Question of Taste: Olivia O'Leary chooses her favourite poets, music and films

Question of Taste: Olivia O'Leary chooses her favourite poets, music and films

RTÉ broadcaster Olivia O’Leary will be at the Amergin Solstice Poetry Gathering in Waterville, Co Kerry, over the next few days. Originally from Borris, Co Carlow, Olivia also presents The Poetry Programme on RTÉ Radio 1 and does a radio column every Tuesday for the Drivetime programme.

Best recent book you’ve read:

The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa.

Best recent film you’ve seen:

The Favourite. I thought Olivia Coleman was brilliant.

Best recent show you’ve seen:

Beginning at the Gate with Eileen Walshe and Marty Rea; a two -hander which never flagged.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old):

Colm Mac an Iomaire’s new album The River Holds its Breath, produced by Bill Whelan.

First ever piece of poetry that really moved you:

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘Pied Beauty’. I used to walk through woods down to the River Barrow to swim in summertime through the dappled light of beech and oak trees, and I’d remember those lines: “Glory be to God for dappled things.”

The best reader of poetry you’ve ever seen (if you had to pick one):

Doireann Ní Ghríofa, who gives each precious word its full measure. She would be followed closely in my book by poet Paddy Bushe.

Tell us about your TV viewing:

Current affairs mostly. RTÉ’s The Week in Politics and Prime Time; The Andrew Marr Show on BBC; and Channel 4 News at 7pm with a glass of wine. I enjoyed the BBC series Bodyguard, and I loved Derry Girls on Channel 4.

Radio listening and/or podcasts:

RTÉ Radio 1 all day; BBC Radio 4 in the evenings; Lyric FM when I’m driving, particularly John Kelly. But Mary Wilson on Drivetime and Today with Sean O’Rourke are unmissable

Best celebrity encounter:

I met my teenage hero, the legendary DJ Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, and presenter of BBC TV’s Top of the Pops, and BBC radio’s Pick of the Pops. Oh yes — I can still sing the signature tune. A few years ago, my producer and myself got lost in the bowels of BBC Broadcasting House in London — not only lost but caught between two electronically locked doors in a basement corridor. We spotted a figure in a Bill and Ben hat and white sneakers in the distance and waved desperately to him. It was Fluff. He came and rescued us and delivered us to our studio just in time to record our programme. I was as star struck as I’d been at 14!

You can portal back to any period of human cultural history?

The first performance of Handel’s Messiah in Fishamble Street in Dublin in 1742. Why? Because it is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written and Dublin heard it first. Handel’s own notes are written on the score that is to be seen in either in Marsh’s Library or in the library in Trinity College. I have sung it so many times with my choir, the Culwick, and I’d love to know how fast Handel himself would have taken the final fugue which is extraordinarily difficult and magnificent.

Which four poets are on the bill of your dream festival?

Moya Cannon, Louis McNeice, Elizabeth Bishop and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

Do you have any interesting ancestors?

Loads. My great aunt Eileen Dundon was a poultry instructress who rode around on a motor bike in the early 1900s. My great aunt Kate O’Leary wrote poetry and songs. My grandfather O’Leary was co founder with Hubert Butler of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society and with his cousins William and Patrick O’Leary sketched and recorded the history of Duiske Abbey and Jerpoint Abbey and St Mullins.

My grandfather Edward Dundon was officer in command of the Fourth Battalion of the Carlow Brigade of the Volunteers for the 1916 period and much of the War of Independence. He ran guns and dynamite from Scotland which were used in 1916. Much more important was his work as a much loved local GP who was skilled enough to perform lumbar puncture procedures to diagnose meningitis.

Unsung hero — individual or group you think don’t get the praise they deserve:

Foster parents who give unstinting love and support to children even when they know they may have them only for a limited time.

You are queen for a day — what’s your first decree?

I refuse to be a queen. I’m Irish.

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