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Friday, 24 July 2015

Radio and the Irish national identity

The national radio service, Radio Eireann, was envisaged as a tool for shaping a suitable national identity in the aftermath of independence, built on three pillars of religion, sport and culture.

The first regular Sunday Mass was broadcast by Radio Eireann in 1948, the year the Republic was born. The Angelus was first broadcast on Radio Éireann  in 1960, and the tradition is still continued to this day on the national TV station.

We have spoken about the strict control the church hierarchy held over dance clubs in Ireland previously here in our Dancing in the Moonlight blog. However, céilí music proved to be very popular on the radio, and people gathered to listen to dancing on the radio. This may seem ridiculous today, but the compere would call out the dance steps so that the audience could follow, and perhaps learn the dance at home. Denis ‘Din Joe’Fitzgibbeon was perhaps the best known compere, as he guided the audience through many episodes of ‘Take the Floor’.

'Din Joe' Fitzgibbeon recording an episode of 'Take the Floor'
11 April 1957
Radio Éireann was always dependent on advertising as well as license fees for revenue, which lead to the introduction of sponsored programmes. These programmes often included jazz or popular music not otherwise approved for broadcasting on the national radio station, and were accused of lowering the cultural tone.

However, these programmes proved far more popular with the general audience, especially to evening programmes on Radio Éireann when most of the audience would switch to BBC or pirate radio stations. One of the most popular of these programmes was ‘The Kennedys of Castleross’, which started broadcasting in 1955. It was the first soap opera in Ireland, and indeed one of the first in the world.

Radio Éireann began live coverage of the All Ireland finals from the year it was created, one of the first European stations to offer live sports coverage. The coverage of the All Ireland finals became a ritual for the station, and later on for national television also. These broadcasts not only emphasized the importance of the games unique to Irish culture and heritage, but with the attendance of heads of state and the clergy at finals, Irish politics, religion and people were bonded together.

Michael O'Hehir commemtating at Croke Park
17 August 1952
This control over Irish airwaves could not continue indefinitely, and with the introduction of television, 2FM, and the ready access to UK and US television or pirate radio stations, Irish people were able to easily look elsewhere for content to suit their individual tastes or whims. 

These days, Sunday Mass is still available on medium wave broadcasts, and the All-Ireland finals remain a very popular feature, but the airwaves are also full of jazz, pop and even rap. And still, something that happens on the radio can capture the attention of the whole nation, and spread to the TV, the internet, and conversations in the pub.

All photographs available @ Irish Photo Archive

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