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Ryan on the radio Ð a light that burned out too soon

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: {J}

Gerry Ryan was a one-off, a pure genius on radio, a man who poured his heart and soul into three hours’ of live radio five days of the week. He switched from the heaviest of economic discussions into the most flippant of observations and back into counselling mode as the father of the nation.

He was no angel and enjoyed the high life, but he knew he was just the captain of the team and whatever nuggets fell Gerry’s way also benefitted his production team which was just part of the reason they stayed so loyal to him for so long.

The beauty of Gerry Ryan was that there was no radio persona; he was honest to the point of obsession and that’s why the public saw him as more of a friend than a presenter.

I was lucky enough to know Gerry reasonably well over the years, and I was a guest on his programme numerous times over the years. Those radio days always made it a morning to look forward to because this was a chat with a pal, not the radio version of an inquisition.

He didn’t feign interest in you or what you were talking about and he didn’t read his questions off a script; he hoped the item would move in a direction that nobody had even thought of, and he loved when the show moved left field.

For years, the Gerry Ryan Show was intrinsically linked with the annual Trócaire fast and part of that involved a trip for a week to some part of the world to see the work of this marvellous agency at first hand.

But Gerry didn’t want worthy thoughts from abroad, so he ran a competition to send a listener – someone who knew almost nothing about Africa or Trócaire – to report back in their own words on what they saw.

At the time I worked with The Star and we were tied in to the event as well, contributing both to the paper and the radio show. And those daily phone calls back to the programme might have started with serious observations but always went down back alleys as Gerry wanted to know what life was really like, was there any craic, who had we met.

By taking it away from the worthy but dull, he held his audience and boosted the coffers for Trócaire at same time.

When he thought the listeners idea was going stale, he wanted someone else who would be taken out of their comfort zone and into a different place. Choosing Tony Fenton turned out to be an inspired choice and it breathed new life into an old idea.

The smallest things fascinated him as much as world events; once, he discovered that I was one of the few people in Dublin who lived close enough to work that I could see the office from my house.

So he suggested that I experience traffic like I lived in Lucan, asking me to drive out there and report in by mobile on what a shock to the system this sort of bumper to bumper progress to work might seem like.

We talked of genocide in Rwanda, what sort of drugs Stanley Kubrick was on to make 2001 A Space Odyssey, how to go about buying ladies underwear (for ladies obviously), and if men had the remotest a clue what women actually thought. I even remember an outside broadcast from some woman’s house on the northside of Dublin where the local women got very excited when Tom from Omagh – one of the contestants in the first Big Brother – showed up.

From the sublime to the ridiculous in the blink of an eye.

Gerry’s strengths were many; his ability to move from world issues to the banal, his residual knowledge on so many fronts, his sense of fun, his openness and honesty, the absence of a radio persona – but most of all his ability to make the listeners feel like they were the only one he was talking to…and that he really knew them.

He will be missed by those who loved originality, because you can’t learn what Gerry Ryan had out of a book. But he will be missed most of all by the ordinary people of Ireland who have lost a friend and an ally, a voice for those who couldn’t get an audience for themselves.

He was too young to go but he will not be forgotten; a true genius and a gent who never tried to be anything other than himself.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Ruby ready to rock again and Bob is worth a big flutter in Gold Cup

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 06-Mar-2013

New edge to Galway hurling championship title pursuit

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A battle of talent and the ability to pull in public votes

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 11-Mar-2013

Here is a question. And there is no holiday or grand prize for getting the answer. But can anyone name the people who have won The Voice of Ireland and what has become of them?

Over across the water in the UK they have The X Factor and while I hate the concept of it, it has produced a few stars even though they don’t last long in the whole scheme of things.

But The Voice of Ireland seems to generate false excitement with the winner ending up become more anonymous than they already were. And it is costing families a fortune in the process.

While the programme is a ratings winner, strangely, it has resulted in those getting through to the final stages investing huge amounts of money in the hope that they will receive enough votes to get through to the next stages.

So, suddenly, it is not about the voice or the talent involved, it is all about votes and who the participants can convince to pledge their support for them. So it is obvious that talent goes out the window.

It means that someone with half a talent could realistically win the whole thing if they generated enough support behind them. From now on, the judges will be taken out of the equation and it will be left to the public to generate income for some phone operator.

Those who get through to the live performances have to engage in a massive publicity campaign in an effort to win votes which makes this whole effort a pure sham. It is no longer about their ability and just an effort to win appeal.

While the initial process does involve some vetting of the acts, now it becomes a general election type exercise in which the most popular will win the competition and the judges will have no say whatsoever.

It is a bit like the recent Eurosong in which the judging panel across the country voted for their favourite song, which incidentally was the best of a very bad lot, but then this was overturned by the public who chose a relatively crap song to represent us.

But again, this was all down to convincing the public about who to vote for rather than having any bearing on the quality on offer. There are times that genuine talent becomes overlooked because of the need to extract money from the voting public.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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