By Finola Doyle O'Neill.
Gay Byrne, the legendary Irish broadcaster, once tied with himself in a nationwide public poll to find the most admired and the most hated figures in all of Irish public life. The striking poll was conducted in the late 1990s when Byrne's unarguable reign as the nation's top talk show host on The Late Late Show was coming to an end.
Over a decade and a half since that final broadcasting chapter concluded, no one has come close to his extraordinary legacy, which turned out to be quietly transformative for the whole country.
Byrne began his career in a completely church-dominated society, and he played a key role in the glacial slow transition to the more progressive, forward looking Ireland of today. His instinct for shining a light on some of the most taboo or socially alarming aspects of Irish life was a hallmark of his show, often resulting in must-see television and radio that provoked discussions, delight or fury week after week for decades.
In her new book, tartly titled The Gaybo Revolution, Finola Doyle O'Neill, a broadcast historian with the School of History in University College Cork, explores how Irish society and culture was reflected and sometimes changed by the unprecedented public debates that Byrne's shows facilitated.
Legendary national watersheds are discussed, like the infamous “Bishop and the Nightie” affair, where a young woman shocked the studio audience and much of 1960s Ireland by bluntly stating that she wore nothing to bed on her honeymoon night.
Unbeknownst to her, her husband had earlier claimed that she had worn a transparent nightie to bed, which caused no comment at all from the audience and underlined the sexist double standards of the era.
Men could refer to love and sex with impunity, but for a woman to do so was considered an unpardonable disgrace. Byrne found himself being condemned from the pulpit by a prominent bishop for corrupting the nations morals.
For over 30 years after that the push and pull of public debate in Ireland often came with Byrne's name attached, but he someone managed to remain above the fray himself whilst facilitating long suppressed discussions.
Doyle O'Neill reminds us that at last Byrne was “the great window opener” and just how consequential his three decade reign as the king of the Irish airwaves really was.
The Easter Rebellion 1916: A New Illustrated History
By Conor McNamara
Not many commentators have remarked on it, but the personal grooming styles of 2016, in particular the closer cropped haircuts and the elaborate facial hair, have started to echo the fashions of 1916 in a way that give the photos of the Easter Rising an unexpected modernity.
The young Eamon de Valera looks like he could find his way through the hipster enclave of Williamsburg with ease, having an observable fondness for good tailoring and good hair.
Twirling mustaches and handmade boots, for decades so out of fashion they made the men and women of 1916 look like relics, are suddenly everywhere again, and they give Conor McNamara's new book The Easter Rebellion 1916: A New Illustrated History a delightful modernity that rescues this transformative era from the mothballs.
Revolutionary eras are rarely dull, and McNamara brings it all to life through carefully selected (and often iconic) photographs, manuscripts, personal notebooks and accounts, letters and even political cartoons.
The plan is to provide a total immersion into the sights, sounds and sentiments of the time, with close attention paid to less frequently discussed aspects, such as the role of Ireland's revolutionary women and how the Rising affected the lives and interactions of ordinary Irish civilians.
McNamara, the 1916 scholar in residence at the NUI Galway, brings formidable scholarship to bear on this authoritative account of the week that changed Irish history, but the book retains a freshness that is clearly the result of his enthusiasm for his subject.
1916 is tale of aspiration and imagination pressing back against the bonds of a centuries long oppression, and this book is a worthy study of what happened, why it happened, and why it continues to matter and resonate to this day.