Top 10 moments of Irish television

THE inventor of television, John Logie Baird, was born in Helensburgh near Glasgow 125 years ago today. His invention was arguably the single most important of the past 100 years.

It brought us mass communication in an instant, made our countries smaller and gave us an excuse to curl up together on cold nights. In Ireland, television has documented and even created some of our most important memories. Here are my top 10 TV moments.

The Pope (1979)

There may have been a million plus in the Phoenix Park to see him and plenty more in Galway for his “Young people of Ireland I love you” speech, but the rest of us — all five — who hadn’t emigrated watched the telly transfixed as Pope John Paul II told us how wonderful we were. It was the last great love affair that Ireland had with the Catholic Church and all seemed rosy in the garden, or at least the Park.

Annie Murphy on the Late Late Show (1993)

We sat down with our Friday evening cuppa and our pineapple layer from Tea Time Express expecting the usual light-hearted banter. There was always the chance of some serious chat about the price of spuds but when Annie Murphy came on to The Late Late and told uncle Gaybo her tale of romance with Bishop Eamon Casey you could feel the fabric of the country slowly give way. She was insulted and called a liar by some in the audience but when pictures later appeared of her son, Peter, people had to accept that Casey, a much loved and respected man of the cloth, was more a man of the loin cloth.

States of Fear (1999)

As it happened, Casey’s so called sin was nothing compared to what came out over the following years. In 1999 the late Mary Raftery produced a three-part documentary series called States of Fear. The nation gulped collectively as stories of beatings, rape and semi-starvation in institutions for children run by priests and nuns were revealed.

1994 Eurovision Riverdance

“Nice little ditty this,” thought everyone as the opening bars of ’‘Riverdance’ kicked in during the interval of the 1994 Eurovision. Michael Flatley and Jean Butler took the stage doing something rarely seen in Irish dance before — they were smiling. Soon they were joined by lines of beaming hoofers in shiny brogues and swash-buckling shirts. The noise of their feet trundling like a train to Bill Whelan’s cacophonous score sent shivers down the spine and when it ended there was a movie-like silence before the Point erupted. Nobody remembers who won Eurovision (OK, it was us with ‘Rock n’Roll Kids’), everyone remembers ‘Riverdance’.

Ray Houghton scores against England (1988)

What made this so special was its improbability. Nobody gave us a hope, least of all ourselves. The Irish team were up against an English side that included such superstars as Gary Lineker, Peter Beardsley and John Barnes. Houghton’s (inset, celebrating with Kevin Moran) goal came in the eighth minute; a looping header off a poor clearance. Somehow (a.k.a Packie Bonner) we managed to hold on. It was a seminal moment in Irish football and arguably Irish history.

Ireland in Croker (1997)

OK, so it’s another sporting moment (above) but what a day to be in Dublin. Not a pin could be heard dropping during God Save the Queen but the rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann that came back in response brought tears to the eyes. The English were beaten before a ball was passed. Since then, nearly 400,000 people have logged on to YouTube to see the anthems. Stirring stuff.

Garda Patrol

Amazingly this was one of the longest running shows on Irish television. When it was finally sent down in 1992, it had been on the beat a staggering 25 years. The set was never that dramatic; often it looked like the show was filmed in a carpet showroom. The presenters were always gardaí with moustaches who scared us with their talk of sheep stealing and stray dogs.

Pat Kenny insults Dawn French (1997)

Recent lists of Kenny’s gaffes seem to have omitted this clanger involving Dawn French at a 1997 fashion show. Referring to the fees supermodels were asking for at the time, Pat jokingly said: “Dawn, I’ll give you ten grand not to get out of bed.” Had it been Naomi Campbell the microphone might have quickly found a new home.

Northern Ireland

There are so many sad breaking news stories to choose from when it comes to the troubles; Enniskillen in 1987 and Omagh in 1997 were horrific, but for most the image of Fr Edward Daly waving a white handkerchief while helping to carry the body of a dying civilian during Bloody Sunday in 1972 is one that endures.

The Angelus

It’s still with us after all these years. As a youngster I could never quite put my finger on why these ominous sounding bells with pictures of seemingly drugged up saints gave me shivers. Recently it has ‘improved’ somewhat, but seriously, wouldn’t we be better served by a one minute documentary on culture in the community or charity work?


5 chocolate-themed breaks to satisfy sweet-toothed travellers

Big names from art world in the picture for Easter auction

Weekend food with Darina Allen: Spring into the season with Easter lamb

The Currabinny Cooks: Your guide to an easy Easter

More From The Irish Examiner