It began on Easter Sunday 1972 with the voice of President Éamon de Valera welcoming the coming of what he admitted had been proposed as early as the late 1920s.
Listening to the trembling tones of the last surviving commander of the 1916 rising, it seemed as if the new Irish-language service Raidió na Gaeltachta was becoming a throwback to ‘De Valera’s Ireland’.
Fifty years later, as RnaG celebrates its golden anniversary this week, looking back teaches us that the year 1972 was on the brink of great change.
For one thing, Éamon de Valera was then in his 90th year and the last full year of his two terms as President, and certainly the last in the line of political leaders of 1916.
But as historian Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh argues, there were many other indicators of change in 1972. Northern Ireland was mired in its worst year of violence and killing, but there was also frenetic political activity as London shut down the union-majority government and parliament, which never happened again – emerged in this hegemonic form. The foundations for a slow and difficult path to a fragile peace have already been laid.
In May 1972, eight out of ten Irish voted to join the precursor to the European Union, just weeks after the new Irish-language radio service opened. Ireland joined the UK and took a major step towards greater independence and equality on the international stage.
Later that year Irish voters also gave strong backing to a proposal to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. And indeed, it was a group of young activists who founded an illegal radio station, Raidió Chonamara, that eventually goaded Jack Lynch’s Fianna Fáil government into forming RnaG in April 1972.
I was still at school in 1972 and very keen on Irish, so I was a regular RnaG listener. Later, my listening became more sporadic and never faltered for many years spent in mainland Europe in this non-internet age.
For various personal cultural reasons I returned to Irish almost 25 years ago and the station has been the soundtrack of my life ever since. I was surprised to think that I’ve been listening to it for almost half of the entire existence of this radio station, often for several hours a day. In fact, in recent years I’ve had the gall to contribute to his programs on politics and current affairs from time to time. The simple reality is that without Raidió na Gaeltachta I would run the risk of having little or no Irish now.
As one of the tiny minorities who speak Irish every day of my life, I sometimes have trouble finding other speakers. In the early days, when I was struggling to string a few sentences together, listening to RnaG was often my only option. I’m living proof that the channel connects Irish speakers scattered across the country – and now, thanks to Wi-Fi, the world.
A journalist at RnaG tells a nice story of how he was in Boston trying to do a program there about immigrants from Connemara. At one point she had significant difficulty getting to know anyone because at home they were watching the RnaG broadcast of Corn Uí Riada, the first Sean Nós singing competition in Oireachtas na Gaeilge.
The station has also done a great job connecting the various Gaeltacht communities scattered across the North West, West, South West and South and Co Meath. Historically, these groups have had difficulty meeting and sometimes even had difficulty understanding each other due to dialect idiosyncrasies.
This and other factors have given the Gaeltacht communities a “sense of ownership” towards RnaG, often referred to simply as “An Raidió”. But times are changing and the last 50 years have transformed Ireland at breakneck speed while at the same time turning journalism and broadcasting on its head.
Over the past few days, the management and staff of Raidió na Gaeltachta have had the opportunity to broadcast some well-deserved celebrations and nostalgic memories of times gone by. But there was also room for debate about the challenges ahead, particularly the risk that they may not best serve a younger generation in Gaeltacht areas and among Irish-speaking families living elsewhere.
While the unrivaled sports coverage is a blessing with excellent coverage that also places the focus on local sports. And the station has relaxed its Irish-language lyrics-only rule for a number of years.
But station management and leaders need to be more aware that podcasting needs to become a more central feature of their services. Younger people have changed access to radio programs compared to older generations.
It is a personal fixation that her invaluable archive must also be made more accessible to a broader public. The sheer number of voices taped since 1972 is a marvel and they archive programs in a very entertaining way.
But it needs to be digitized and maybe a dedicated website made for it. These and other themes are existential challenges to renewing its appeal to younger listeners.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/raidio-na-gaeltachta-celebrates-50-great-years-but-fresh-challenges-need-addressing-41520938.html Raidió na Gaeltachta celebrates 50 great years, but new challenges need to be addressed