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Illustration by Caty Bartholomew

Best reality Irish TV ever

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Illustration by Caty Bartholomew

On this brilliant May afternoon over slumberous Clare I am faced with two main story boreens heading in sharply opposite directions. 

One leads North to where Gerry Adams is still under arrest at time of writing. About every hack in the British Isles and beyond is causing a traffic jam on that one.

The other road, however, heads joyfully deep into the West as the cuckoo sings. It brings us to a world of rural music and song and craic and culture. It plunges us into the chest cavity of the Hidden Ireland I keep trying to reveal to you all here year after year.

Don't ye know already which direction I am headed, and I warmly counsel ye all to follow.

I immediately confess that it has always gone against my zany brain grain to praise anything emanating from Co. Mayo except Knock water from the blessed shrine and, latterly, in all fairness the political performance of our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny for the way he has grown into the boots of leadership in a manner I had wrongly predicted was beyond him. 

I now find myself loud in praise of a splendid Mayo-based enterprise which has already enriched my life and times and which, my friends, is available to about all of you, wherever you are, at the touch of a button believe it or not.

In a nutshell, a group of Mayo folk this week launched an excitingly different TV channel named Irish TV – with a web address of irishtv.ie – and, incredibly enough, it has global reach via satellite TV – free at that to you and I!

From what I have viewed so far it is indeed fulfilling its aim of bringing local stories from every county in Ireland to you and yours wherever you are.

I am a low-tech idiot, but I think that the Sky satellite system is truly global, and accordingly the Hidden Ireland I keep writing about is not hidden any more at all.

Despite all the pressures, it is alive and real and warmly vital at its core, and now you can see and hear that MacConnell was not fabricating all the yarns from the quiet mountains and foothills and valleys. Check it out.

With the honorable exception of the Connemara based TnaG station, which serves the Gaeltacht, I argue that the main RTE channels in Dublin City have become so Anglo and urban-biased in recent decades that they barely reflect the realities of the provinces. RTE 2 is a tabloidized repeating station for the worst of British soaps and the even worse quality reality TV products.  I avoid it like the plague, apart from the necessary sports coverage from time to time. 

Now, thankfully, this new station is dramatically filling the gap.

Now, as I write, for example, the program on the screen is featuring a big ballroom somewhere in the west filled with folk of all ages being taught how to jive in the old style by an energetic dance tutor. The joint is jumping! 

A significant fact from this show is the reality that the sixties jiving fad which kept hundreds of showbands busy, and ballrooms packed, is still very much alive in the provinces even though about nobody in the capital ever dances that way any more except maybe at family weddings...and then badly! 

There is a skill involved which the young tutor is imparting effectively and, at the close of the show, he is jiving with his lady interviewer and she is not doing too badly at all!

Likewise, the continuing huge popularity of both country music and the genre known as country 'n Irish features very strongly. The veteran Brendan Shine is in action now, and there is a parade of new and established singing stars in between action from country cattle shows and fairs, events in small towns rarely mentioned on RTE nowadays. 

Last night I watched the beginning of a painting series for would-be landscape painters and a fascinating interview with Billy Keane, the entertaining son of the fabled John B. of Listowel. And the mighty singer Tommy Fleming was interesting too.

There is something else which is truly reality TV of a kind. In my view some of the songs are dire altogether. Some of the rural scenes are raw enough. Some of the shows are not yet of that polished sanitized standard of the big stations. 

But sure that is the truth of the Hidden Ireland. We are often raw and elemental. Not every day is sunny. Not every balladeer is a Christy Moore. 

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