seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Eamonn Andrews, Radio & Television Presenter

eamonn-andrewsEamonn Andrews, Irish radio and television presenter employed primarily in the United Kingdom from the 1950s to the 1980s, dies in London, England on November 5, 1987. From 1960 to 1964 he chairs the Radio Éireann Authority, which oversees the introduction of a state television service to the Republic of Ireland.

Andrews is born in Synge Street, Dublin, and educated at Synge Street CBS. He begins his career as a clerk in an insurance office. He is a keen amateur boxer and wins the Irish junior middleweight title in 1944.

In 1946 Andrews becomes a full-time freelance sports commentator, working for Radio Éireann, Ireland’s state broadcaster. In 1950, he begins presenting programmes for the BBC, being particularly well known for boxing commentaries, and soon becomes one of television’s most popular presenters. The following year, the game show What’s My Line? begins and Andrews is the host.

Throughout the 1950s, Andrews commentates on the major British heavyweight fights on the BBC Light Programme, with inter-round summaries by W. Barrington Dalby. On January 20 , 1956, he reaches No. 18 in the UK Singles Chart with a “spoken narrative” recording named “The Shifting Whispering Sands (Parts 1 & 2),” which is produced by George Martin with musical backing by the Ron Goodwin Orchestra, released by Parlophone as catalogue number R 4106, a double-sided 78rpm record. The song later reappears on Kenny Everett‘s compilation album The World’s Worst Record Show, which is released in June 1978.

Between 1955 and 1964, Andrews presents the long-running Sports Report on BBC’s Light Programme. In 1965, he leaves the BBC to join the ITV contractor ABC, where he pioneers the talk show format in the UK. He hosts a chat show on ITV, The Eamonn Andrews Show, for five years. He is known for coming up with off-the-cuff linkings that do not work, such as: “Speaking of cheese sandwiches, have you come far?” This is parodied by the character Seamus Android on Round the Horne in the 1960s, performed by Bill Pertwee. In the 1960s and 1970s he presents Thames Television‘s Today news magazine programme.

Andrews is probably best known as the presenter of the UK version of This Is Your Life, between its inception in 1955 and his death in 1987, when he is succeeded by Michael Aspel, who had also succeeded Andrews as the host of Crackerjack! more than twenty years earlier. Andrews is the first This Is Your Life subject on British television when he is surprised by the show’s creator, Ralph Edwards. He also creates a long-running panel game called Whose Baby? that originally runs on the BBC and later on ITV. He is a regular presenter of the early Miss World pageants.

Andrews’ chairs the Radio Éireann Authority between 1960 and 1964, overseeing the introduction of state television to the Republic of Ireland and establishing the broadcaster as an independent semi-state body. About this time, he also acquires a number of business interests in Ireland, including recording studios and a dance hall. He steps down from the RTE Authority amidst a bitter political storm started by the Catholic Church hierarchy over what is seen as the controversial content of The Late Late Show. Before leaving RTÉ, he defends the show as “freedom of expression.”

After months of illness during 1987, originally caused by a virus contracted during a plane journey but which is not recognised at the time, Andrews dies from heart failure on November 5, 1987 at the Cromwell Hospital in London. A funeral service is held at St. Anne’s Church in Portmarnock, where he had his home, and his body is buried in Balgriffin Cemetery to the north of Dublin. A memorial mass is held for him in Westminster Cathedral.

Andrews had recorded his last edition of This Is Your Life six days previously on October 30, 1987. After his death, the show, and two others that had yet to be broadcast, are postponed until, with his widow’s permission, they are broadcast in January 1988.

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Death of Ronnie Drew, Folk Musician & Singer

ronnie-drew-1Joseph Ronald “Ronnie” Drew, singer, folk musician and actor who achieves international fame during a fifty-year career recording with The Dubliners, dies on August 16, 2008 in Dublin, County Dublin.

Drew is most recognised for his lead vocals on the singles “Seven Drunken Nights” and “The Irish Rover,” both charting in the UK top 10 and then performed on Top of the Pops. He is recognisable for his long beard and his voice, which was once described by Nathan Joseph as being “like the sound of coke being crushed under a door.”

Drew is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on September 16, 1934 and is educated at CBS Eblana. Despite his aversion to education, he is considered the most intelligent in his class by schoolfriend and future Irish film censor, Sheamus Smith. Drew also sings as a boy soprano before his voice breaks.

In the 1950s, Drew moves to Spain to teach English and learn Spanish and flamenco guitar. His interest in folk music begins at the age of nineteen. When he returns to Ireland, he performs in the Gate Theatre with John Molloy and soon goes into the music business full-time, after holding a number of short-term jobs.

In 1962, he founds the Ronnie Drew Group with Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna and Ciarán Bourke. They soon change their name to The Dubliners, with John Sheahan joining shortly afterwards to form the definitive line-up, and quickly become one of the best known Irish folk groups. They play at first in O’Donoghue’s Pub in Merrion Row, Dublin where they are often accompanied by Mary Jordan on the spoons and vocalist Ann Mulqueen, a friend of McKenna’s. Mary Jordan’s mother, Peggy Jordan, introduces them to the Abbey Tavern in Howth, which becomes a regular Monday night venue for the emerging group. They also play across the road in the Royal Hotel, at all-night parties in Peggy’s large house in Kenilworth Square in Rathgar, and in John Molloy’s flat at Ely Place.

Drew leaves the Dubliners in 1974, goes to Norway in 1978 and records two songs with the Norwegian group Bergeners. He rejoins The Dubliners in 1979 and leaves for good in 1995, though he does reunite with the group in 2002 for a 40th anniversary celebration. He makes several television appearances with the group between 2002 and 2005.

From 1995 onwards, Drew pursues a solo career. He records with many artists, including Christy Moore, The Pogues, Antonio Breschi, Dropkick Murphys, Eleanor Shanley and others. He does a number of “one-man shows” consisting of stories about people such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Seán O’Casey, as well as Drew singing their songs.

He fronts a campaign to encourage the use of Dublin’s light-rail infrastructure (the DART) and, before that, the “My Dublin” ads for radio stations 98FM and FM104. He narrates a retelling of the great Irish Myths and Legends over a six CD set in 2006. He also narrates the stories of Oscar Wilde in his distinctive voice for a series released on CD by the News of the World newspaper. Both were re-released as CD box sets in 2010.

On August 22, 2006, Drew is honoured in a ceremony where his hand prints are added to the “Walk of Fame” outside Dublin‘s Gaiety Theatre.

In September 2006, Drew is reported to be in ill-health after being admitted to St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, to undergo tests for suspected throat cancer. On October 25, 2007, Drew, now bald and beardless, appears on Ryan Confidential on RTÉ One to give an interview about his role in The Dubliners, his life since leaving the band and being diagnosed with throat cancer. Later in 2007, he appears on The Late Late Show, where he speaks about the death of his wife and his ongoing treatment for cancer.

Ronnie Drew dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, on August 16, 2008, following his long illness. He is buried three days later in Redford Cemetery in Greystones.


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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 Ordination of Sinéad O’Connor

sinead-oconnorSinéad O’Connor, Irish singer-songwriter also known as Magda Davitt, is ordained as a priest in Lourdes on April 22, 1999 by Bishop Michael Cox of the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, an Independent Catholic group not in communion with the Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church considers ordination of women to be invalid and asserts that a person attempting the sacrament of ordination upon a woman incurs excommunication. The bishop had contacted her to offer ordination following her appearance on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show, during which she tells the presenter, Gay Byrne, that had she not been a singer, she would have wished to have been a Catholic priest. After her ordination, she indicates that she wishes to be called Mother Bernadette Mary.

In a July 2007 interview with Christianity Today, O’Connor states that she considers herself a Christian and that she believes in core Christian concepts about the Trinity and Jesus Christ. She says, “I think God saves everybody whether they want to be saved or not. So when we die, we’re all going home… I don’t think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally.” In an October 2002 interview, she credits her Christian faith in giving her the strength to live through, and then overcome the effects of, her child abuse.

On March 26, 2010, O’Connor appears on CNN‘s Anderson Cooper 360° to speak out about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Ireland. Two days later she has an opinion piece published in the Sunday edition of The Washington Post in which she writes about the scandal and her time in a Magdalene asylum as a teenager. Writing for the Sunday Independent she labels the Vatican as “a nest of devils” and calls for the establishment of an “alternative church,” opining that “Christ is being murdered by liars” in the Vatican. Shortly after the election of Pope Francis she describes the office of the Pope as an “anti-Christian office.”

Asked whether from her point of view, it is therefore irrelevant who is elected to be Pope, O’Connor replies, “Genuinely I don’t mean disrespect to Catholic people because I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the Holy Spirit, all of those, but I also believe in all of them, I don’t think it cares if you call it Fred or Daisy, you know? Religion is a smokescreen, it has everybody talking to the wall. There is a Holy Spirit who can’t intervene on our behalf unless we ask it. Religion has us talking to the wall. The Christ character tells us himself: you must only talk directly to the Father; you don’t need intermediaries. We all thought we did, and that’s OK, we’re not bad people, but let’s wake up… God was there before religion; it’s there [today] despite religion; it’ll be there when religion is gone.”


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Death of RTÉ Presenter Gerard “Gerry” Ryan

Gerard “Gerry” Ryan, presenter of radio and television employed by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), is found dead in the bedroom of his home on Leeson Street, Dublin on April 30, 2010. He presents The Gerry Ryan Show on radio station RTÉ 2fm each weekday morning from 1988 until hours before his sudden death. He is presented with a Jacob’s Award for the show in 1990.

Ryan is born in Clontarf, County Dublin on June 4, 1956. He describes his father, Vinnie, as a “slightly eccentric” dentist from a Presbyterian background and his mother, Maureen, as “a flamboyant woman” who comes from a theatrical background and works in the theatre. His godfather is broadcaster Eamonn Andrews. He is educated at St. Paul’s College, Raheny.

Ryan hosts several series of television shows, including Secrets, Gerry Ryan Tonight, Ryantown, Gerry Ryan’s Hitlist, Ryan Confidential and the first three series of Operation Transformation. In 1987, he earns notoriety and the moniker “Lambo” after an unpleasant incident in Connemara. He is also noted for co-presenting, with Cynthia Ní Mhurchú, Eurovision Song Contest 1994 and, in 2008, presenting an edition of The Late Late Show, television’s longest-running chat show, in place of the then regular host Pat Kenny.

Ryan marries Morah Brennan in 1988 and they have five children: Lottie, Rex, Bonnie, Elliott and Babette. In 1997, Morah famously telephones her husband’s show and, under the name Norah, tells half a million listeners intimate details concerning his personal household habits. Gerry and Morah announce their separation in March 2008, which Ryan calls “a very painful experience.” He soon begins a relationship with the former South African Ambassador to Ireland and the then UNICEF Ireland executive director, Melanie Verwoerd.

Ryan is noted for his love of fine food and wine. He battles a weight problem for several years and takes Reductil (Sibutramine), a “slimming pill,” which he says is effective and safe. Ryan concedes in his autobiography Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up, released in October 2008, that he drinks too much for his own good.

Among the dignitaries to send tributes following Ryan’s death are Bono, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, and President Mary McAleese. His funeral takes place on May 6, 2010, and is broadcast on 2fm, the home of Ryan’s radio show and a first for the predominantly youthpop-oriented station. His death also comes sixteen years to the day after he hosted Eurovision 1994.

An inquest shows that the cause of Ryan’s death is cardiac arrhythmia and that traces of cocaine found in Ryan’s system are the “likely trigger” of Ryan’s death. A considerable public controversy erupts when Ryan’s long-term use of cocaine comes to light. RTÉ eventually admits to having given insufficient coverage of Ryan’s cocaine habit in the aftermath of the inquest.


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Birth of Alice Taylor, Writer & Novelist

alice-taylorAlice Taylor, best-selling Irish writer and novelist particularly known for her nostalgia works looking back at life in a small village, is born on February 28 , 1938, on a farm in Lisdangan, Newmarket in northern County Cork.

Taylor is educated at Drishane Convent. She works in Bandon before marrying Gabriel Murphy. They have four sons and one daughter. When she marries she moves to Innishannon in the southern part of the county in 1961. There she runs a guesthouse, the local post office, and a shop.

In 1984 she edits and publishes a local magazine, Candlelight, and in 1986 she publishes an illustrated collection of her poetry. However it is the launch of her book To School Through the Fields, published in May 1988, which brings her fame. She has numerous interviews on national shows including RTÉ Radio‘s Gay Byrne Show and The Late Late Show. The next books are equally successful and have been sold internationally. Since then she has moved on to novels which have also become best sellers.

Her husband dies in 2005. Taylor remains very connected to the village of Innishannon where she continues to live. Since her eldest son has taken over responsibility for the shop, she has been able to devote more time to her writing. One of the programs she has been involved in is the restoration of the old Innishannon Tower.


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Birth of Broadcaster Pat Kenny

pat-kennyPatrick “Pat” Kenny, veteran Irish broadcaster, is born in Dublin on January 29, 1948. Kenny currently hosts the daily radio show The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk and the current affairs show Pat Kenny Tonight on TV3.

Kenny is educated at the O’Connell School and obtains a chemical engineering degree from University College Dublin (UCD) in 1969. Subsequently, he is a postgraduate student at Georgia Institute of Technology and then a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin. He begins his broadcasting career in parallel to his academic “day-job” by working as a continuity announcer on RTÉ radio in the mid-1970s. He subsequently becomes a radio disc jockey.

Kenny has a 41 year high-profile career at RTÉ, in which he is their highest paid presenter for several years. He presents the radio show Today with Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1 each weekday morning between 10:00 and midday until 2013. He hosts The Late Late Show from September 1999 until May 2009, however returns as a stand-in host in January 2013. He presents the current affairs programme, The Frontline, each Monday night from 2009 until its cancellation in 2013.

Kenny is the co-host of Eurovision Song Contest 1988, as well as numerous other television shows, including Today Tonight, Saturday Live, and Kenny Live, and works for both RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ 2fm, sometimes simultaneously, in a career that has spanned five decades. He is the holder of a Jacob’s Award and is perennially cited as the highest paid employee in RTÉ’s possession. He is named 23rd most influential person of 2009 by the magazine Village.