(AN EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK '1930'S IRISH BROADCASTING AN EVOLUTION NOT A REVOLUTION' BASED ON THE LECTURE OF THE SAME NAME)
In 1970 a group of enthusiastic activists crowded into a small caravan in County Galway and asserted their right to have a dedicated Irish language radio station on the air. Two years after those pioneering pirate broadcasts Radio na Gaeltachta took to the airwaves and has been broadcasting nationally ever since. In recent years other stations have provided programming in the native tongue including Radio Na Life (http://www.raidionalife.ie/old/english/history.htm), Radio Failte and local community stations across the country. These have been augmented in recent years by internet based Irish language radio stations.
In the early days of Irish radio (2RN going on air in January 1926) Irish language supporters believed that the airwaves were not being used properly for the promotion of the native language. Activists initially wanted the state run station to be solely broadcast in Irish and that it should support National ideals and traditions but there was very little support from the political establishment who were unsure how to treat the new medium and were suspicious of the intentions of traditionalists. Over eighty percent of the station’s output was in English, the language of Government and the Irish language did not even make up the entire remainder as French, German and Esperanto all received significant airtime. Less than half of all music played on the new station was Irish traditional and this caused much debate in the newspapers of the day.
The Irish language has always been a hot potato when it comes to broadcasting and the positioning of various lobby groups has often affected the direction of both programming and language revival. In 1989 when the Independent Radio and Television Commission perused proposals for the new commercial national franchise there was derision in the media when former pirate broadcaster Chris Cary (Radio Nova) in his submission advanced his proposal for an Irish language ‘word of the day’. This English born entrepreneur seemed unable grasp the importance of the native tongue on a national stage but fast forward twenty years and the national franchise now Today FM offers a thirty second occasional slot ‘creid é no ná creid é’ not far off Cary’s 1989 thoughts on the subject in 1989.
Radio Eireann in 1939 was the chief provider of Irish language broadcasting but this year would see four different stations in three different countries broadcast ‘as Gaeilge’. Vatican Radio aired Irish programmes at 7.30pm hosted by the Rector of the Irish College in Rome broadcast on short wave for the faithful in Ireland to listen to. In Germany, Nazi state radio began broadcasting in Irish on December 10th 1939. The presenter was Hans Hartmann and their propaganda was anti British and an overt attempt to reinforce Ireland’s position of neutrality during the Second World War and finally the IRA’s Broadcast station that was located in Ashgrove House, Rathgar began all their broadcasts with a speech in the native tongue usually delivered by Seamus Byrne who became a successful playwright after the War. The station was raided and closed at the end of December 1939.
(The first radio programme in Gaelic was not transmitted by Radio Eireann but on 2BD in Aberdeen on October 10th 1923)