Check out this list - http://www.rte.ie/arts/2010/0322/irelandsgreatestfigures.html - before you read my thoughts on it, below.
DON’T be too concerned if you pass Glasnevin cemetery and hear a frightful high-pitched whine coming from below. That will be the generations of noble Irish
heroes and heroines spinning in their graves.
They, like me, can’t believe that a country with 2,000 years of recorded history whittles a list of its greatest citizens down to a top 40 and still finds room for two members of Boyzone and their manager.
Apologies, Jonathan Swift, Brian Boru and Ronnie Delaney. There just wasn’t a seat for you once Ronan Keating, Stephen Gately and Louis Walsh had been given their dues in RTE’s shortlist of Ireland’s Greatest Figures. Another of the favoured forty, the ghost of Charlie Haughey and his giant ego, needed an entire pew to itself.
RTE will argue that the ludicrous nominees on the list are ‘the people’s choice’.
One thousand people were apparently polled on who should make the shortlist. I’d love to know where this privileged 1,000 came from – certainly no-one I know is putting up their hand to admit they think Daniel O’Donnell deserves a place above Brendan Behan.
That’s democracy in action, they’ll tell you. Democracy also means you get the government you deserve – and look how that’s been working out for us.
One wag suggested the pollsters must have canvassed the bored queue outside the passport office, ripe for a bit of anarchy. There are a lot of off-the-cuff nominations in there. Chances are, if you are approached by some clipboard-wielding suit and asked to cast your mind over the centuries of Ireland’s complex history, you’ll be tempted to latch onto the last person you saw on the news last night. Or whoever’s statue you pass every day on the way into work every day.
RTE should be ashamed of itself for its lack of respect. As national broadcasters, they are literally our channel of record. They misleadingly use the title, Ireland’s Greatest, as if it is a definitive list of the finest people we have ever produced – and then compile it in a manner more suited to picking a song for the Eurovision.
In fact, the shortlist for Eurosong was created by a panel of the musically-minded before being presented to the public vote. Where were the historical, social, economic, scientific, cultural experts who could best assemble an informed collection of Ireland’s best and brightest, past and present?
All respect to the late Stephen Gately but chances are, if people had been polled for this list three years ago, he would have been bumped off it by Katy French. His inclusion has all the hallmarks of someone having seen a TV3 tribute to him the evening before.
Popular culture can’t be ignored. But why, say, does Colin Farrell take precedence over Gabriel Byrne, who is considered worthy of being Ireland’s new cultural ambassador to the world – but not good enough to get the nod ahead of Joe Dolan? We all loved Ronnie Drew, but what about the global singing superstar of his time, Count John McCormack?
Why not Maureen Potter or Spike Milligan for their comic genius? Has Louis Walsh done as much to promote distinctively Irish music as Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning, 70-million-album-selling Enya?
It’s completely random. Charles Haughey – the self-serving shyster who served as a role model for all the self-serving shysters who would succeed him in public office – is the biggest insult of all. Sure, why would Samuel Beckett be included over CJ – poor old Sam only won a Nobel Prize for Literature and the French Croix de Guerre for his work in the Resistance against the Nazis.
The saddest failure of this list is that it devalues the real achievements of our great little country. There are not many made in the mould of Grace O’Malley, who managed to stand up to Queen Elizabeth I of England and come away with her head still intact, or Tom Crean, one of the greatest and most humble explorers of all time.
There are so many outrageous omissions. Robert Boyle, father of modern chemistry; George Boole, a founder of computer science; playwright GB Shaw; C.S. Lewis, author of the globally-beloved Narnia books; Pele’s favourite footballer, George Best; TK Whitaker, the great – and still very much alive – civil servant whose economic plan dragged Ireland into the modern era of free trade and prosperity.
Incidentally, Whitaker was voted Irishman of the 20th Century by an RTE programme a few years back. How fickle are they?
We could treat this poll with the same levity RTE have – and all spoil our votes by plumping for Dustin the Turkey (who, sadly, didn’t make it either). It’s a joke anyway. We might as well make it official.