View of beach near Gormanston Co.Meath from train window Photo: © Michael Fisher

View of beach near Gormanston Co.Meath from train window Photo: © Michael Fisher

It was a beautiful morning for a journey and no better way to travel than by train. A great opportunity to see the sunrise over the sea as the train passed along the coast just after Gormanston in County Meath. My thirteen hour odyssey began at Newry station in County Armagh (it’s closer to Bessbrook!) with the departure of the 06:45 Iarnród Eireann commuter train to Dublin Connolly, a train that goes as far as Bray. Try planning a journey to Dundalk on the Translink website and you won’t find this particular service. It picks up at various stops as far as Donabate, by which time it’s a case of standing room only, then runs non-stop to Connolly. On arrival the place was buzzing with the sound of music, including the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

Miriam O'Callaghan prepares to go on air with The John Murray Show at Connolly Station Photo: © Michael Fisher

Miriam O’Callaghan prepares to go on air with The John Murray Show at Connolly Station Photo: © Michael Fisher

A great start to the Big Music Week at Connolly Station with an hour long John Murray Show presented by Miriam O’Callaghan. Among the crowd (some of whom had joined the music train at Bray) was RTÉ’s Director General Noel Curran. Although he comes from a county (Monaghan) where the railway lines were dismantled over fifty years ago, he still has a love of trains having made the journey many times between Dublin and Dundalk, where I was writing this as I headed back to Newry on the Enterprise.

RTÉ Director General Noel Curran at Connolly Station

RTÉ Director General Noel Curran at Connolly Station Photo: Michael Fisher

The hour-long show at Connolly finished with the Artane Boys Band. The BIG MUSIC WEEK entourage then boarded the special three-carriage Iarnród Éireann train to Newbridge for the next stage of the proceedings.

Entertained on the Music Train by the Bugle Babes Photo: RTÉ ten

Entertained on the Music Train by the Bugle Babes Photo: RTÉ ten

On board we were entertained by the Chattanooga Choo Choo from the Bugle Babes. Other stars  travelling included the Northern duo of Paul Brady from Strabane and Bronagh Gallagher from Derry, who made a special mention of Eamonn McCann when she sang Midnight Train to Georgia for Miriam, a broadcast that went out simultaneously on 2FM and Lyric FM.

Bronagh Gallagher on board the RTÉ Music Train Photo: © Michael Fisher

Bronagh Gallagher on board the RTÉ Music Train Photo: © Michael Fisher

Christy Moore joined the fun at the Patrician Seconday School at Newbridge in County Kildare. After a three hour stop that included a parade along the mmain street of the town led by the Army No.1 Band, it was time to head for the next stop in Carlow. More performances on the train and then in the station car park where Tullow native Selina O’ Leary was among the entertainers. After that the Music Train headed to Waterford for a concert at the Theatre Royal, a benefit gig in aid of Barnardos for whom collections were made along the way. The broadcast schedule for tomorrow, Tuesday 1st October, and other information can be found on the RTÉ Big Music Week (in association with Iarnród Eireann) website here.

9:30, 12:35 & 16:10 RTÉjr The Beo Show This Big Music Week join stage manager Donie and wardrobe lady Gerty Gúna  as they prepare the Beo Theatre for children from across the country Various
10:00 & 14:35 RTÉjr Hubble Hubble is going musical so watch and listen as Emma and Ogié discover a musical world full of fun and interesting sounds. Various
16:00 RTÉ Two elev8 Follow Diana Bunici’s progress as she picks up the guitar for the first time with the promise of a performance by the end of the week. Various
17:30 RTÉ Two Two Tube Throughout RTÉ Big Music Week Two Tube will be  on a quest to find the next big music act, as well as bringing great interviews from well-known Irish talent. Various
20:00 RTÉ Radio 1 The John Creedon Show For day two of RTÉ Big Music Week, John Creedon presents a live performance from Killarney’s INEC, featuring John Spillane, Ger Wolfe, Lumiere, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, I Draw Slow & others. John Spillane, Lumiere, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, I Draw Slow & others.


RTÉ presenters launch Big Music Week at Dún Laoghaire Photo: IE website

RTÉ presenters launch Big Music Week at Dún Laoghaire Photo: IE website/Maxwell

Starting on the DART service in Dublin tomorrow morning from Bray to Dublin, the fifth RTÉ Big Music Week will be on the rails from 7:45am. Commuters at Bray will be entertained on the platform by a number of well-known musicians including The Benzini Brothers featuring Liam Ó MaonlaÍ, Fiachna Ó Braonáin and Peter O’Toole;  Luan Parle; Lisa O’Neill; The Lost Brothers and Eleanor McEvoy. Here is the advertisement currently running on RTÉ television:-

The musicians will then board a train to bring them to Connolly Station, where there will be more music live on the John Murray Show with Miriam on RTÉ Radio 1 from 9am. I hope to join the event there to cover it for my blog, travelling on the special train to Newbridge. From there it will be a case of “Follow Me up to Carlow”, where I will return Northwards to write my report and hopefully bring you some photographs.

The Big Music Week in association with Iarnród Éireann features the very best of home-grown musical talent by bringing live performance to audiences in Ireland and all over the world; on radio, on television, on line and on mobile with plenty of opportunity to catch-up on the latest action with RTÉ.ie, RTÉ Ten, RTÉ YouTube and @rte (not forgetting @fishbelfast) on twitter.

RTÉ presenters launch Big Music Week at Dún Laoghaire Photo: Maxwell Photography

RTÉ presenters launch Big Music Week       Photo: Maxwell Photography

This year, the RTÉ Big Music Week Train, consisting of three carriages, will travel to some of Ireland’s best-loved venues and best-travelled stations, bringing performances from Kodaline, Paul Brady, Damien Dempsey, Christy Moore, Lumiere and Julie Feeney and much more to radio listeners across the island. The schedule for the Irish Rail special train is as follows:-

Monday 30th September – Dublin Connolly to Waterford

Stay on the train for the day, join in the music and fun as the train stops at Newbridge and Carlow and ends the day in Waterford.

Tuesday 1st October – Waterford to Killarney

Entertainment and Music on board all the way to Mallow.

Wednesday 2nd October – Killarney to Westport

Entertainment and music all the way plus a stop at Limerick Station to join in the fun at the 2Fm Ryan Tubridy Show onboard.

Thursday 3rd October – Marty in the Morning

Attend a live radio programme (breakfast included!) from Westport Station.

Friday 4th October – Boyle to Dublin Connolly

Final show in Maynooth with Ronan Collins at 12pm.

RTÉ’s Big Music Week will finish on a high note with an All-Star Charity Concert in aid of Barnardos. It will be presented by Kathryn Thomas and feature several headline acts and surprise guests. Finbarr Furey, the Irish chart topper who outsold Avici and Katy Perry after winning RTÉ’s The Hit with The Last Great Love Song, will perform his latest chart topper and other songs from his extensive repertoire. Also on the bill are Sharon Shannon and Paul Walsh from Royseven. Jerry Fish will perform his well-known song True Friends with The Lost Brothers. Other acts include Heathers, Scullion, Robbie Overson and Philip King.

The show will also feature a brand new song written by Brendan Graham, which will be performed by Eimear Quinn, Celine Byrne and others. The new song will be premiered on The Late Late Show on October 4th. Tickets are available now at Ticketmaster priced at €25, with all funds going to Barnardos.


Carolyn's Farewell

Carolyn’s Farewell

The popularity of my last blog, one of the most widely read since I started on New Year’s Day, can be attributed not so much to the content but rather to the subject: my younger sister Carolyn. She finishes on Thursday after completing around 35 years’ service to RTÉ mainly in the News and Current Affairs department. Last night her colleagues gathered at O’Connell’s in Donnybrook to say farewell. Those who are of a certain generation might remember it better as Madigan’s, frequented by RTÉ staff both at lunchtimes and in the evenings.

Sign at main entrance

Sign at main entrance

Star Quality

Star Quality

Tom and his staff made guests feel very welcome when they arrived. Some of Carolyn’s  colleagues had put in a great effort to decorate the tables and surrounding area with photographs, including some provided by my youngest brother of Carolyn in her early days. When the video rolled, threatening to open wide the Fishergate files, it asked the question: where did it all start? or words to that effect. But I never heard any mention of London, her birthplace! Like my other two brothers, she was born when my father was working there, first of all as London Editor of the Irish Press and then as Editor of the Catholic Herald newspaper.

In a recent interview with Eileen Dunne, he said that he believed his best work as a journalist had been his coverage from Rome of Vatican II. He began his career in public service broadcasting in September 1967, when he was appointed deputy Head of News at RTÉ in Dublin. His fellow Derryman, Jim McGuinness, who had also been in the Irish Press, had helped to persuade him to return to Ireland at a time when he was working as a freelance and had just finished writing his first book entitled “The Church in Transition”. The publisher was Geoffrey Chapman, who lived a few streets away from us in Wimbledon, in the Sacred Heart parish which the Jesuits will leave later this year.

Carolyn Fisher &  Miriam O'Callaghan

Carolyn Fisher & Miriam O’Callaghan

Miriam O’Callaghan acted as the MC for the speeches, which began with Director of News Kevin Bakhurst, followed by the Managing Editor Current Affairs TV David Nally, whose memories of Carolyn with her spiky hair went back to his student days. A contemporary from UCD days recalled how Carolyn (History, Politics) and her friend Mags brightened up the corridors of Belfield. Now Carolyn’s son Sam has followed her footsteps in Belfield and is currently doing an MA in Archives and Record Management. In the punk rock days, “record” might well have referred to singles, and LPs, of which my brother built up an extensive  collection!

Peter Feeney who I remember from schooldays in Gonzaga College (his brother was in the same class) also spoke in very complimentary terms about Carolyn. Like David, he also mentioned the role my father had played in RTÉ.

Carolyn Fisher and Bride Rosney

Carolyn Fisher and Bride Rosney

Among the attendance was Carolyn’s former boss, Bride Rosney. I happened to meet her in Belfast last Saturday, when she accompanied the former President Mary Robinson, now appointed to a major new role with the UN. Both were attending the celebration for the life of Inez McCormack.

Carolyn bids farewell

Carolyn bids farewell

Carolyn joined RTÉ about a year or so before I did. So I reckon she has spent some 35 years there. I worked there for 31 years and my father for 16 years. So between the three of us, we have contributed over 80 years’ service to public service broadcasting in Ireland as well as a few years to the BBC. It was perhaps appropriate that the new Director of News Kevin Bakhurst (ex BBC News) should be the first to be called on to address the farewell gathering. It marked an important chapter in our family history.

Kevin Bakhurst speech

Kevin Bakhurst speech


Colour Test Chart

Colour Test Chart

Saying farewell to the BBC television centre in yesterday’s blog, I came across a document which my father seems to have acquired after a brief attachment to BBC News in London in summer 1967 before his return to Dublin and a post as deputy Head of News in RTÉ. The foreword says “going into colour is the greatest opportunity BBC Television News has had for many years”. This was at a time when news broadcasts came from the Alexandra Palace studio. The move to the new quarters at Television Centre at White City did not happen until 1969. Some interesting figures about the building, quoted in a BBC booklet at the time, can be found on a blog by Matt Verrill, Technical Project Manager, BBC Children’s Interactive.

BBC booklet 1969

BBC booklet 1970

The final news programme to be broadcast from Ally Pally was a late night news on BBC 2 on Friday 19 September 1969 in colour. Over that weekend, sixty-five removal vans transferred the contents of Alexandra Palace across London. BBC Television News resumed operations the next day with a lunchtime bulletin on BBC 1 – in black and white – from Television Centre, where it remained until a week ago (March 18th). Bob Taylor, a retired engineer, described his memories of the operation here.  The same article contains an observation which will interest any readers in Northern Ireland. Referring to a colour transmission to America in the NTSC format on the night of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing (July 20th 1969) Bob remarked:-

“I was in charge of the (technical) line-up that night (at Alexandra Palace) and witnessed the excitement of those first steps.  As part of a World roundup of reaction for the American networks, we had in our (news) studios various dignitaries including Rev Ian Paisley and another Irish MP of the time Bernadette Devlin.  She was very young and a reactionary, but it was interesting that she never answered a question until her minder spoke in her earpiece and told her what to say“.

Unlike Bernadette to be stuck for words! But that was how the BBC man remembers it. He

Back to the Colour Guide. This is how BBC news presenters and reporters were advised to dress to “Look Your Best in Colour”. Starting with MEN, who certainly dominated the television news industry in those days, the GENERAL advice is:-

Partly because of the size of the screen, partly because of the television system, colours tend to be exaggerated by television. This is particularly true of reds and blues. This means that, in an interview for instance, people wearing quiet colours (women: an natural make-up) are likely to look best. Viewers’ attention will not be distracted and interest will centre on the faces and not on the clothes. CLOTHESWhile a dark coloured suit is all right, you will look better in a mid-toned one of any colour. Tweeds are excellent. Very pronounced horizontal striped or checked patterns are liable to produce a strobroscopic effect. Don’t wear a bright shirt; an off-white or pastel-coloured one is best. A quiet tie looks better than a loud one. MAKE-UP: If you can shave shortly before coming to the studio it will lessen the risk of ‘five o’clock shadow’, which looks even worse in colour. If we ask you to use any make-up at all it will be only a small amount to make you look yourself on the screen, to counteract the colour system which tends to exaggerate the features (particularly the mouth and ears) of some people“.

This is the bit I like, but I wonder how often the advice was taken:

Finally — and no joking — it is better not to have a drink (**it doesn’t specify whether alcoholic or not**) just before transmission — it will heighten your colour noticeably!” The same advice applies for WOMEN. They are told about their CLOTHES:-

So, wear medium-tone clothes neither very dark nor very light, Beige, tan and grey are particularly good. Avoid large unbroken areas of black or white. Provided that the design is not too pronounced, dresses made of patterned material can look very effective. Smooth, very shiny fabrics, especially in light colours, will not flatter you, and may cause technical difficulties, but fur, wool, cotton, linen, tweed, lace, suede and leather are all good. The rule about very pale colours applies also to stockings. Sequins are likely to reflect light and be distracting. For the same reason do not wear large and bright jewellery. MAKE-UPDo not use a thick foundation; remember to match your foundation as near as possible to your skin colour. If you DO use a darker foundation ensure that you blend it well down your neck. Use eye shadow sparingly; avoid strong colours. A lipstick in the ‘soft coral’ or ‘brownish’ range is preferable to a blue-pink or red one. In case we DO have to adjust your lip colour please avoid indelible lipsticks“.

So now you know how to look your best on colour television! Sure the likes of Eugene McVeigh or John Coghlan could have told you that immediately they pointed their camera at you. The guide though was intended for studio operations. Out in the field they probably would have added: …..and bring a hairbrush with you! Meanwhile there are a few other BBC News guidelines drawn up by the assistant editors for BBC2 News:-

 REPORTING Be very careful of Fleet Street ‘journalese’ — it sounds terrible — and of unfair methods in obtaining stories. We have the BBC reputation to maintain.    PERFORMING News doesn’t want television ‘personalities’, but you must have impact….Appearance matters, mostly in a negative way: you should not be uncombed, bristle-chinned, loose-tied, or curiously dressed, because such things distract from our news purpose“.

All this television news history by way of marking an important chapter in family history: my sister Carolyn (senior Press Officer) is taking leave from her colleagues in RTÉ News in Dublin this evening and finishes on Thursday after some 36 years in the organisation. She joined RTÉ a year or two before me, having helped to set up the first BBC office in Dublin where Philip Whitfield was the correspondent. As I mentioned, my father Des Fisher began in 1967 and retired in 1983 when he was Head of Broadcasting Development, having helped to set up RTE2 with the late Dick Hill and Raidio na Gaeltachta. He was interviewed recently by Eileen Dunne for The God Slot on Radio 1 about his memories of covering Vatican II and his hopes for the new Pope. So add his 16 years to my own 31 years from January 1979 to September 2010 and Carolyn’s record and you have a total between us of over 80 years’ contribution to public service broadcasting in Ireland, each if us having appeared on radio and television in some shape or form over that period.

The farewell gathering was well attended and took place at O’Connell’s in Donnybrook (Peter Feeney referred to the time when it was Madigans pub, a favourite watering hole for RTÉ staff). Carolyn’s colleagues in the Communications section did a great deal of organisation along with friends in News and Current Affairs, who put together a video package containing many clips of Carolyn I had not seen before. Thanks to Miriam O’Callaghan who introduced the speakers, including the new Director of News and Current Affairs Kevin Bakhurst and Managing Editor of Current Affairs TV David Nally. It was great to catch up with a number of former newsroom colleagues.

Carolyn Fisher & Miriam O'Callaghan

Carolyn Fisher & Miriam O’Callaghan


Ireland: A History

Ireland: A History

The death of writer, journalist and historian Robert Kee who died on Friday January 11th aged 93 is an opportune moment to look back not just at the television series he presented on Irish history, but on other similar series. First I acknowledge the assistance of a very useful article by Cathal Brennan in The Irish Story about how important events in Irish history such as the Easter Rising in 1916 have been covered by Irish television, starting in the 1960s when Telefís Éireann had opened.

1965 saw Telefís Éireann attempt their first history series entitled The Irish Battles. 1966 began with a new television series called The Course of Irish History edited by F.X. Martin and T.W. Moody. The series dealt with Irish history from prehistoric times up to the present and finished with a debate between the contributors involved” (Brennan).

F.X.Martin was an Augustinian priest who was Professor of Medieval History at UCD from 1962 to 1988. I remember seeing him occasionally in the corridors when I was a student at Earlsfort Terrace and Belfield. He was deeply involved in the campaign to preserve the Viking site at Wood Quay in Dublin. More details about him can be found in Charles Lysaght’s “Great Irish Lives: An Era in Obituaries” p.260. Certainly I remember the impact that the black-and-white televised series had. I only moved back to Dublin in 1967, with little or no knowledge of Irish history at the time, so I found the Martin/Moody book a very useful educational aid. T.W.Moody was a Quaker and was Professor of Modern History at Trinity College.

The eruption of the troubles in the North in 1969 and the introduction of censorship through Section 31 legislation meant a lack of any further series on history on RTÉ until the 1980s. However in 1969/70 I remember attending an hour-long programme about Northern Ireland recorded at the RTÉ studios at Donnybrook and presented by the late Liam Hourican, who was then Northern Editor for RTÉ News, based at Fanum House in Belfast.

Robert Kee’s thirteen-part series on Ireland: A Television History was broadcast in 1980/81 on RTÉ and BBC. It charted the history of the island from the time of Brian Boru up to the struggle for independence. It won a Jacob’s award for Kee, as the BBC obituary noted. Ruth Dudley Edwards has written an obituary for the Sunday Independent which sums up his achievements during a long and successful career.

In 1981 Thames Television produced a six-part documentary series The Troubles, which was shown on UTV. In more recent times there have been programmes on RTÉ such as Hidden History (2007) and in 2011 a five-part series presented by my former colleague in RTÉ News Belfast, Fergal Keane, entitled The Story of Ireland and broadcast on RTÉ and BBC. For those interested in pursuing the subject further, I notice that UCD is running an adult education course starting later this month on “Television and Irish History“. The tutor is David Ryan. I wonder what the tv historians will make of the current flags protest in Belfast and other parts of the North. Will the restriction placed on the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall in December become one of the most significant dates in Northern Ireland history since the signing of the Good Friday agreement?


Funeral of Maedhbh Ní Chonmhídhe-Piskorska

Funeral of Maedhbh Ní Chonmhídhe-Piskorska

Funeral of Maedhbh Ní Chonmhídhe-Piskorska

Funeral of Maedhbh Ní Chonmhídhe-Piskorska

Many will fondly remember the television series “Wanderly Wagon” on RTÉ (1967-82). They may not however recall who the executive in charge of childrens’ television was. Maedhbh Ní Chonmhídhe-Piskorska (Maeve Conway-Piskorski) died at her home in Dublin on New Year’s Day after a short illness, aged 83. After becoming head of childrens’ programming in RTÉ she was appointed head of the education department in 1969. As the Irish Times reports, she came from Ballivor in County Meath and received her secondary education at the St Louis Convent, Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan. She studied at UCD and received an MA in French literature, then joined the Irish Placenames Commission (An Coimisiún Logainmeacha) as a temporary assistant in 1952 along with Ciarán Mac Mathúna, who was also to join Radio Éireann later. After two years in the Commission, she started as a producer in Radio Éireann in 1954. Maeve retired from RTÉ nearly 22 years ago in 1991. She took part in the group Age and Opportunity and belonged to Parlaimint na mBan (womens’ Parliament), which sought to gain recognition for women in the Irish language and cultural movement. She also published two books of writings – including Seanchas na Midhe (Meath lore & history) – by her mother, the teacher and archaeologist Maighréad Ní Chonmhidhe (Margaret Conway, founding editor of Ríocht na Midhe). Copies of the “Seanchas” were brought to Holy Cross Church in Dundrum where Maedhbh’s funeral was held this morning. The book contains a selection of lectures given by Margaret to groups such as the Irish Countrywomens’ Association and Macra na Tuaithe on subjects such as Oliver Goldsmith and the Slane poet-soldier Francis Ledwidge.

Meath Lore

Meath Lore

Former RTÉ editor of religious programmes Fr Dermod McCarthy was a concelebrant. Many retired RTÉ staff were among the mourners, including Mike Burns and Padraig O Gaora, as well as former Directors General George Waters, Bob Collins and Cathal Goan. Pádhraic Ó Ciardha represented TG4. Former NUJ Irish Secretary Jim Eadie and Press Ombudsman John Horgan were also there to say farewell to a person who in different ways made a big contribution to Irish culture both on and off the box. Sympathy goes to her husband Ryszard and son Stefan and the family circle. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis. Maedhbh was buried in her native Ballivor. Her obituary appeared in the Meath Chronicle with a picture of her speaking at the launch of the writings of her mother, “Meath: Towards a History”.

Meadhbh Ní Chonmhídhe-Piskorska

Meadhbh Ní Chonmhídhe-Piskorska