Wednesday 24 April 2019

RTE got it wrong about the Clerkin case - and I know... because I was there

I was flicking through the TV channels the other night when I happened upon the excellent RTE series, Garda ar Lar.

And as I watched, I was catapulted back to that awful night in October 1976 when the young garda Michael Clerkin was killed in an IRA bombing in County Laois.

As a young detective, I was immediately sent to what I can only describe as a scene of absolute chaos and devastation. The killing was a watershed in that it showed that the security forces of our State were now targets of the IRA, which had torn up its infamous green book.

Garda Clerkin and his colleagues had been lured to an abandoned farmhouse. When Garda Clerkin entered the building, he detonated a gas cylinder that had been packed with explosives. He was killed instantly, his body almost vapourised by the intensity of the blast. Indeed, it was a miracle that all the officers weren't killed.

The IRA issued a statement denying involvement but we knew that they were only trying to worm out with weasel words.

One of the guards on Monday's programme spoke about it being a maverick group within the IRA. But, as somebody who spent two and a half months on the investigation, I know that it was anything but.

This was a cold-blooded, calculated murder and it was sanctioned at the very highest level by the Provisional Army Council. I still remember the rage in the voice of the Garda Commissioner as he addressed us that morning as the thorough investigation got underway.

Watching the documentary, you'd get the impression that we failed.


On the contrary, we searched the premises of known active provisional IRA men, seized ammunition, made arrests and discovered well advanced plans to assassinate a High Court judge and a Portlaoise prison officer. I was among five detectives called to Garda Headquarters in the late hours one night to be told that we had been placed on a death list by the provisional IRA.

Obviously, the godfathers of the IRA were becoming increasingly concerned about our blitz on their members across Laois-Offaly.

The truth is we were very successful. We identified the prime suspect and although he made a full written statement admitting his guilt, he later mounted a High Court challenge and never stood trial for that terrible killing.

That was 33 years ago, but watching the programme this week has rekindled in me a sense of the full horror of the tragedy I witnessed on that bleak October night.

It has been 50 years -- but we still revel in our lovely Roses

As a proud Kerry man, I'm delighted that we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rose of Tralee festival tonight.

Oh, you may laugh, and God knows this nostalgic "lovely girls" competition has been widely ridiculed down the years.

But who would have thought that an idea born in a post-war era of unemployment could have grown into such an extravaganza?

Tralee has its critics -- and indeed the festival has always been the butt of jokes -- but the rest of the country doesn't laugh every August when this lucrative juggernaut rolls into town.

The economic boom it provides is the envy of every other town and city across Ireland.

I watched the preview on RTE and I was struck by how much it has advanced over the last half century.

I have great admiration for the founding fathers, who had the vision to create this pageant.

One must remember the 1950s were a gloomy and depressing time in Ireland.

Nobody had tuppence to rub together. Unemployment was endemic and the country was haemorrhaging the brightest of its youth.

Amid the glamour and glitz of tonight's final, it's worth remembering that the Rose of Tralee is rooted in a tragic love story. It was brought into being to commemorate the tale of unrequited love between a poor servant girl, Mary O'Connor, and a scion of a respectable landowner, John Mulchinock.

Such a liaison at that time was absolutely taboo, so John was sent to India to dispel any "silly" notions he had of marrying a servant girl.

Nonetheless, he returned home to marry Mary -- but was heartbroken to discover she had died. In her memory, he penned the ballad The Rose Of Tralee.

From these humble origins, the festival has grown and is a remarkable story of volunteer efforts.

The Celtic Tiger has come and gone, but the Rose of Tralee festival is here to stay.

Weekends ain't the same without Marion and I miss Talk to Joe

I'M SURE Rachael English is a great broadcaster.

After all RTE wouldn't have left her in the FiveSeven Live gig for so long.

But does she fill Marion Finucane's shoes at the weekends? You'd have to say, nah.

Ms Finucane has made the weekends well and truly her bailiwick since taking over from the interminably boring Tom McGurk some time ago.

And as good as Rachael English undoubtedly is on radio, I do get slightly irritated on occasions when she pauses between her words in a sentence.

The same goes of course for Joe Duffy. Liveline ain't the same without Joe - who with all due respects to Emily O'Reilly - is Ireland's true Ombudsman.

So the sooner the pair return the better from my point of view.

I did, however, think Ryan Tubridy made a good point on his own return to radio.

He commented that on his holidays he observed the big Dublin/rural divide, particularly in music tastes etc.

The divide also includes radio taste, as most of the country listens to their local stations and not RTE. The managers out there must be praying for the return of their stars.

t's the time of year the suits at Montrose must dread most -- when their top stars on their flagship programmes head off on their summer holidays.

Gone are the days when RTE had the lion's share of the radio audience. Now, it has very real competition from Today FM and Newstalk and bosses must dread the release of the JNLR figures.

It doesn't help that RTE is €60m in the red and trying to lure in bigger audiences. Right now, Joe Duffy is away from Liveline, leaving Damien O'Reilly temporarily at the helm.

Not only that, Marion Finucane is also off air. She's on her usual philanthropic humanitarian two-month sojourn in Africa.

It's a well-earned break, too, for Joe Duffy -- who has had a bit of an annus horribilus, what with his run-in with a car and a broken leg.

I pity their replacements. Anyone trying to fill their shoes in the summer is on a hiding to nothing. However, these top-paid performers must take into account that, however noble their leisure activities, they must not tarry.

I would suggest to Joe, Marion et al that there's not a second to lose. Hasten back to your posts as the wolf could be at the door.

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