This week’s Second Captains Sunday (RTÉ R1) begins with Eoin McDevitt confessing he’d never really been a fan of swimming. One can almost taste the iodine chill in the seaside air as co-host, and noted swimpresario, Ken Early reacts to this startling admission.
Even he, however, wouldn’t have found a more eloquent champion for the practice than this episode’s guest, Dorothy Cross. Before she became one of Ireland’s foremost visual artists, Cross was a committed and talented young swimmer on the fringes of Ireland’s Olympic team. She’d also gone for some slightly more perilous dips.
“They won’t attack you if they know they’re human,” she says, of her time swimming with sharks, “because we’re not good food. We’re bony old things.”
The bulk of the conversation concerns her work, and is studded throughout with eminently quotable lines from an artist unafraid to tackle large, weighty themes.
Or, indeed, large, weighty objects, such as her 1998 work Ghost Ship, an entire marine vessel off Dún Laoghaire harbour in Dublin, that was coated with phosphorous paint, giving it a gently luminous glow: “It was at times beautiful, although there were lots of technical problems.”
Then there is a recent quixotic attempt to mount a project that has so far met with failure due to her inability to procure a human heart.
“You everywhere encounter this fear and bureaucracy of anything related to the heart,” she says. “We wouldn’t have nearly so much trouble procuring a lung. People imbue hearts with so much value, probably correctly.”
“Art is about discovery” she later says, “Maybe we need a bit of psychic torment to do anything. Of course it’s about enjoyment, but it’s also about unsettling things. It shouldn’t be comforting, it should be about looking at something like you’ve not seen it before. It’s a funny, weird animal that can help us see things in a new way.”
Some much more dramatic, and practical impediments to ocean travel are evident as Cormac Ó hEadhra covers for Today with Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ One, Monday to Friday) and tells the inspiring story of Almuthana, or “Al” as he is known to friends.
Al is a Syrian refugee who, after “making the perilous journey to Greece in a little plastic boat”, eventually wound up in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, where he’s flourished due to the enormous generosity of the local community, and his determination to fulfil an improbable dream.
A lecturer in agricultural engineering back home, Al’s dream is to be a violinmaker, and in a story told jointly by himself and Debbie Beirne of the Friends of Ballaghaderreen, we hear his progress, step by step. Though not a common instrument in his native Syria, Al speaks movingly about the effect the instrument had on him.
“When I was a child, I saw something strange when players used their bow. When I moved to Ireland I knew I wanted to make violins.”
All this is not to say he was able to convince everyone.
“We did put him in touch with one elderly gentleman, who didn’t believe he had ever made a violin. I don’t want to say where he was from, he was a lovely gentleman, but he didn’t believe him. I think it was the language barrier.”
Eventually, Al gets some remarkable news when local violinmaker Dave Teehan has to abandon his business when he develops an allergy due to the chemicals used in wood resin. While inarguably not good news for Dave’s respiratory system, the upshot is an incredible bit of fortune for Al, who now has a workshop, tools, and all the materials he needs to get off the ground. Now, just a few months later, he has not only crafted his first violin, but is poised to present it to Michael D Higgins in a special ceremony later this year.
Indeed, Al’s story is so damnably uplifting that it borders on the unbelievable, and one fears the eventual sturdy, well-made little Irish film that’s begging to be made of this narrative, may need to tone the whole thing down a little.
Elsewhere, In the Shower with Taz Kelleher (Monday, Headstuff podcast network) is a brand new show with an admirably specific premise; it’s a 15-minute factual blast you listen to in the shower. As such, its presenters are sure it’s the first podcast in Ireland “aimed to be listened to while you’re naked”.
For the inaugural show, Taz and guest Marcus O’Laoire ask why we never see baby pigeons, in the process covering more about pigeons than the average listener likely thought there was to learn.
We discover that pigeons are basically a type of dove, a fact that amuses O’Laoire, who finds it pleasing that doves are universally symbolic of all things love and beauty, and their closest cousins considered little more than “rats with hang gliders”.
Pigeons are themselves, however, the very image of settled monogamy, romantic types who mate once and for life, all while exercising refreshingly untraditional gender roles, with the daddy pigeon tending to the nest, and the mother being the figurative, and one presumes literal, breadwinner. Oh, and we don’t see baby pigeons because they don’t leave their nests for 35-40 days after hatching, at which point they look like regular adult pigeons.
At 15 minutes, In The Shower is a bit long for anything but the most luxuriant shower, but luckily time is allotted each episode to do some admin, supplying reminders as to when you should be soaping up, towelling down and even going for a controversial, pre-spritz teeth brushing. Short, sweet, and silly without being irksome, the show hits just the right note of baffled inconsequentiality.
If, however, the episodes start piling up in future, do consider transitioning to a bath. Moment of the Week
Sean Moncrieff’s (Wednesday, Newstalk) intrepid beat reporter Henry McKean is a master of working the humble ranks of ordinary folk and getting great, even alarming quotes from them. Discussing Tinder with people on the street, in response to the news that Ann Robinson had joined the online dating app in her seventies, McKean gets a number of amusing responses but none more curt or beautifully timed than the caustic aul Dubliner who, when asked if he’d swipe right for Robinson, immediately replies “I’d swipe my phone right out the window” before swiftly walking off.
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