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Marty Morrissey’s helpless cheerfulness is trumped by melancholy

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At the beginning of a new decade, a spirit of determination and hope for the future permeates the air waves, if only because the arrival in January means that you won’t have to listen to obituaries or reviews for another 12 months. The last week of 2019 is peppered with recorded summaries such as legacies with Joe Duffy (RTÉ Radio 1, Monday), in which the host pays respect to people who died during the year without trying to forget anyone.

This combination of morbidity and speed is not as much a praise as speed dating, as Duffy calls the name of a recently deceased celebrity who asks his guests for a sum and continues after 20 seconds. (In fairness, there are more substantial contributions for top-class personalities.) The ubiquity of such programs makes it a pleasant surprise that the title Final Whistle (Newstalk, Monday) despite its rather threatening title is a summary of the sporting highlights and not a litany of recently deceased, presented by John Duggan in an efficient, good mood.

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Morrissey sounds like he’s going into fits of helpless cheerfulness when he opens the show

After all the obligatory retrospect, New Year’s Day offers the prospect of a new beginning in the form of Reasons To Be Cheerful (RTÉ Radio 1, Wednesday), in which Marty Morrissey and his guests look to the coming year. So that the name derived from Ian Dury leaves no doubt about the optimistic letter of the program, Morrissey sounds like he’s going to be in fits of helpless serenity when he opens the show.

However, the cheerful mood does not survive the opening question from the host. Morrissey asks his panel if people are obsessed with personal happiness just so Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell says, “I prefer the state of melancholy.” Comedian Bernard O’Shea is convinced that “happiness is a complete and perfect myth”. It is soon clear that the applause that has been promised will be more difficult to grasp than expected.

Within a few minutes, the discussion took a dark turn when panelists discussed the homeless crisis before moving on to the ever-soothing issue of immigration. O’Donnell proposes some sort of pecking order regarding the need for immigration visas, but fears that even expressing such ideas could make them “disadvantageous”. “It is very difficult to argue about it without spinning it anywhere else,” she says of the topic. Sure enough, the atmosphere is decidedly more tense than usual at a happy seasonal Gabfest.

Morrissey, who keeps his head largely under the parapet during the charged conversation, finally tries to cool the temperature. “Let us rest a moment,” he says, inviting guests to name a favorite piece of music. Given how quickly things escalated earlier, the moderator largely circumvents possible controversy by raising a number of increasingly bizarre questions. “Do you have any thoughts about the British royal family?” He asks his confused guests.

As for the host himself, he sounds more pleasant when the conversation turns to the familiar field of sport

“When was the last time you laughed well?” He asks later. “Is comedy a laughing matter or is it more serious?” He asks O’Shea, whose own material obviously doesn’t belong to the earlier category that day, but mainly consists of cracks in which he appears on various television series alongside Morrissey.

As for the host himself, he sounds more pleasant when the conversation turns to the familiar field of sport. But here, too, there are controversial moments when RTÉ sports colleague Damien O’Meara wonders whether sport does not bring more people together than, for example, book clubs. This may not be a particularly transgressive idea, but it seems like a heresy when it is voiced in the company of Morrissey, for whom, like many others, GAA is less a sport than a way of life. However, such moments cause a wry smile.

For a sports show that tries not to take itself too seriously, Second Captains (RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday) also deals with intense topics when the team of Eoin McDevitt, Ken Early and Ciarán Murphy with Samantha Power, who was born in Ireland US diplomat, speaks and writes. Power is reportedly competing for the show’s title as “Ireland’s Greatest Non-Athlete,” an award currently held by Kenyan-born British politician Peter Hain, suggesting the hosts have even fewer nationality criteria than that Irish rugby team. Of course, all of this is an excuse for McDevitt and Co. to implement their brand formula of disrespectful attitude and deceptively intelligent conversation.

The latter can be felt even more clearly in this New Year’s edition. As McDevitt and Early Quiz Power on the development of their political philosophy, it sounds less like a predatory sports program than after a fierce discussion about US foreign policy. Early, in particular, is not afraid to get involved in one or the other tough matter when comparing the option of military intervention occasionally favored by Power with an elephant trampling everywhere.

It is stimulating and entertaining listening, right down to the novel point system developed by Murphy, the show’s joker

Power is a regular guest on Irish radio, but rarely does she get interviewed for so long in an unusual setting. She looks like a determined, serious figure, but one that was shaped by the loss of her father when she was a teenager: “I still live in the shadow of this event.” Just as revealing is the youthful dedication of Power to follow the trail and field sports, where she first showed the qualities that served her well later in life. “There was spirit and drive in my commitment to sport,” she says, which undoubtedly helped her connect with her old boss, Barack Obama, a “great athlete.”

It is stimulating and entertaining listening, right down to the novel point system developed by Murphy, the joker resident on the show. It’s also uplifting when Power says the Trump presidency’s chaos made her look for positives: every day, she emails a friend with three things that made her thankful in life. It is a time of hope, after all.

Radio moment of the week: Iceland is broadcast

The historical and genetic connections between Ireland and Iceland may not appear to be the most poetic topic for a documentary, but the poetry: mother’s blood, sister songs (poetry, Sunday) turns out to be a fascinating experience.

The two-part film, presented by the composer Linda Buckley, contains contributions by scientists, but filters the story of how Viking invaders brought Irish women to the northernmost island through a musical lens, supported by a soundtrack of atmospheric Irish and Icelandic people. Buckley also discovers that Iceland’s strong literary heritage has Celtic roots when she hears “that the status of poetry in Ireland was much higher than that of Germanic culture”. Far from being icy or cool, it’s an exciting exploration of history, gender, and culture.

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