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Seven of the most memorable Irish moments on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 10: Kirstie Young attends the Sony Radio Academy Awards at The Grosvenor House Hotel on May 10, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Kirsty Young is the current presenter of Desert Island Discs (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

BBC RADIO 4’s Desert Island Discs is 75 on January 29.

It was first broadcast in 1942, and since then hundreds of guests have chosen their eight favourite records, a luxury item and a book.

Over 60 Irish guests have appeared, beginning with Eamonn Andrews in 1958.

Celebrities have ranged from Molly Keane to Val Doonican, and from President Mary Robinson to James Nesbitt.

Naturally their choice of music has varied greatly; so too their selection of luxury items.

PJ Kavanagh rather poignantly chose a pair of shoes as his luxury; fellow poet Cecil Day Lewis opted for Bourbon whiskey. Cork-born Danny La Rue (Daniel Patrick Carroll) chose a fridge, while Seamus Heaney went for Doc Martens boots.

Here are seven of our most memorable Irish moments, one for each decade since 1958

Eamonn Andrews (Picture: Les Lee/Express/Getty Images)
Eamonn Andrews pictured with one of the guests on his show,  Muhammad Ali (Picture: Les Lee/Express/Getty Images)

 1950s — Eamonn Andrews

Eamonn Andrews was the first Irish Desert Islander, back in 1958. The Dublin man was a trailblazer on the airwaves  for subsequent Irish entertainers, many of whom have become integral to British broadcasting.

But Andrews was acutely aware that Britain was a far harsher environment for the Irish in the 1950s than it is today. The populace was largely ignorant of Ireland and the Irish, and much less friendly.

Accordingly, Eamonn Andrews chose no Irish records, instead opting for light classical and popular music. The closest he got to any Irish input was John McCormack singing Panis Angelicus.

Needless to say in later years the astoundingly popular broadcaster also kept very quiet about his recording studios in Dublin, the Eamonn Andrews Studios.

These were used by the likes of the Wolfe Tones, who recorded albums such as The Rifles of the IRA there.

Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett (Picture: Ronald Dumont/Express/Getty Images)
Wilfrid Brambell (left) and Harry H Corbett (Picture: Ronald Dumont/Express/Getty Images)

1960s— Wilfrid Brambell (Old Man Steptoe)

Wilfrid Brambell, a guest on the programme in 1964, was the fourth Irish person to appear on Desert Island Discs, having been preceded by Eamonn Andrews, the footballer Danny Blanchflower and the Laois-born poet Cecil Day Lewis.

Born in Dublin, Wilfrid was the youngest of three sons born to Henry Brambell a worker at the Guinness Brewery, and his wife, Edith a former opera singer.

Before turning to acting full time he worked part-time as a reporter for The Irish Times.

Brambell’s musical choice encompassed classical music, Sinatra and Maurice Chevalier.

His luxury item was Scotch whisky and lager.

 Maureen O'Sullivan in the role of Jane and Johnny Weissmuller playing Tarzan. (Picture: OFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Maureen O’Sullivan in the role of Jane, with Johnny Weissmuller playing Tarzan. (Picture: OFF/AFP/Getty Images)

1970s — Maureen O’Sullivan

Maureen O’Sullivan, from Boyle in Co. Roscommon, was a Hollywood A-lister, her most famous role Jane in the Tarzan movies.

She chose one Irish record — Macushla, sung by John McCormack.

The rest of her music ran from light classical to Zorba the Greek.

Her book choice was Animal Communication, and her luxury item some tranquilisers.

Sir Terry Wogan — — triple appearance on Desert Island Discs (Picture: RollingNews.ie / Photocall Ireland)
Sir Terry Wogan  — boasted a triple appearance on Desert Island Discs (Picture: RollingNews.ie / Photocall Ireland)

1980s — Terry Wogan

Terry Wogan belongs to a select group of celebrities — along with other ‘national treasures’ such as David Attenborough, he appeared on Desert Island Discs three times, the first in 1983.

Out of his total choice of 24 records, he chose only one Irish piece — like Maureen O’Sullivan he opted for John McCormack singing Macushla.

1990s — Dervla Murphy

From Lismore in Co. Waterford, Dervla Murphy is a travel writer as well as patron of Sustrans, the British charity for sustainable travel.

In her travels she has been threatened by border guards in Africa, attacked by wolves in the Balkans and robbed in Siberia.

But on returning home from Baltistan she said she had the feeling that she’d come from the Third World to some dotty Fourth World consisting only of Ireland.

Dervla Murphy’s choice of music was eclectic — classical music including Haydn and Beethoven, and folk music from Madagascar, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.

Her luxury item was a póitín still.

Christy Moore — it was feared that some listeners could find his language offensive (Picture: Getty Images)
Christy Moore — it was feared that some listeners might find his programme  offensive (Picture: Getty Images)

2000s — Christy Moore

Christy Moore’s broadcast was one of the very few Desert Island Discs programmes preceded by a warning: “Contains language that some might offensive”.

Not that the bould Christy was effing and blinding — rather it was his political views, especially in relation to the IRA, that were deemed not quite suitable for the average Radio 4 listener from the Home Counties.

Professor Louise Richardson pictured with Hillary Clinton (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Professor Louise Richardson pictured with Hillary Clinton (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

2010s — Professor Louise Richardson

Louise Richardson was born in Waterford, one of seven children.

She has pursued an international career as an academic focusing on terrorism.

After many years as a Harvard professor, she came to Britain to become the first female Vice-Chancellor of St. Andrews University.

Since January 2016, she has been the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University — the first woman to hold the post.

On Desert Island Discs her Irish records were Brian’s Boru March played by James Galway and Carolan’s Concerto by the Chieftains accompanied by The Belfast Harp Orchestra.

Her luxury item was a champagne fountain.

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Mal Rogers
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Mal Rogers is a columnist and reporter with The Irish Post

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