I distractedly heard the radio announcement that summer while holidaying in Ireland with my husband Renzo and our daughter Mary: This is R.T.E. broadcasting on L.M., F.M. and on satellite from Ireland.
I forgot about it until I was back in Italy and chatting with an Irish friend who, like me, also lives in Italy.
‘D’ya know you can get R.T.E. radio in Europe?’
‘Really? I suppose it would cost the earth.’
‘Don’t think so once you have a satellite dish. You could get it through your TV set.’
‘Wouldn’t it be lovely?’
‘You should look into it, y’know.’
I’d been in Italy for twenty years by then and later that same year we were ‘hitched up’ to Astra and I mentioned RTE Radio to the guy installing it and he said it was available on that satellite.
As the pigtailed technician programmed, decoded and dialled, he smiled at my excitement and, in honour of my origins, name-dropped the great musical sounds coming out of Irlanda. Fantastico! Fantastico!
Soon, the BBC, clear as a postcard, came on with, what else, but a World News Update, then CNN, ABC, NBC, with their News updates… Eurosport… Discovery Channel… and a mile-long directory of television programmes.
‘I’m looking for a radio channel…’ I insisted.
‘Just a moment Signora.’
I sat down feeling it wasn’t going to happen.
Finally, I heard it.
Faith of Our Fathers, Holy faith, in spite…
Idiotically, my eyes were riveted to the blank television set.
…whene’er we hear that glorious word…
Pigtail looked at me apologetically.
‘I’m sorry, Signora. This station corresponds to this position.’
‘Yes, that’s the one I was looking for.’
‘Oh! This sounds like Vatican Radio or something.’
He then found Limerick ‘95 Radio playing an upbeat number.
‘Yes, but could we just get back to that other station again?’
‘No problem, Signora, if you want holy programmes.’
At the touch of a dial, Astra moved back to 19E and I heard it once more.
We stand for God and for his… blazing across the airwaves and into my living room.
I didn’t care that I was being scrutinized and my musical tastes catalogued. Such was my state that the bewildered technician must have thought this Irish Signora was going to levitate!
‘You’re very Catholic, aren’t you?’ Pigtail asked, but I could only nod because, there it was, The Voice, Gay’s own!
I had tuned into Gay Byrne’s Morning Show the day he was reviewing the Frank Patterson CD Faith of Our Fathers and each time the technician hit the station a new hymn was being played!
That morning is indelible, unreal, distorted. A momentary time and place warp. Not only was I reeled back to Ireland but the Ireland of my school days had become entangled with 1996. I had waited to peep in through the ‘new Irish Window’ and instead found myself suspended between memory and reality and borne back to a time that people on the programme discussion panel were depicting as ‘a nice time in our lives’.
One moment I was back in 1968, a teenager from Oranmore secondary school in a pew in Galway Cathedral with hundreds of students from schools all over the west of Ireland eyeing each other up and checking each other’s uniforms as we belted out ‘We stand for God,’ the roof-raising finale to our annual schools religious get-together.
The next moment Gay’s voice, with its embracing familiarity, was explaining the technicalities of musical arrangements and the vastness of Frank Patterson’s repertoire and, even though it was radio, I could practically see Gay as he chuckled at some listener’s remark while in my living-room a pigtailed technician was blabbering in Italian about Bella Irlanda and Bono and satellites and memorizing and resetting codes.
I wanted Pigtail to leave. I didn’t want to know that some German television station now broadcast wonderful English programmes. That could all wait!
I wanted a cup of tea. I wanted Gay all to myself. I wanted the newsreader and the weather forecaster all to myself. I even wanted the new round teabag ads all to myself!
I recognise Pigtail’s voice on the phone.
‘Hello, Signora. I hear R.T.E. television will soon be on the satellite digital system. Are you interested?’
‘Oh! Yes, please!’
(c) Frances Fahy