A touch­ing trib­ute to one of The Dublin­ers was a fond farewell to the group

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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.

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