Melan­choly falls on Montrose

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - RADIO - Mick Heaney

In a des­per­ately sad week for ra­dio, blind­sided RTÉ pre­sen­ters pull to­gether to re­mem­ber broad­cast­ing leg­ends Larry Go­gan and Mar­ian Fin­u­cane

On Tues­day morn­ing, de­spite the sor­row of the pre­vi­ous days, the kids carried on play­ing, as kids do. While a dole­ful air hung over RTÉ Ra­dio 1 in ad­vance of the fu­neral of Mar­ian Fin­u­cane – a phrase that still de­fies be­lief – an al­to­gether live­lier at­mos­phere pre­vailed over on con­gen­i­tally up­beat sis­ter sta­tion 2FM.

The first two hours of 2FM Break­fast with Doire­ann and Eoghan (week­days) had been typ­i­cally goofy and imp­ish, giv­ing no hint of the sad­ness en­velop­ing Montrose.

A de­bate on whether chil­dren’s pup­pet Bosco was gen­der-neu­tral left Doire­ann Gar­rihy creased with laugh­ter, while Eoghan McDer­mott slagged his co-host that en­thu­si­asm for mu­sic was a rudi­men­tary part of ra­dio. But at 8am, when news­reader Emma Couni­han in­formed lis­ten­ers – and, ap­par­ently, the pre­sen­ters – that Larry Go­gan had died, the mood changed abruptly.

“We’re go­ing to be to­tally hon­est, and say this is a big job for us to have to talk about this,” said Gar­rihy, un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally lost for words. McDer­mott sounded equally stunned, ex­hal­ing sharply as he spoke about Go­gan: “Larry was the beat­ing heart of 2FM for 40 years.”

It prob­a­bly wasn’t the most ap­pro­pri­ate metaphor in the cir­cum­stances, but in McDer­mott’s de­fence, he was up­set. Al­lud­ing to the re­cent pass­ing of Fin­u­cane, Gay Byrne and 2FM col­league Alan McQuil­lan, he con­ceded it had been “weird cou­ple of months” in Montrose. Play­time was over.

Well, al­most. Grad­u­ally, shock gave way to sad­ness, fond­ness and even gid­di­ness. A re­cent clip of Go­gan mock-in­sult­ing Gar­rihy on the show brought forth af­fec­tion­ate laugh­ter, not least at the no­tion of the fa­mously friendly DJ ever be­ing rude to any­one.

They also re­called his in­de­fati­ga­ble work ethic. “He wasn’t mas­sively mo­bile in his last cou­ple of years, but noth­ing could de­ter him,” McDer­mott said. What could have been an in­sen­si­tive com­ment seemed oddly ap­pro­pri­ate in the set­ting, as 2FM’s young guns paid spon­ta­neous trib­ute to the man who was their god­fa­ther.

Strange days in­deed

The mood was more con­ven­tion­ally som­bre on The Ryan Tubridy Show ( RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days). “Strange days in­deed,” said Tubridy, au­di­bly blind­sided. Alive to the poignant sym­bol­ism, he de­scribed Go­gan, Fin­u­cane and Byrne as a “trin­ity of tal­ent that dom­i­nated the air­waves”.

As well as shar­ing mem­o­ries of Go­gan as “gen­tle, ge­nial and giv­ing”, the host also re­marked that he was good craic to have a pint with – the high­est praise Tubridy can be­stow on any­one, as reg­u­lar lis­ten­ers will know.

But the per­sonal loss of Go­gan’s death was laid bare when his old friend Ro­nan Collins spoke to Tubridy. The pre­sen­ter of Ra­dio 1’s mid­day mu­sic show was bereft, barely man­ag­ing to ut­ter the words “my pal” be­fore break­ing down. Tubridy, aware of his guest’s dis­tress, of­fered to end the in­ter­view, but Collins con­tin­ued.

“I need to be pro­fes­sional about this,” he said, as much to him­self as to his host, one sus­pects. (Collins dis­played his pro­fes­sion­al­ism by pre­sent­ing a heart­felt show in hon­our of his friend later that day.) With Tubridy pro­vid­ing a com­fort­ing shoul­der, he spoke warmly about Go­gan be­ing “a men­tor and a guide”, fin­ish­ing on a plain­tive note. “God, I’m go­ing to miss him.”

Collins’s ap­pear­ance en­cap­su­lated the emo­tion­ally wrought times in RTÉ. The death of Go­gan had his col­leagues pal­pa­bly reel­ing, just as they were re­gain­ing some equi­lib­rium fol­low­ing the ham­mer blow of Fin­u­cane’s un­ex­pected pass­ing.

Over the week­end, when Fin­u­cane should have been host­ing her shows, a melan­choly but cathar­tic tone had reigned across the net­work. Aedín Gorm­ley, host of the other­wise ef­fer­ves­cent Movies and Mu­si­cals (Lyric, Satur­day), spoke briefly but mov­ingly about the “air of sad­ness” in Montrose’s Ra­dio Cen­tre, ac­knowl­edg­ing the achieve­ment of the woman “who led the way for so many of us”.

An im­mac­u­late pro­fes­sional

But it was on Satur­day’s (RTÉ Ra­dio 1) spe­cial edi­tion of the show still bear­ing her name that the legacy of Mar­ian Fin­u­cane was fully ex­plored. Open­ing the pro­gramme, Rachael English sounded as much dis­com­bob­u­lated as sad.

“It feels more than a lit­tle strange to be sit­ting in Mar­ian’s chair this morn­ing,” she said, with the faintest quiver in her voice. But, she added, it was also a priv­i­lege to be able to mark Fin­u­cane’s life and achieve­ments, as well as the re­mark­able con­nec­tion she had with her lis­ten­ers, even when they weren’t on the same page.

“It’s for those of you who some­times rolled their eyes and said ‘Ah, Mar­ian’, but wouldn’t have had any­body else on their ra­dio,” English said. As a sum­ma­tion of the late broad­caster’s charisma, it was hard to beat.

English’s guests re­counted sto­ries about Fin­u­cane, with par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion given to how she gave a plat­form to women’s voices when start­ing out in the late 1970s.

“One of the most dom­i­nant fea­tures of Ir­ish so­ci­ety was they weren’t heard, and if they were, they were dis­re­garded,” re­called Fin­u­cane’s friend Pa­trick Far­relly, who worked with her in those early days. He also de­scribed the ob­sta­cles she faced in RTÉ’s “hier­ar­chy”, “a phalanx of mid­dle-aged men, many of whom were re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives”.

The pic­ture that emerged was of a pri­vate woman and im­mac­u­late pro­fes­sional with a keen in­stinct for what lis­ten­ers wanted to hear, rather than what man­age­ment thought they should. “I don’t think Mar­ian was in­ter­ested in RTÉ,” mused fel­low broad­caster Aine Lawlor. “She was in­ter­ested in her au­di­ence.”

Af­ter days of such bit­ter­sweet rem­i­nisc­ing about lately departed leg­ends, Wed­nes­day brought the hope of look­ing afresh to the fu­ture. In­stead, it only brought de­press­ingly fa­mil­iar squab­bling about the past, as the con­tro­versy about the now-deferred state com­mem­o­ra­tion of the RIC played out on Today with Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Ra­dio 1).

Lis­ten­ing to guests try­ing to outdo each other about which side had en­dured more vi­o­lence a cen­tury ago was pro­foundly dispir­it­ing. In com­par­i­son, the trib­utes paid to Fin­u­cane and Go­gan were pos­i­tively up­lift­ing, and cer­tainly more uni­fy­ing.


2FM’s Doire­ann Gar­rihy and Eoghan McDer­mott.

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