Ireland’s Anglophone media establishment has never been comfortable with the Irish language. Or indeed Irish speakers. The existence of both is too much of a challenge, too much of a threat to its assumed identity: not quiet Irish, not quite English, not quiet anything really. That is why so many Irish journalists and commentators ape aspects of Anglo-American culture and character. Lacking a self-confident identity of their own they must perforce steal from others to create a crude caricature of Irishness, a Frankenstein’s monster, lacking in the most essential element of that identity – the Irish language.

This is especially true when it comes to television where the Irish language simply serves as a red rag to a bull for the more fanatical elements of the Anglomedia clique. Enraged, outraged, puzzled and confused they inwardly contest with a learned hatred versus a more empathic pull that they try to rationalise by any means possible.

So to a review of Irish language documentary programmes from RTÉ and TG4 appearing in the Irish Independent (itself a bastion of Angliban intolerance in all its many forms). It begins with a dismissive tone, and the centuries old “apartheid” attitude of the Anglophone establishment (why isn’t the Irish language on TG4 where it belongs? Because RTÉ belongs to all of us – even Irish speakers!). Yet…

“Over the last couple of months, RTÉ One has been screening a succession of piddling programmes in Irish, a language not understood by the majority of its viewers, who are left wondering why such minor fare isn’t being broadcast on TG4 — which, after all, was created to cater for speakers of the native tongue.

For instance, currently running on RTÉ One is Réabhlóid, which translates as Revolutionary Tales and which is an Irish-language series of half-hour programmes telling the stories of marginal — indeed, largely unknown — participants in the Irish war for independence. Why isn’t that on TG4 where it belongs?

One answer might be that TG4 is too busy commissioning the kind of programmes — programmes of substance and general interest — that really should be on RTÉ One, but of course RTÉ’s schedules are so clogged up with slavish reproductions of foreign franchises that it’s hard to see where there’d be room for them.

This week alone I watched four TG4 programmes that were better than anything to be seen on either RTÉ One or (though probably needless to say) RTÉ Two. One of them, Misinéirí Radacacha, I’m afraid I came to very late, as it was the last instalment of a four-part series about the work of Irish missionaries in the repressive societies to which they were sent. However, struck by its impact, I went back to the previous three programmes and thought them just as fine.

Vastly different, though no less striking, is TG4’s six-part natural history series, Farraigí na hÉireann, which looks at the oceanic wild life around our shores. This week’s episode focused on our sea beds and it was to be seen and savoured rather than analysed — every shot of it was extraordinary in its strange, indeed surreal, beauty. The accompanying narrative in this Ken O’Sullivan production was beguiling, too, though words couldn’t do justice to the ecstatic visuals.

Maverick filmmaker Bob Quinn, who left RTÉ in 1969 and settled in Connamara in the early 1970s, is being celebrated in TG4’s Bob Quinn @ 75, with two of his early short films screened on Tuesday night.

Filmmaker Johnny Gogan decamped from Dublin to Leitrim in the late 1990s and Homeland (TG4) was an hour-long celebration of his adopted place, largely through the testimony of Leitrim friends and neighbours, many of them returned emigrants or blow-ins from abroad.”

A fan despite himself? Perhaps those who believe that Irish language television programming should be confined to TG4, and that RTÉ should be devoted entirely to the English language, would be now willing to divide up the TV Licence fee on that basis? The 2006 Census revealed that 42% of the population identified themselves as Irish speakers to one degree or another. So can we get 42% of the licence fee for TG4?


Perhaps the cartoon accompanying the article sums up the world-view of many in the Anglomedia, both to the Irish language and the Irish speaking population of Ireland. Or indeed, to the English speaking population. But what a sad world-view it is.

A few final words from the reviewer that make for strange reading.

“”Snakes with tits” is how British soldiers refer to Afghan women who help male insurgents in their subversive work. I learned this from Fighting on the Front Line (Channel 4), a riveting documentary, which accompanied some of these soldiers on the ground and in the Chinooks and Apache helicopters from which they observe enemy movements and despatch insurgents to explosive deaths.

Courtesy of the film, I watched some of these incendiary deaths — a distant figure spotted in a far-off field, the press of a button and then, whoosh, a puff of smoke and a body, or at least bits of it, sailing surreally through the night sky.

“What do you think goes through a Taliban’s head when he sees an Apache coming?” the interviewer asked one soldier. “Hopefully, a 30-mill bullet,” was the reply.”

I really cannot tell. Does the reviewer approve or disapprove of this? Or is neutrality of opinion only observed for subjects other than the Irish language?

1 comment on “RTÉ Versus TG4

  1. ‘the centuries old “apartheid” attitude’

    That’s a great way to describe it. It seems many feel that Irish should stay in the Gaeltacht. As an Irish American, I’ve gotten very negative reactions from Irish born people when they find out I have an interest in Irish. They try telling me its waste of time, etc. When it seems that the Irish language is actually growing, especially thanks to technology and the internet, no thanks to the Free State government.


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