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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Funeral of Actor Tony Doyle

tony-doyleActors from every genre of stage and screen show come together in the chapel at Terenure College in Dublin on February 4, 2000 for the funeral of Irish television and film actor Tony Doyle.

Doyle is born on January 16, 1942 in Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. He attends Belcamp College, Dublin as a boarder before going on to University College Dublin, which he does not finish.

Doyle first comes to prominence playing a liberal Catholic priest, Father Sheehy, in RTÉ‘s iconic rural drama The Riordans. He appears in such popular shows as Coronation Street, Between the Lines, 1990, Children of the North and Ballykissangel. He wins an Irish Film and Television Academy award for best leading performance for his role in the 1998 miniseries Amongst Women. He also appears in the first Minder episode, “Gunfight at the OK Laundrette,” playing a drunken Irishman.

Doyle’s most famous film role is as the head of the Special Air Service (SAS), Colonel Hadley, in the 1982 British film Who Dares Wins. His other film roles include appearances in Ulysses (1967), Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970), Loophole (1981), Eat the Peach (1986), Secret Friends (1991), Damage (1992), Circle of Friends (1995), and as Tom French in I Went Down (1997).

Tony Doyle collapses at his home and is taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital in Lambeth, London, England where he dies around 2:00 AM on January 28, 2000.

Brian Quigley, Doyle’s Ballykissangel character, is written out of the show after Doyle’s death in the first episode of the final series where Quigley fakes his own suicide and flees to Brazil.

The Tony Doyle Bursary for New Writing is launched by the BBC following his death. Judges include his friend and Ballykissangel co-star Lorcan Cranitch. Cranitch subsequently stars in the BBC detective series McCready and Daughter, which had been written with Doyle in mind.