seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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“The Riordans” Ends 15 Year Run

the-riordans-title-cardThe Riordans, a drama about life in a rural Irish village and the most successful serial in the history of Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), running from 1965 to 1979, comes to an end on May 11, 1979. It is the second Irish soap opera made by RTÉ (then called Telefís Éireann).

In 1964 the fledgling Telefís Éireann launches Tolka Row, a soap opera set in a working class part of Dublin. Its success is immediate, with its actors becoming household names. One year later, aware that Ireland is still a largely rural country, and of the immense popularity of rural-based radio shows on RTÉ Radio (then called Radio Éireann), Telefís Éireann decides to create a new rural soap opera, set on a family farm. Located in Dunboyne, The Flathouse, owned by the Connolly family, is the setting for this programme.

The show is called The Riordans after the name of the central family, who are two middle-aged parents, Tom Riordan and his wife Mary Riordan, together with their oldest son, Benjy and other siblings, including brother Michael and sister Jude, all of whom except Benjy have left farming for other careers and have more adventurous personal lives.

The Riordans is set in the fictional townland of Leestown in County Kilkenny and proves to be a revolutionary television programme, both in Ireland and internationally. Its most dramatic innovation is in the use of Outside Broadcast Units (OBUs) to film most of each episode on location in the countryside. This is a marked innovation. Previously soap operas had all been studio-based, with even supposed exterior filming all done with studio sets built in sound stages. This breaks the mould of broadcasting in the soap opera genre and inspires the creation of its British equivalent, Emmerdale Farm (now called Emmerdale) by Yorkshire Television in 1972. In 1975 The Riordans begins to be filmed and transmitted in colour, having been available in monochrome only up to then.

The show undergoes a number of changes in the mid-1970s, most notably moving from a half-hour to one-hour format, as well as a change in theme tune. The decision of actor Tom Hickey to leave the series causes some problems. His character, Benjy is not killed off but goes abroad “on the missions.” While the show has declined somewhat from its heyday, it still regularly battles with The Late Late Show to top the TAM ratings. The production team is surprised when one episode, which unusually departs from the 1970s and focuses on Tom Riordan as a young man in the 1930s at a family céilí, is critically acclaimed by the media and many older viewers, who view it as an accurate representation of life on an Irish farm in the 1930s and 1940s.

With its considerable popularity, large cast of respected actors and high production values, and its central location on the schedules of RTÉ 1, few expect the show to be axed, let alone so suddenly. There is considerable surprise, and a lot of criticism, when the new Director of Programming at RTÉ, Muiris Mac Conghail, decides that the show has run its course and so axes it in May 1979. Part of the justification is cost as it is one of RTÉ’s most expensive shows to produce.

(Pictured: The Riordans title card)

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The Battle of Ashbourne

fingal-brigade-iraAs the end of the 1916 Easter Rising becomes increasingly apparent and the rebels in Dublin are being squeezed harder and harder by the British forces, the rebels outside the city achieve a small victory on Friday, April 28, 1916, in what comes to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne.

The Battle of Ashbourne is a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and about 37 Irish Volunteers, led by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy. It is one of the few engagements outside of Dublin city centre and is, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one.  It is also an example of the guerilla warfare that becomes a normal method of operation during the Irish War of Independence.

After the Volunteers battalion is mobilized on Easter Sunday, they are split into smaller groups, known as flying columns, and are sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission is to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycles, mostly armed with shotguns. After raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications, and collecting rifles, they reach the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne.

There they are met with a barricade that has been hastily erected by the RIC members stationed in the barracks nearby. The RIC constables quickly surrender and are sent to the barracks to order a full surrender but they do not return. The Volunteers take up positions across the road while James O’Connor and Ashe try to break in the door. The constables begin firing from the upper windows of the building and a gun battle breaks out.

The fighting intensifies as RIC reinforcements arrive from Navan, Dunboyne, and Slane. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty, are fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray is killed, the constables surrender and are taken prisoner. The Volunteers gather their arms and ammunition while Ashe warns the constables that they will be shot if they take up arms against the Irish people again.

In total, fourteen people are killed in the battle – two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Many more are injured.

The Volunteers’ victory is short lived, however, as in the early afternoon of the next day Ashe receives word of the surrender in Dublin. He demobilises the battalion and sends the men home. Many, including O’Connor, are arrested within days and interned in Wakefield Prison and Frongoch Internment Camp.

Ashe eventually spends time in jail for his role in the uprising and is jailed again in 1917. He begins a hunger strike on September 20, demanding POW status. Ashe dies after just five days on hunger strike from injuries received while being force-fed. The manner of his death outrages the Irish population.

As a side note, Thomas Ashe is a cousin of actor Gregory Peck.