Radharc a Celebration

Radharc was first aired in January 1962 and over the next 34 years broadcast more than 400 programmes from Ireland and around the world.

Radharc is the title of a series of documentaries broadcast by RTÉ between 1962 and 1996. The first programme was aired on January 12th 1962, just 12 days after the new Irish television service was launched. Over the following 34 years, more than 400 programmes were televised. We have made 12 Radharc programmes available to view in this exhibition from RTÉ Archives.

The word ‘Radharc’ (pronounced ‘rye-ark’) is the Gaelic for ‘view’, ‘vision’ or ‘panorama’. What the Radharc team set out to do was to bring to an Irish TV audience reports from around Ireland and later from 75 countries on different ways of living the Christian Gospel understood in its broadest sense. Among the issues covered were human rights, injustice, faith, religion, persecution, struggles against oppressive regimes, famine, and Christian heritage.

In 1959 Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin sent two priests to New York to learn something about the new medium of television, due to begin in Ireland soon. On their return, Fr Joe Dunn and Fr Desmond Forristal gathered a few like-minded priests with creative talent around them and began to produce short experimental films. Although he was sceptical of the venture, McQuaid gave them a gift of £300 towards the cost of a 16mm sync-sound camera and wished them well. When the films were shown to Michael Barry, who was to be Controller of the new TV service, he immediately commissioned them for broadcast. The team of priest-filmmakers immediately got to work and produced the first series of programmes which were over the following three decades among the most popular and critically acclaimed programmes on Irish television. They picked up many awards both national and international and were regularly in the viewers’ top ten most watched programmes on RTÉ.

In choosing titles for inclusion in this exhibition, the aim was to select films from different periods in the Radharc output, from various locations - three from Ireland and nine from other countries and continents, and using a variety of formats within the documentary genre. With such a wealth of material available, this can only be a representative sample.

'Down and Out in Dublin' looked at poverty in Ireland’s capital in 1964. It is notable for its beautifully crafted and poignant commentary written by Des Forristal and spoken by Fr Peter Lemass. 'Radharc in Derry' is a powerful witness to the inequality of the Northern Catholic nationalist community in 1964. It was considered too sensitive politically to broadcast at the time and in fact was not permitted to be aired until 25 years later, in 1989. Who knows what effect it might have had on later Irish history if it had been transmitted in 1964, with the ensuing national debate it would have undoubtedly created.

'Mother of the Kennedys' is a unique extended interview with Rose Kennedy, whose sons, President John F Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy were both assassinated. She gives a revealing account of how her faith helped her through these very public tragedies.

'Turkana' and 'Father of the Red Bull' were both filmed in Kenya and are colourful accounts of the lives and innovative work of Irish missionaries and the difficulties they encounter in a hostile desert climate.

'Night Flight to Uli' – one of the most significant films ever produced by Radharc – covers the horror of war and famine in Biafra and the dangers in flying Irish aid to a starving population of refugees.

'Escape to Nowhere' is another poignant programme filmed among refugees from Laos and Cambodia during the terror of the Pol Pot regime. 'Pain is the Price' was the first documentary produced on the work of Irish Columban missionary, Fr Shay Cullen, nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his rescue work among street children in Olongapo in the Phillipines.

'The Forgotten Irish' and 'The Black Irish' are informative and amusing accounts of the Irish diaspora in Newfoundland, Canada, and the Caribbean island of Montserrat. 'New Day in Brazil' was the first English language documentary on liberation theology lived under the military regime in Brazil in 1977. It was broadcast on many TV stations around the world.

'Dying for a Drink' is a Radharc drama-documentary on alcohol addiction in Ireland. TV reviewers noted ‘hauntingly good’, ‘should be compulsory viewing for every man, woman and child’, ‘this film was badly needed’, ‘will help to avert a lot of misery’.

We hope you enjoy dipping into this sample of programmes, the result of a long and fruitful collaboration between Radharc and RTÉ.

Dermod McCarthy

Dermod McCarthy was a producer with the Radharc team from 1965-1982 and was editor of RTÉ Religious Programmes from 1991-2008.

The Radharc Squad is a two part documentary produced by Tyrone Productions in association with RTÉ looking at the work and legacy of Radharc. The series was first broadcast in 2012 and can be viewed here.

The accompanying image shows Desmond Forristal, Dermod McCarthy and Joe Dunn with the UNDA award for the film 'Heirs of the Father' in 1979.