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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