2 Things to Watch out for on Irish Television

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, The Laughing Boy

There was a new documentary feature screened recently on TG4, and a 3 part documentary series on RTE, and both were excellent. 

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, or The Laughing Boy tells the unlikely if entirely true story behind Brendan Behan’s most famous song. After hearing about how helpful Michael Collins had been to his mother when she had been pregnant with him, the teenage Behan penned the Laughing Boy, in Irish, in his honour.

Twenty years later, he translated it into English and used it as the centre piece for his play, The Hostage. And when that play was then performed in Paris, a couple of Greek ex-patriots saw it and were determined to stage it in Athens. And they commissioned Mikis Theodorakis, the most celebrated Greek composer of the 20th century, to provide the music for their production.

Theo Dorgan, right, on his own personal Greek odyssey.

And, improbably to say the least, that adaptation of Behan’s song then became the unofficial national anthem for Greece, after being taken up as the song Greeks sang to protest the military dictatorship that ruled there between 1967-74. So, literally, every single Greek boy and girl grew up singing it in the 1970s and 80s as a symbol of their resistance. 

Directed by Alan Gilsenan and presented by the poet Theo Dorgan, it’s one of the few films to actually benefit by not being too rigid in its structure or focus. Instead, the film is left free to wander and gently meander, as it embraces its sprawling themes. Fusing music with poetry, film and theatre, to explore history, politics and culture, examined and expressed in Irish, English and Greek.

Impeccably realised, it’s a film that, for once, lives up to its lofty ambitions.

The Island is a 3 part documentary series on RTE and the BBC, and it too delivers on its commendable ambitions. So many of these sorts of things reveal themselves to be little more than thinly veiled commercials for the tourist industry. The Island was, impressively, very much a science-led series. 

Liz Bonnin, on The Island.

This, you feel sure, is down to it being presented by Liz Bonnin, who is chalking up an impressive record in popular science programmes for the BBC. It promised and then duly gave us a 1.8 billion year history of the island of Ireland, with an array of wide-ranging  academics and instructive graphics, which were used to clarify and illuminate without ever over-simplifying.

It still looks ravishing of course. But for once, the images are given a purpose and a context.

What a joy to be treated like an adult for a few stray hours.

You can see The Laughing Boy on the TG4 player here:


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