Philip Boucher-Hayes stands guard over the ra­tio­nal in­ter­est

Danny Healy-Rae’s ec­cen­tric views on road safety get short-ish shrift on the Last Word

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Mick Heaney

In an era of fake news and al­ter­na­tive facts, it’s prob­a­bly in­evitable that ir­ra­tional be­liefs get equal billing to ob­jec­tively ver­i­fi­able ev­i­dence on bul­letins, but it’s still star­tling to hear it.

“Eat­ing a big meal and fall­ing asleep at the wheel is one of the over­rid­ing causes of road ac­ci­dents as well as drink­ing small amounts of al­co­hol,” news­reader Brian Jen­nings in­tones solemnly on News

at One (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days). This sounds like a bomb­shell for road safety pol­icy un­til Jen­nings adds the magic words “ac­cord­ing to In­de­pen­dent TD Danny Healy-Rae”.

Pre­sent­ing the head­line-seek­ing Kerry TD’s per­sonal con­vic­tions as ac­tual news seems symp­to­matic of a world where sci­en­tific fact is rou­tinely de­rided as elit­ist hoax. Ray D’Arcy, for one, recog­nises this, as he skew­ers Healy-Rae’s con­tri­bu­tions to an Oireach­tas com­mit­tee ( The Ray D’Arcy Show, RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days). In weary tones, the host says that while he would have laughed in the deputy’s face, “the fact that it was on the news, and that I’m talk­ing about it, gives oxy­gen to the whole thing”. (The same prob­a­bly ap­plies to writ­ing about it.)

Even when Healy-Rae’s as­ser­tion is defini­tively de­bunked by Dr Ruairí Han­ley on The Last Word (Today FM, week­days), there’s a caveat. Han­ley tells host Matt Cooper that while a full stom­ach might make some feel drowsy, it doesn’t im­pair driv­ers, un­like al­co­hol. But while Han­ley says Healy-Rae is “ba­si­cally wrong”, he has some sym­pa­thy for the TD, who ad­dresses the un­fash­ion­able is­sue of so­cial iso­la­tion among older farm­ers in ru­ral ar­eas, al­beit in sin­gu­lar fash­ion.

Cooper’s guest ob­serves that peo­ple in the coun­try can­not eas­ily walk or take pub­lic trans­port to the tra­di­tional so­cial hub of the pub, and talks of a “pa­tro­n­is­ing Dublin 4 at­ti­tude” to­wards the Healy-Raes.

Sub­sti­tut­ing sub­jec­tive opin­ion for hard facts while cock­ing a snook at metropoli­tan elites is, of course, the modus operandi of cer­tain re­cently elected world lead­ers, but Cooper doesn’t pur­sue this theme: af­ter all, Han­ley is on as a health pun­dit. Still, it would be good to hear the host ap­proach the topic with the same rigour he ap­plies to Wed­nes­day’s dis­sec­tion of Enda Kenny’s record, when clips of the de­part­ing Taoiseach’s stir­ring speeches are con­trasted with his ac­tions, to gen­er­ally un­flat­ter­ing ef­fect.

Philip Boucher-Hayes, mean­while, shows his ra­tio­nal side when he stands in as host of Live­line (RTÉ 1, week­days) – as well as scep­ti­cism to­wards tales of re­li­gious ap­pari­tions. Re­tired de­tec­tive Gerry O’Car­roll re­counts how, when in­ves­ti­gat­ing the IRA mur­der of a Garda col­league in 1976, he spent 20 min­utes watch­ing a man with a “sad, care­worn yet gen­tle coun­te­nance” in the foyer of the sta­tion.

O’Car­roll then asked the duty officer who the man was, only to be told there had been no one else there. But when O’Car­roll saw an image on a Sa­cred Heart or­na­ment in the sta­tion he recog­nised the man he’d seen: Fr John Sul­li­van, the revered Jesuit priest who died in 1933 and was re­cently be­at­i­fied by the Catholic Church. A self-de­scribed “a la carte Catholic”, O’Car­roll was shaken by this ex­pe­ri­ence, tak­ing it is a pre­mo­ni­tion of his death, and be­lieves it was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of Sul­li­van. “I have no doubt,” he says. “I saw the dead come back to life in flesh and blood.”

Boucher-Hayes lets the story un­fold at its own pace but clearly finds it hard to ac­cept his guest’s tale. “Did you ever seek a more sci­en­tific an­swer?” Boucher-Hayes asks, point­ing to other pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions, such as elec­tro-mag­netic fields or hal­lu­cino­genic fun­gal spores. When O’Car­roll says that he is ac­quainted with such “es­o­teric knowl­edge”, he is re­buffed by the host: “It’s not es­o­teric, it’s sci­ence.”

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing in­ter­view, in which the in­cred­u­lous host vainly tries to square his em­pir­i­cal val­ues with his oth­er­wise ra­tio­nal guest’s be­liefs. O’Car­roll, in turn, takes a la­conic view of Boucher-Hayes’s re­ac­tion, seem­ing to view it as a fail­ure of imag­i­na­tion rather than any­thing blas­phe­mous. “I’m get­ting vibes of athe­ism,” the for­mer Garda re­marks, ask­ing if the host be­lieves in mir­a­cles. “For any­thing that has been in­ves­ti­gated with any rigour, there has been an ex­pla­na­tion,” Boucher-Hayes replies, his pa­tri­cian drawl sound­ing loftier than ever. Both men may have faith – one in sci­ence, the other in a higher power, or at least a plane be­yond our ken – but their value sys­tems are stub­bornly in­com­pat­i­ble. The Doc­u­men­tary on New­stalk: Stone Mad (Satur­day) isn’t as un­hinged as its ti­tle sug­gests. Rather, pre­sen­ter Tris­tan Rosen­stock takes an af­fa­ble if un­chal­leng­ing tour around the dis­tinc­tive dry­s­tone walls of ru­ral Ire­land, learn­ing about their his­tory, their con­struc­tion and their cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. The ma­te­rial is stretched at times – there’s a long in­ter­view with Leo Moran of the Saw Doc­tors, on the strength of his song N17 men­tion­ing stone walls – and per­haps could have done with more his­tor­i­cal or artis­tic con­text. (For ex­am­ple, ref­er­ence could be made to ac­claimed painter Sean Scully’s deep in­ter­est in the struc­tures.)

But there are un­ex­pect­edly poignant mo­ments. Pádraig Póil, from Inis Oírr, de­scribes how build­ing walls takes time and pa­tience but is “good for our well­be­ing”. A ret­i­cent in­ter­vie­wee, he sud­denly opens up about how his work helped him when he was “in a hole” af­ter his chil­dren left home. “If you’re down,” he says, “the best thing you can do is work with stone.”

It doesn’t mat­ter who we are: we need a rock of faith, what­ever it might be.

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