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6 November 1997 Edition

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Belting out the Croppy Boy

By Laurence McKeown

I was listening to the `Sunday Show' with Andy O'Mahony on RTE 1 the other Sunday morning. Not a bad show. The first I've listened to it. Like all RTE current affairs programmes at that time the topic of discussion was the presidential election and the issue of Mary McAleese.

The views expressed were fairly similar to what had been heard several times already, nothing startling. What did astound me was that in a musical interlude we were treated to Liam Clancy giving a very good rendition of `The Croppy Boy'. Initially I thought my ears were playing tricks with me. This was RTE after all. I was on the point of rising to check if somehow the radio had tuned to another channel or a CD or something, but no, there it was, RTE belting out The Croppy Boy. I was amazed.

My thoughts drifted back to teenage years when listening to rebel ballads was a regular pastime. (Since then I have become a wee bit more discerning in my choices of music). I had a rather crude device rigged up in the house; a car stereo, which my father had purchased but never installed, plugged into a transformer and powered from the mains electricity.

It had been a major revelation to me through the pages of `Exchange and Mart' that such a thing as a transformer existed. It meant I could borrow tapes from my mate who had a fairly extensive collection of them. Those were the days of the 8-track cassette, a totally baffling term then and now as I could never work out what was meant by 8-track. They were massive, almost as big as today's video cassettes. But the system worked, which was the main thing and I had hours of listening pleasure at low cost.

Thoughts turned back to RTE and the Croppy Boy and it was then I began to wonder if Eoghan Harris, who had been referred to a number of times on the show, was listening. I reckoned that if he was then we could safely assume that the Gardai, the Air Force, the Navy, the Civil Defence and all other such bodies would have already been informed that the Shinners had taken over the airwaves at Donnybrook. His worst fears, and predictions, come true.

As Liam Clancy brought the `Croppy Boy' to a rousing end I feared that conversation on the show would go back to what it had been previous, that no reference would be made at all to what we had just heard, that life would go on as if nothing had happened, but no, it provoked discussion. Comments were made that it as not so long ago that songs of that type would have been censored on RTE and particular instances were referred to.

There was even laughter that such could or should have been the case. It then transpired that the brother of one of the panel had penned the words of `Only Our Rivers Run Free' which hasn't been heard on RTE le fada an lá.

My thoughts drifted again from the programme to what lay behind this amazing change of policy - that the Croppy Boy would be played in the middle of a current affairs programme. Was there a maverick at work? Was this a musical leak? Or was this cleared at the highest levels? More light was thrown on the subject when I lifted a certain Sunday newspaper shortly afterwards and read that Liam Clancy had been heard the previous Wednesday on no less than the Gay Byrne show singing The Rising of the Moon. There was more than a hint from the writer that RTE had a financial interest in promoting this particular album.

One week later all was revealed through the informative columns of this very newspaper. RTE in conjuction with Comoradh `98 and Enigma records have produced `Who Fears to Speak, The Official 1798 Bicentenary'.

I think initially I was a bit disappointed that financial interest rather than a genuine republican sentiment to commemorate the patriots of that time was the reason for the new departure within RTE. But then I thought, what the heck. If RTE is making a financial contribution to the production of such an album then they must believe there is a market out there for that type of material, that people have an interest in our past, a desire to discover their roots, to look afresh at the revisionism that has dominated the teaching of history (and the playing of music) in the southern part of our country for too many years. That can only be for the good. As I have said before in this column, the times they are a changin'.

An Phoblacht
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