Richie and Don Conroy“Our teacher used to say, ah lads, go easy on the Béarla.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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Why is it, Ryan wonders, that when Don Conroy walks into a room, people can’t help smiling? Probably because for most people who grew up in 1990s Ireland, the sight of Don – artist, writer, TV and radio presenter, best known for his owl pictures – is enough to trigger many joyous memories from childhood. The good news is that Don has a new book out, a collaboration with his son, Richie and both Conroys joined Ryan in studio this morning. Richie told Ryan about watching his dad on TV when he was a child.

“We didn’t quite understand how TV worked, so my mum had to be very careful about turning it off afterwards because we thought, our dad, that would be the end of it, he’s gone off somewhere.”

Don and Richie’s new book is Dialann Emily Porter: An Jailtacht, the story of a teenager sent to the Gaeltacht against her wishes in 1994. Written by Richie and illustrated by Don, the book is in English and Irish. When asked how he felt about the Gaeilge, Richie had a great culinary analogy for his attitude to the first national language.

“My attitude to Irish is the same as my attitude towards hummus. When I was a teenager, I didn’t like hummus and I decided, that’s it, I’m never eating hummus. But when I was in my 30s, it was like, actually, you know what, hummus is quite nice. But a lot of people make their mind up about something in their teens and then they go, that’s it.”

Richie was sent to Irish College when he was a teenager and unexpectedly had a great time. Ryan was delighted to find out that Richie went to An Cheathrú Rua, which is where our host went as well. Richie’s experience turned out to be a uniquely Irish rite of passage, albeit not a particularly strict one:

“Our teacher used to say, ah lads, go easy on the Béarla.”

Richie was hooked, though. He went back to Irish College for another two summers and then studied Irish in college. He’s had the idea for the story for almost 10 years, but the birth of his daughters spurred him to finally get it down on paper and to make the protagonist female instead of male. And then he approached his dad about illustrating it. The result is a book to delight teens and adults alike.

Dialann Emily Porter: An Jailtacht by Richie and Don Conroy is published by Leabhair Comhar.

And you can hear Ryan’s full interview with Richie and Don, as well as the rest of The Ryan Tubridy Show here:


© The Listener 2018

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