (the ubiquitous drone, no doubt!), showing what a beautiful layout it has – we were told this was by design in the style of a Victorian garden cemetery, not just a functional burial ground.
It was founded by Daniel O’Connell in 1832 and his own majestic tomb is most prominent. Other famous residents include Michael Collins (the most visited grave) and O’Donovan Rossa, the Fenian, at whose graveside Patrick Pearse gave his famous oration.
Pearse’s father contributed to the sculptures in the cemetery, and a current stonemason showed us the intricacies of one of the elder Pearse’s tomb carvings, and told us the place featured the best gallery of Celtic crosses in the country.
The cemetery’s meticulous record keeping helped Fred Heatly to find the grave of his grandmother who died during the flu epidemic of 2018, which was the subject of the second half of that show. 20,000 died of this flu, and we also learned that Limerick was particularly badly hit, with five or six funerals a day at its peak – so many that individual Masses for each deceased were not possible.
This was tragedy upon tragedy as the flu followed on from the great destruction of human life in the First World War. Families were decimated by one or the other or both. Contributor Dr Ida Milne, author of Stacking the Coffins has done much to keep the memory of this time alive.
One of my favourite discussion programmes, because of the wide variety of topics and the diversity of views, is The Big Questions (BBC1), presented by Nicky Campbell. Last Sunday morning the show started with an exploration of ethics in sport, especially in relation to suggestions that England should boycott the World Cup in Russia because of the activities of that country – matters like Ukraine, doping in sport and the recent nerve agent attack.
Some contributors referenced, approvingly, the historical sports boycott of apartheid South Africa, but there wasn’t consensus on the World Cup. Some saw the competition as opening bridges between people; others couldn’t stomach the prospect of Putin presenting the trophy, though no-one, surprisingly, suggested keeping politicians out of the ceremonies altogether.
This was followed by a discussion on proposed new transgender legislation – conflicting views were expressed with only a slight tetchiness and a welcome lack of faux outrage.
The show ended rather limply with a discussion on saving the ‘high street’ in the face of online shopping and out-of-town centres. Maintaining a sense of community was the key value that featured.
Families, warts and all, are essential communities in society, and the Goodman family in Friday Night Dinner has more warts than most. This Channel 4 sitcom is mildly crude, unfortunately peppered with gratuitous profanities, but is really funny and has a warm sense of family.
The Goodmans are Jewish but relatively little is made of this, a lost opportunity I think. Last Friday’s episode, The Violin, was the second last in the current (fifth) series, and featured that most embarrassing of family moments – offspring being made to perform for relations and friends of parents.
It also saw a hilarious guest appearance from upcoming Irish actor Jonny Holden as Spencer, a failed medical student with doctor delusions. Nice one!
Pick of the week
CATHOLIC VIEW FOR WOMEN
EWTN, Monday, June 11, 8am and Wednesday, June 13, 10.30 pm
Looking at the rippling impact every abortion has, not only on its unborn victim, but on their mother, father and others,
CITY OF GHOSTS – STORYVILLE
BBC4, Monday, June 11, 10.30 pm
The story of website Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), where young men risk their lives to document Islamic State atrocities.
SAINTS AND SINNERS: BRITAIN’S MILLENNIUM OF MONASTERIES
BBC4, Tuesday (night), June 12, 3 am
How monasteries shaped medieval Britain and created dazzling art, architecture and literature.