Lughnasa Lunacy

by John Boland

Irish Independent, August 6, 2011

At the outset of Lughnasa Live (RTE1), Grainne Seoige revealed that the Co Clare heritage park from which she was hosting the show was “surrounded by wild boars.” Sadly, we never got to see them. Instead we had to content ourselves with the tame bores whom she had gathered inside the encampment to celebrate the pagan festival of Lughnasa.

Chief among these were some of Grainne’s RTE cronies, not least her colleague John Creedon from the about-to-be-axed All-Ireland Talent Show. Before taking up residence alongside her on the encampment bench, he was shown climbing Croagh Patrick – about the only place in Ireland to which he hadn’t subjected us in his hugely tiresome RTE1 series, John Creedon’s Retro Trip. The climb, he told Grainne, had been “amazing”, though we had to take his word for that as the mist and drizzle had rendered it invisible.

Also next to her was archaeologist and historian Chris, who, Grainne promised, would provide “the voice of reason” during this “celebration of lunacy” – whereupon Chris told us all about Lug, the deity behind the festival, who apparently was one of ancient Ireland’s “top gods”. Or, as Grainne put it: “He was the daddy.”

Moya Brennan was on hand to warble ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ and Dungarvan chef Paul Flynn was elsewhere in the compound roasting a suckling pig, presumably for the eventual delectation of audience members who were dutifully seated on benches waiting for something – anything – to happen that might make their silent witnessing worthwhile.

Instead Grainne introduced a second RTE colleague, youth-show presenter Sinead Kennedy, who – as we learned courtesy of another film clip – had been swimming in Galway Bay with a woman called Uta from Dusseldorf. Sinead told us that for the past ten years Uta had been doing this for seven hours a day. Then she told us that she’d been doing it for fifteen hours a day. So which was it? And come to that, who was Uta?

Anyway, Grainne thought it “just amazing” while Sinead found it “really hard to come up with words” for the experience – words seemingly not being a requirement among RTE reporters. As to why, in a celebration of Lughnasa, she’d been cavorting with the mysterious Uta and a passing dolphin – well, as Grainne had explained when introducing her: “We’ve all heard about the folklore, but what about the sea lore?”

What, indeed? More pertinently, what on earth was RTE’s rationale in offering as its week’s highlight a programme so staggeringly banal and boring? Towards the end, a seanchai who wouldn’t shut until told to do so by a desperate Grainne was succeeded by another RTE stalwart, Colm Hayes, whose account of ancient Irish sports seemed so interminable that it warranted another interruption from the presenter, though none was forthcoming. However, long before that at least one viewer had lost the will to live.

In The Secret Life of Buildings (Channel 4), presenter Tom Dyckhoff had the large windows of his London flat boarded up so that they only admitted as much light as windows on basic housing estates. Medically examined after a week of this light-deprivation, he was found to be both psychologically depressed and physically more susceptible to diseases and other ailments.

This first of three programmes disclosed that the UK has some of the smallest homes in western Europe and that this was having a “devastating effect” on those who have to live in them – Dyckhoff pointing out that almost all of us spend 85 per cent of our lives inside buildings.

“Developers and architects are letting us down,” he argued, not just in the mean spaces they create but also in the cheap materials they use. It was an intriguing start to a series that looks worth following.

Meanwhile, ITV offered us Homes from Hell, but these were just the usual horror stories about houses that collapsed from dry rot or dream holiday apartments that turned into nightmares. There were no morals to be drawn or lessons to be learned, apart from that oldest of old reliables: caveat emptor.

More fun was this week’s episode of If Walls Could Talk (BBC4), in which the chirpy Lucy Worsley, who’s a curator of historic palaces, gives the history of the rooms we most frequently use: the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom and the bedroom.

Focusing on the last of these, she visited a medieval great hall in which eating, drinking, conversing and sleeping all took place and in which privacy was not an option when it came to bedding down for the night. And the bedding itself, as she demonstrated, was such that hitting the hay and hitting the sack had literal rather than metaphorical meaning.

A Little Bit Eurovision (RTE1) looked at the career of Niamh Kavanagh, who won the accursed contest in 1993 with her ardent rendition of ‘In Your Eyes’. Seventeen years later she came third last in the same shindig, while in general she enjoys modest rather than stellar fame. Still, some of us have always thought her dead sexy, while she’s also a gay icon. And it was clear from her amiably down-to-earth contribution to this programme that her home life is very happy and that she still loves performing. So good on her.


“The Liam Neeson of his day,” was how one contributor to Stephen Boyd: The Man Who Never Was (BBC1) described the Belfast-born co-star of ‘Ben-Hur’ and ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’.

Contributors variously attested to his personality and charm, but as an actor he was a bit of a plank and as a man he was uneasy both with fame and with playing the Hollywood game. And so after a glittering start to his career, he found himself relegated to supporting parts in a succession of bad movies. He died at the age of 45 while playing golf in California, and now he’s unknown to anyone under the age of fifty.

Playright Terence Rattigan, once the darling of the English stage, suffered much the same fate until recently. Derided in the late 1950s as the genteel antithesis of the Angry Young Men who had come to dominate British theatre, he remained unregarded until recently, when such plays as ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ and ‘Cause Celebre’ were revived to rapturous acclaim.

In The Rattigan Enigma (BBC4), actor Benedict Cumberbatch told his story eloquently and absorbingly.

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