TIM FANNING MY VIEW
A touching tribute to one of The Dubliners was a fond farewell to the group
n his own words, he was the mortar that held the bricks together. The bricks were The Dubliners, Luke, Ronnie, Ciarán and Barney, the often quarrelsome gang of pals that shook up the Irish traditional music scene in the 1960s. The mortar was John Sheahan, the subject of Maurice Sweeney’s poignant profile on RTÉ One this week. Sheahan, who joined the group in 1964 when Luke Kelly left temporarily (the first of many changes in the line-up), grew up in Marino in Dublin and developed a passion for music early on. His unassuming, quiet nature, career with the ESB and professional music training always set him apart from his fellow carousers.
Barney McKenna’s death in 2012 means that none of the original members of the group are with us any longer, which made Sheahan’s reflections on his friends all the more touching. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the group, and with Barney’s passing, Sheahan decided it was time to call it a day. His contention that this was a group of musicians that we will never see the like of again was borne out by the extraordinary photographs and footage of The Dubliners at the top of their game. Sheahan’s poetry and music, which he performed with the likes of Damien Dempsey, Declan O’Rourke and Charlie McGettigan, were interwoven with the narrative, giving us a picture of a poetic, contemplative man, who very much misses his friends, but is determined to enjoy what the future holds in store. It was a real treat.
John Sweeney brought us a glimpse of a strange society in
The programme had garnered a fair amount of controversy before it aired – Sweeney used an academic visit by students from the London School of Economics as cover to film footage of the secretive state. The controversy gave a boost to the ratings, but there were meagre pickings for all those who tuned in. What we saw was a country in the grip of a personality cult. There were plenty of shots of statues commemorating the North Korean founder and eternal leader Kim Il-sung ( North Korea is one of the few places on Earth to be ruled by a dead man) and his late son, Kim Jong-il. Unfortunately, as the guides didn’t want to show the truth, there wasn’t much to show the viewer. Getting up close and personal with grizzly bears is something that’s best avoided – but happily, we have dedicated teams of wildlife film-makers, equipped with ever more sophisticated technology, to do it for us. This two-part documentary – a BBC co-production with the Discovery Channel – was filmed in the Alaskan wilderness as the grizzlies emerged from hibernation, and shows the bears as we’ve never seen them before. There are cute cubs galore, but also drama and death, and wholly unexpected turns of events. ‘Anything can happen,’ as one of the camera team says – and so it proves. Some of this action could have come straight out of a soap – though it wouldn’t have ended quite so violently.