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Monday, 11 October 2021

Week One of 2RN - The Domination by Women

 

The majority of performers in the first week of 2RN were female. This photograph from the Radio Times (BBC Genome) shows a gathering of performers in the studios in Little Denmark Street


At 7.45pm on January 1
st 1926, founder of the Gaelic League and future President of Ireland[1], Douglas Hyde officially inaugurated the Irish Free State’s new radio service 2RN. The opening received extensive coverage in the press and the first fifteen minutes of the station were relayed by the BBC[2]. This relay meant that people in Cork could hear Hyde clearer from the stronger BBC transmitter than from Dublin. Yet the new station received a number of reception reports from as far away as Dover referencing their own frequency[3].

Once the initial success of the first night’s broadcast was over, what was the Irish listener treated to in the first week of 2RN? Limited financial resources from the Department of Finance meant that the station and its first director of broadcasting, Seamus Clandillon, were restricted in their output. Their studios were located on the third floor of an old warehouse on Little Denmark Street, off Henry Street in Dublin city centre and a transmitter housed on the grounds of McKee Irish Army barracks near the Phoenix Park. On Saturday January 2nd 1926, 2RN was on air for just two hours from eight in the evening. The schedule for that evening was as follows,

8 pm

Time Interval Signal

8.05 pm

Music Selections -Popular

8.15 pm

Clery's Instrumental Trio - Classical

8.25 pm

Group Songs Joseph O'Neill

8.35 pm

New Gramophone Records

8.45 pm

Clery's Instrumental Trio - Classical

9 pm

Group Songs Florence Ackerman (Contralto)

9.10 pm

Violin solo Rosiland Drowse

9.35 pm

Group Songs Joseph O'Neill (Tenor Rathmines Musical Society)

9.45 pm

Group Songs Florence Ackerman

10 pm

Weather Forecast

Closedown

 


The ‘Time Signal’ was used to help the listener identify the station once the transmitter was powered up. 2RN and later Radio Eireann adopted the tune ‘O’Donnell Abu’ as its signature opening signal. The ‘Music Selections’ after the ‘Time Signal’ varied throughout the first month’s broadcasting. Some evenings gramophone records would be played, live singers were employed and if they failed to show, the station director Clandillon, an accomplished musician, and his wife[4] Mairead, a Irish traditional and folk singer, would fill in at short notice to avoid any dead air.

 

Seamus Clandillon

At 8.15pm, the ‘Clery’s Instrumental Trio’ gathered around the studio microphone and began to play a selection of air. An ‘Instrumental Trio’ at that time was regarded as a pianist, a violinist and a cellist. Clery’s was one of Dublin’s most famous and popular stores located on the capital’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street. It was an early form of sponsorship on the radio to have the department stores name announced several times each night and have it appear in the newspaper listings for the station’s broadcasts, but for 2RN they received no payment from Clery’s and in fact paid a fee to the trio of musicians they employed. The ‘Clery’s Instrumental Trio’ consisted of, on piano Aileen Doyle, Bessie O’Hart Bourke on the violin and Chrissie Fagan playing the cello. The ‘Trio’ over the following years had several personnel changes and by the end of 1926 they had been renamed the ‘Station Trio’. Over the following years the trio expanded in a mini orchestra and eventually the Clery’s Instrumental Trio became the Radio Eireann Orchestra, still supported today by the State broadcaster RTE. Once Aileen Doyle left the Clery’s group she formed her own trio which proved successful in many dancehalls across the country. The Clery’s Trio would feature daily in the first week of broadcasting and illicted this reaction from a member of the public in a letter to the Irish Independent signed ‘Raithneach[5]

‘A word of praise to Clery’s Instrumental Trio, they came across very well indeed. Vocal items were not so good and artistes ought to remember that coughing, clearing of the throat etc, before the microphone is unpardonable’.

 

Ten minutes later Joseph O’Neill, tenor came to the microphone and sang a number of songs with the accompaniment of the Clery’s Trio. O’Neill was a member of the famous Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society. To give the musicians a breather some gramophone records were aired, these were almost always symphony pieces by composers like Bach and Tchaikovsky. At 8.45pm, the Clery’s Trio were back on the air entertaining the listeners. At 9pm contralto Florence Ackerman was the next performer to step up to the microphone in Little Denmark Street. After her flirtation with radio ended, she joined the staff of the Irish Independent where she worked until she was left to get married in 1928. At 9.10pm listeners were treated to a violin solo by Rosiland Dowse for ten minutes. In the green room the musicians waited to return to the airwaves. From 9.20pm until 10pm, the Clery’s Trio played ‘two Irish airs, were followed by Joseph O’Neill again and then Florence Ackerman. The final selection of the night was a piece from Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera ‘The Gondoliers’. Of the six performers on air that Saturday, five were women and just one man.

At 10pm station announcer Seamus Hughes read the weather, delivered to them from the Irish Independent newspaper offices on Middle Abbey Street[6], and the station closed. A couple of important aspects of future radio broadcasting were absent in that first week. There were no news bulletins, no advertisements and no playing of the Irish National Anthem at the end of the transmission day.

 There were no broadcasts on Sunday. Broadcasting on Sunday’s did not begin until the beginning of February 1926.

7.30 pm

Outside Broadcast from the Bohemian Theatre

8 pm

Time Interval

8.05 pm

Humorous Monologue Val Vousden

8.15 pm

Tybrone Four (AW Tyrell, JJ Brennan, C Rooney & J Neilan)

8.25 pm

Joan Holland

8.35 pm

Musical Selections Irish Airs

8.45 pm

Clery's Instrumental Trio - Classical

9 pm

Joan Holland

9.10 pm

Tybrone Four (Tyrell, Brennan, Rooney & Neilan)

9.35 pm

Clery's Instrumental Trio - Classical

9.45 pm

Tybrone Four

10 pm

Weather Forecast

Closedown

 

Monday saw a new departure with a half hour outside broadcast beginning at 7.30pm from the Bohemian Cinema and Theatre in Phibsboro. As 2RN were carrying out tests transmissions in December prior to its official launch, a number of outside broadcasts came from La Scala Theatre close to the studios but for it’s first official OB, a telephone line connected the microphone in the Bohemian to the studios in Phibsboro. With talking movies slowly coming, most cinema’s employed musicians especially organists to accompany the silent movies of the stars of the day including Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. The organist at the Bohemian, Mr. Francis Harrison, played numerous airs until 8pm. Next to the airwaves was ‘A Humorous Monologue by Val Vousden’. There was much criticism of the new station’s output over the following weeks and months at the over dependence of operatic and classical music and the lack of humorous, light entertainment. Carlow born William Francis Maher MacNevin, in 1885, having served on the western front during World War One, returned to Dublin and found himself on stage under the stage name Val Vousden. He appeared in a number of silent movies of the period including ‘Irish Destiny’, on stage at the Olympia, Theatre Royal and Gaeity and was one of the first regular light entertainment contributors to 2RN.

 

Vousden was followed by The Tybrone Four (later known as the Tybrone Quartet). The quartet consisted of A.W. Tyrell, J.J. Brennan, C. Rooney & J. Neilan, with their group name taken from the first two letters of their surnames. The male harmony was followed by the operatic talents of Joan Holland who performed two ten minute slots from 8.25pm and 9pm. Between her two performances gramophone records and a contribution from the Clery’s Trio kept listeners entertained. For the final hour, the Tybrone Four and the Clery’s Trio alternated performances. The final act of the night was the reading of the weather for the following day.

                8 pm                             Time Interval

                8.05 pm                        Louis O'Brien’s Boys Choir

                8.15 pm                        Clery’s Trio

                8.25 pm                        Choir

                                                     Choir

                                                     Choir

                9 pm                             William Reddy

                9.10 pm                       Clery’s Trio Russian Music

                9.25 pm                       Louis O'Brien’s Boys Choir

                9.30 pm                       William Reddy Cello Solo

                9.40 pm                       Choir

                10 pm                          Weather Forecast

                                                    Closedown 

 Tuesday’s broadcast from the fledgling station was a special day for the choir of St. Andrew’s Church on Westland Row. Since the foundation of the Church in 1834, there has been a choir in St. Andrew's. The Male Voice Choir consisted of boy sopranos, tenors and basses. The choir under the direction of Louis O’Brien, made their way to the Little Denmark Street studios and would perform both as a choir and with individual contributions. They began after the Time Interval with two pieces ‘See Amid The Winter Snow’ and ‘Dia Mater’. They were followed at 8.15pm by a contribution from The Clery’s Trio, ‘Samson and Delilah’, then a couple of solo from choir members. At 8.30 Master Gillette delivered a Boys Solo of two Gaelic songs ‘Druimfhionn Donn Dilis’ and ‘Sois Gael Dubh’. Mr. C.L. Kenny, a tenor, sang ‘The Glory of the Lord’ by Handel accompanied by the Choir, packed into the small studio. The choir were given a break when William Reddy performed a Cello solo with Hilda Shea at the grand piano that Clandillon had installed permanently in the studio. A bass solo by Mr. S Jones followed at 9.05pm while the Clery’s Trio delivered a number of Russian folk songs for ten minutes. At 9.20pm David Legge performed ‘Sit Lans Plena’ with the choir, followed by another performance by William Reddy. At 9.35pm another of the young choristers Master C. Doyle took to the air with a performance of ‘The Last Rose of Summer’. The Choir then rounded out the evening’s entertainment with some solos. A baritone performance of ‘Agnus Dei’ by John Neilan, a tenor solo by David Legge of ‘Jesu Doloris Victima’ and a group performance of the Hallalujah Chorus ended the contribution of the St. Andrews Choir. The night’s broadcast ended with the Clery’s Trio performing an instrumental version of ‘The Mikado’ by Gilbert and Sullivan.  The station as usual closed with the weather forecast for the following day.

7.30 pm

Outside Broadcast from the Bohemian Theatre

8 pm

Time Interval

8.05 pm

Songs by Miss S Jameson

8.15 pm

The Clery's Trio

8.25 pm

Songs by Mr. TJ Flynn

8.35 pm

Traditional Violin Cormac MacFionnlaoich (McGinley)

8.45 pm

Clery's Trio

9 pm

Songs by Miss May Mortell

9.10 pm

Songs by Mr. TJ Flynn & May Mortell

9.35 pm

Traditional Violin Cormac Fionnlaoich

9.45 pm

Clery's Trio

10 pm

Weather Forecast

Closedown

Wednesday’s transmissions once again began with a organ recital relayed from the Bohemian Cinema. Once the ‘Time Signal’ introduction had been completed Miss Sheila Jameson sang three tunes, ‘Down Here’, ‘Leaves in the Wind’ and ‘My Prayer’.  She was followed yet again by an appearance of the Clery’s Trio. Next up to the microphone was baritone T.J. Flynn, a Feis Ceoil gold medal winner. From 8.30pm he delivered three songs in the Irish language, ‘Bean Dubh an Gleanna’, ‘An Tuirinn Lin’, and ‘Marie ni Griobhta’.  Cormac MacFionnlaoich (McGinley) then played three Irish airs on the fiddle, ‘An Cailin Fionn’ , ‘An Buachaill Caol Dubh’ and ‘An Laon-Dubh’. The Clery’s Trio then returned and played a couple of instrumental Irish tunes including the hornpipe ‘Little Brother of my Heart’. A new artist then approached the boxed microphone, contralto/soprano Miss May Mortell delivered ‘The Lover’s Curse’, ‘Half a Bap’ and ‘My Aunt She Died’. Mortell ‘who’s voice and style won immediate approval’[7] was a well known performer on many of the Dublin Stages including the Theatre Royal and the Queens. Mortell also recorded a number of Irish songs for a growing collection of records created by Conradh na Gaelige.  T.J. Flynn returned with a couple of more songs including ‘The Parting’ and then Flynn and Mortell sang a number of duets that took the broadcast to 9.30pm. McGinley then played a couple of more traditional Irish airs including ‘A Raibh tu ag an gCarraig’. That night’s entertainment was rounded off by the return of the Clery’s Trio who played until the weather forecast and closedown at ten o’clock.

7.30 pm

Live Organ Music from Bohemian Theatre

8 pm

Time Interval

8.05 pm

Gramophone Record Tschovsky Symphony

8.15 pm

Clery's Trio

8.25 pm

Songs by Irvine Lynch

8.35 pm

8.45 pm

Songs by Teasa Owens (Reported as Terry Owens)

9 pm

Clery's Trio

9.10 pm

Songs by Irvine Lynch

9.35 pm

Songs by Teasa Owens & Violin Solo by Miss Bessie O'Hart Bourke

9.45 pm

Clery's Trio

10 pm

Weather Forecast

Live Organ Music from Bohemian Theatre

Closedown

 

Thursday’s transmissions began once again with a relay of an organ recital from the Bohemian Cinema, though the radio trade papers reported a ‘less than satisfactory connection between the organist and the studio’. Once the ‘Time Signal’ was completed at 8.05pm, 2RN played a gramophone record, a ‘Tchaikovsky Symphony’. The Clery’s Trio with their piano, cello and violin then performed ‘La Boheme’. Another new performer joined 2RN’s parade of artistes was Mr. Irvine Lynch, who had a long and popular career throughout Dublin’s stages. He was a baritone singer who had also performed with the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society. He had previously performed as the featured singer with the Number One Irish Army Band under Colonel Fritz, who had performed on the opening night of 2RN in a outside broadcast from Beggar’s Bush Barracks. Lynch continued to perform on stage and on Radio Eireann until his passing in the late 1950’s. The next performer on 2RN was advertised as Terry Owens, Soprano, in some newspapers schedules while in others she was described as Treasa Owens.


In fact, Terry was born Terry O’Connor in 1897 near Waterford city. The daughter of a publican, she studied the violin at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. After graduating she worked as a full time cinema musician playing the violin and performed at the 1922 Irish Race Convention held in Paris. After a number of solo appearances on 2RN in January, she joined up with the Clery’s Trio which became the national broadcasters’ embryonic orchestra. In 1928 she married an engineer David Glasgow but she continued to perform under her stage name. Terry’s sister Viola joined the new orchestra as a cellist and by 1937, when 2RN was renamed as Radio Eireann, the station orchestra was being led by Terry.

 

At 9pm, the Clery’s Trio returned to the airwaves followed by the return of Irvine Lynch. The three artistes, The Clery’s Trio, Irvine Lynch and Treasa Owens alternated contributions with the addition of another violinist Bessie O’Hart Bourke. By wartime, O’Hart Bourke was performing on Radio Eireann with her own Trio after spending a number of years playing with the Gresham Hotel Trio. Thursday’s transmissions ended with another relay from the Bohemian Cinema.

7.30 pm

 Live Organ Music from Bohemian Theatre by Mr. Harrison

8 pm

 Time Interval

8.05 pm

Gramophone Records

8.15 pm

Clery's Trios

8.25 pm

Lyric Quartet

8.45 pm

Cello Solo by Miss Chrissie Fagan

9 pm

Violin Solo Miss O'Hart Bourke

9.10 pm

Solo by Miss Dora Levey

9.35 pm

Lyric Quartet (Joan Burke, Renee Flynn, Irvine Lynch & Joseph O'Neill

9.45 pm

Clery's Trios

10 pm

Weather

 

Live Organ Music from Bohemian Theatre

Closedown


Friday night began like the previous nights with a relay of an organ recital from the Bohemian. The relays were timed to be broadcast before the film was shown and after the end of the film. After a couple of gramophone records the Clery’s Trio took to the airwaves yet again. The department store was gaining access to free advertising every night on the airwaves of 2RN. A Lyric quartet, made up of Joan Burke, Renee Flynn, Irvine Lynch and Joseph O’Neill, then performed. The quartet were regular performers at the Bohemian Cinema.

Renee Flynn, a soprano that has appeared on every radio station to broadcast in Ireland up to the Second World War. In January 1926 Ms. Flynn’s appearance on 2RN was not her first visit in front on the radio microphone. In December 1925 she had sung on the stage of the La Scala Theatre off O’Connell Street which was relayed to the nearby studios of 2RN and aired live as a test broadcast for the new station. But even her December broadcast was not her first as she became one of the first women to appear on Irish radio when she broadcast on 2BP.  2BP was a Marconi organised temporary station that was set up to prove to the new State’s Government the power of radio. It’s studios and transmitter were located in the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire and a main listening-in station set up in the RDS during that years annual Horse Show. Renee sang into the microphone shortly after the station had been visited by President William T Cosgrave, who was originally visiting the hotel to meet with New York Supreme Court Judge, Daniel Cohalan.

Renee and her immense talent would enthrall theatre goers and radio audiences alike and she was in high demand. Not content with appearing on the first two licensed stations broadcasting from Dublin 2BP and 2RN, she appeared on the other Irish station 2BE singing with the Belfast Wireless Orchestra in April 1933. Earlier in 1931, she crossed the Irish Sea to London to appear on the London Regional Service before performing and recording with the BBC Symphony orchestra in 1936. Her broadcasting career in Ireland continued as 2RN was transformed into Radio Athlone in 1933 and when Athlone was renamed Radio Eireann in 1937, one of the first singers to appear on the station was Renee Flynn accompanied by the Irish Radio Orchestra.

Joseph O’Neill would be a regular performer with Irvine Lynch and they appeared in numerous productions produced by the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society. Joan Burke, a contralto, was also a member of the R&RMS and a sister of the Irish Free State political leader W T Cosgrave. O’Neill and Burke had performed on the opening night of 2RN on January 1st.

Chrissie Fagan was one of Dublin’s most popular cellists, playing with numerous trios across the city. She was followed by another performance by O’Hart Bourke at 9 o’clock. Ten minutes later another new voice was heard in the form of soprano Dora Levey. The Lyric Quartet came back on the air followed by the Clery’s Trio who played out the evening from the studios until ten. Following the weather forecast for Saturday, another relay from Francis Harrison playing from the Bohemian Cinema, the station closing down just before 10.30p.m.

7.30 pm

Talk by Michael O'Lonain

8 pm

Time Interval

8.05 pm

Gramophone Records

8.15 pm

Clery's Trio

8.25 pm

Songs by Lily McCarthy

8.35 pm

Gramophone Scottish Airs

8.45 pm

Songs By Herbert McCormick

9 pm

Clery's Trio

9.10 pm

Songs by Lily McCarthy

9.35 pm

Violin Solo Miss Bourke & Songs by H McCormick

9.45 pm

Clery's Trio

10 pm

Weather Forecast

Bohemian Theatre Orchestra

Closedown

 

By Saturday 2RN was celebrating its first week on air, receiving mixed reviews both for its reception and its content. It was also competing with stations like 2LO from London, 2ZY in Manchester and 2BE north of the border in Belfast. The British stations were broadcasting longer hours and a more varied programme content. For a departure in content 2RN opening at 7.30pm on Saturday 8th with a talk in Irish titled ‘Tuaisceart na Spainne[8]’ delivered by Michael S. O’Lonain. At eight the time signal aired followed by gramophone records chosen by station direction Seamus Clandillon. At 8.15pm just as they had done most of the week, The Clery’s Trio performed pieces from the opera ‘La Tosca’. It would be another night dominated by female performers. There was a belief that their operatic voices suited the airwaves better than their male counterparts. There is also some evidence that they were cheaper to hire and less worried about their reputations suffering from the new medium and many of the male performers, suspicious of the wireless, were unwilling to give up paid gigs across the city to perform in front of a microphone.



Next up was Lily McCarthy who song three songs, ‘Oh Song Divine’, ‘Carmena’ and ‘Down Here’. Her contribution was followed by some records of Scottish airs, then the only male performer of the night Herbert McCormick, a baritone sang three more songs, A ‘Fathers Love’, ‘If I Might Come To You’ and ‘The Lute Player’[9]. The Clery’s Trio played another ten minutes while at 9.05pm Lily McCarthy was back to sing ‘Child O Mine’, ‘I Know a Lovely Garden’ and ‘In Old Madrid’. Bessie O’Hart Bourke then performed a violin solo followed by Herbert McCormick once more with three tunes. At a quarter to ten The Clery’s Trio performed ‘Lilac Time’[10]. The weather forecast followed and another relay from the Bohemian Cinema in Phibsboro.

 

 



[1] Hyde’s presidency 1938 - 1945

[2] Although part of the BBC, the London station was known as 2LO

[3] 390m Medium Wave

[4] They married on January 19th 1904

[5] The Gaelic word for ‘Bracken’

[6] The Irish Independent moved to new offices on Middle Abbey Street on January 1st 1926 from their previous offices on Trinity Street.

[7] The Anglo Celt newspaper

[8] Translates as ‘Northern Spain’

[9] Words by William Watson, music by Francis Allisten

[10] Written by Arthur Foote in 1917 based on a poem by Alfred Noyes


Sources:

The Irish Newspaper Archives

The British Newspaper Archives

The National Archives

BBC Genome

World Radio History

US Media Archives