Broadcast History“History casts such a long shadow. And we have to be so, so careful.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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As the election disappears into the rear-view mirror, some questions remain unanswered, as Ryan Tubridy suggested to Cork historian , Dr Finola Doyle-O’Neill: “Whose history is right? And when does history stop being politics, and when does politics become history?”

Dr O’Neill says that one person’s perspective of history may be offensive to someone else. Finola went on to discuss the dramatic licence taken by some of the  directors of movies portraying towering figures of Irish history, including Neil Jordan:

“When Neil Jordan made Michael Collins, there was a slew of inaccuracies, anachronisms, even, historically if you’re trying to be accurate. But at the same time, it was Neil Jordan’s perspective, and many people were upset over the dramatisation of DeValera, for example.”

Dr Doyle O’Neill specialises in the interface between broadcasting and history. As well as lecturing, she stages live performances of historical events in “bespoke” venues. She mounted a parade in 2018 to commemorate a century of votes for women and is currently working on a show to be performed in March 2020,  based on the inquest into the killing of Cork’s celebrated Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain. Finola told Ryan that the staging will also be a “perspective” on historical events, as the sheer volume of witnesses in the real inquest would be too many to include in the staged version. Dr Doyle O’Neill says the events surrounding the death of MacCurtain still resonate today:

“This is such a sensitive issue. We also had the RIC debacle, so we really have to be very sensitive. It’s a very fragile area. All I will say is, that, there is no triumphalism about this”

Dr Doyle O’Neill says Lieutenant Colonel Swanzy of the RIC “possibly” ordered the hit on the 36-year old Mayor on the 20th of March 1920, which happened to be MacCurtain’s birthday. She says her interest is in treating the event as sensitively as possible and above all, looking at the human side:

“It’s a very tragic tale. Remember that history casts such a long shadow. And we have to be so, so careful. What I’m looking at really is, I’m looking at the event from a humane point of view.”

Having written a book about the confessional nature of Irish broadcasters from Frankie Byrne to Gay Byrne, from Gerry Ryan to Joe Duffy, Dr Doyle-O’Neill decided to do a bit of research live on air:

“What I used to often see about Gay Byrne for example, was that he was naturally an entertainer; he came from the variety circuit, whereas an awful lot of the current presenters really are journalistic. So where would you see yourself as emanating from, Ryan?”

Ryan says his place in the pantheon is probably defined by his boundless curiosity: “I’m caught in the middle with you; stuck in the middle with you! I don’t know what I am, to be honest with you, in terms of broadcasting; I am interested in everything.”

Ryan asked the broadcast historian what she thought was the real reason behind the popularity of talk radio in Ireland, in which people shared their most personal stories. Dr Doyle O’Neill was happy to share her theory:

“I think we find ourselves very interesting!”

You can hear more about Ryan Tubridy’s and Dr Finola Doyle-O’Neill’s views on the framing of women’s history, confessional radio and the interplay of history and broadcasting in the full interview here.

Dr Doyle-O’Neill is giving a talk entitled “From the Confession Box to the Radio Soap Box: Talk Radio in Ireland and Social Change” in the Long Room of Trinity College Dublin on the 12th of Feburary  at 4 pm

A dramatisation of the inquest into the death of Cork’s former Lord Mayor Tomás McCurtain will take place in Cork on the 19th of March 2020.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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