Posts made in October, 2005

Blarney and Beguilement

Posted by on Oct 24, 2021 in Other Writings | 0 comments

A Great Feast of Light: Growing up Irish in the Television Age, by John Doyle (Doubleday Canada, 321 pages, $32.95)By Brian BrennanThe Globe and Mail’s John Doyle makes a delightful contribution to Canadian journalism. He writes a daily television column for people who don’t watch TV or don’t care about it very much. He refuses to play the role of conventional taste-tester or consumer guide. On some days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single reference to a TV program in his column. Instead, he brings a free-floating imagination and carefully cultivated Irish persona — sometimes acting as foil to an imaginary brother named Joe Pieweed, Performance Artist — to the job of writing about popular culture in Canada. I read his column regularly, not because I want to know what Doyle has to say about tonight’s episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent but because I want to be entertained by a clever and witty wordsmith who makes his own kind of noise and puts on a great show.Doyle gives free rein to that patented Irish persona, and serves up a great feast of blarney and beguilement in A Great Feast of Light: Growing up Irish in the Television Age, a coming-of-age memoir that begins in 1961 when Doyle was four years old and ends in 1980 when he “escaped” (to use his word) to Canada. Irish television came of age during the same period. It started beaming its test-pattern picture into Irish kitchens and sitting-rooms during the fall of 1961, and sent out its first actual program — a gala concert broadcast live from Dublin’s Gresham Hotel — on Dec. 31 of that year.Doyle got the opportunity to watch television regularly starting in May 1963, when his insurance salesman father installed the family’s first black-and-white set on a side table in the living room of their small house in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. From then on, Telefís Éireann became as much a part of Doyle’s life as Radio Éireann had been for his father’s generation.Nenagh, with its country fairs and bicycles, was Doyle’s home until 1967, when his father was transferred to Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, a small town in the Republic near the border with Northern Ireland. Two years later, when young Doyle was 12, the family moved to Dublin, where he completed his elementary and secondary schooling and studied English, philosophy and history at University College Dublin.Each of these places touched his life in a different way. In Nenagh, Doyle learned how to read and write and be a good Catholic. In Carrick, where the ghosts of 1840s’ famine victims still haunt the empty fields and lanes, he discovered that the Protestant shop clerks across the border looked down their noses with atavistic scorn at southern Irish Catholics. In Dublin, where lower-middle-class kids looked down their noses at all people from the country (“culchies”), he discovered that not everyone adhered to the Catholic Church’s teachings on sex, contraceptives, divorce and personal freedoms. And all the while he had television to keep him connected to the wider world.Doyle is charming and engaging when he writes about his early childhood experiences, though I have some difficulty buying his claim that he lived in a world where nine-year-old boys were TV-influenced savvy and their Christian Brother teachers were dumber than a sack of hammers. I have even more difficulty buying his suggestion that when he first watched such imported American programs as Bat Masterson, Get Smart and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. he was already sophisticated enough to judge them as he would today, when he casts himself with upper-cased brio...

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