Philip Boucher-Hayes writes for Culture about his new podcast series Treasure Island: The hunt for the Falcon Blanco.
When someone hands you a real-life treasure map, do you just say, "meh"?
If I had fed my mid-life crisis with a fast car or running a triathlon like everyone else, the last year of my life would have been a lot easier. But if I had just smiled politely at an aging diver’s claim to have discovered a treasure-laden Spanish galleon off Inishbofin in 1969, the last twelve months would also have been a lot duller.
I wouldn’t have gotten to tell one of the most multi-layered stories I have ever looked into; the ever captivating story of the Armada; the truly mysterious yarn of a civil servant with a treasure bug; capture a snapshot of one of our most intriguing islands and get to the bottom of whether a 1969 dive team had kept a hidden secret about what they found till now.
The Spanish Armada is already a heady cocktail of ill-fated escapade, religious war and sunken treasure. Throw in an enigmatic civil servant commissioning divers to search for a wreck he has made a lifetime study of, and you have an irresistible call to adventure.
Treasure Island: The Hunt for the Falcon Blanco is hopefully the radio and podcast equivalent of a summertime "must-read". A mystery wrapped in a riddle with a large element of adventure on top.
It brought me into the bowels of the National Museum, deep into unexplored archives in Spain and ultimately to the bottom of the sea off Inishbofin. All of which was a very absorbing after-work antidote to covering Brexit in the day job. It also allowed me to experiment with a very different form of storytelling - long-form narrative. Treasure Island is told as it happened. The listener gets to see how journalism works, the mistakes I made along the way, and the unexpected plot twists as the story moves over six episodes towards a most unexpected outcome.
I think the series is also a love letter to journalism. It is the only career I have ever had and I love it, but in this country our hands are tied by very restrictive libel laws. By chasing a story that is 430 years old, there was little fear, for a change, of getting tied up in solicitor’s letters. Treasure Island is an example of how far investigative journalism can go - the kind of storytelling it could deliver - if it’s not constantly looking over its shoulder.
And it was nice for a change to allow myself to get a little emotionally invested in a story, to want it to be true. As opposed to having to remain objective and detached. After all, there was no harm in wanting to prove an octogenarian diver’s story of an undiscovered wreck to be authentic.
Treasure Island: The Hunt for the Falcon Blanco is hopefully the radio and podcast equivalent of a summertime "must-read". A mystery wrapped in a riddle with a large element of adventure on top. It’s certainly the most fun I’ve ever had with a tape recorder.
Episode 1 of Treasure Island: The Hunt for the Falcon Blanco will be broadcast in Drivetime on RTÉ Radio 1 on Wednesday at 6.30pm - listen to the first four episodes here.