Category Archives: Hard news

RTE Radio 1 Documentary on One broadcast entitled: Act like a lady, lift like a beast.

By Declan Brennan published 8 Fed 2014.

This particular radio documentary story profiles a female weight lifter, Clare Connolly, who recently joined a training group called the Dublin Female Strength Club. The producer is a close friend of the weightlifter for over ten years now, and focuses on her new hobby of weightlifting and how she plans to travel to Glasgow to represent Ireland in the World Drug free Powerlifting Championships with the rest of her team. It features on her current lifestyle and how it has changed to incorporate her new profession, from what she eats to how she is seen in society.

Its told through a very conversational interaction between her and the narrator Declan Brennan, the links of which are them constantly switching between Q and A interview format to Declan relaying facts about Clare to the listener. For example, it opens with a very feature-like introduction full of suspense. We hear a knock at a door and a male voice calling out good morning. A woman replies saying come in, and what we automatically assume to be the presenter speaking to this as of yet unidentified woman, saying he has a surprise for her. We then hear her laughing and expressing her joy at seeing a speaking scale. Just as we begin to get the picture, that this is an athlete and it is a fun poked interaction between two friends, the narrator addresses the listener by saying “My friend Clare Connolly is…”

Other link ins include the announcement of where they are or where they are going either by Clare through a proclamation or by Declan through a colourful observation of the place they’re now in. There’s about seven or more of these in total, with Declan painting a brief picture of each scene before they continue the interview. For example when they arrive at the gym, Clare ends whatever she was saying by declaring “were here at the gym now,” and Declan replies “you won’t find any colourful kettle bells in this gym.”

These links from place to place include the gym she trains in, her flat, a bar in Dublin city after she’s had a bad day, her family home in her town of origin. He also begins a countdown halfway through the documentary of her daily weigh-ins either over or under her goals and he documents how many days it is before the competition. Then before the big event, it opens with a discussion between the team of girls, Declan asking questions about some of their weight conscious references we too as listeners would not be aware of. Every time, Declan almost poetically describes the setting. He then continues to narrate the actual competition, building up to it with a discussion with the girls, their breakfast, the opening ceremony music, his explanation of the competitions rules. Then during the actual power lifting, the music picks up and the shouts of the crowds are enhanced. He keeps us updated on her levels of strength through the trials with extra comments from Clare in between.

The entire opening is quick and keeps the listener active with the story, which is exactly the format for the rest of the documentary. The seriousness of the presenter Declan counteracts well with the upbeat tone Clare has, the listener can easily tell Declan is trying to portray Clare and her powerlifting seriously whilst having fun, and Clare is very relaxed and forthcoming with the interview answers. It flows quite well as a feature piece with no awkward pauses.

They hold interviews in places we easily recognise by what I assume the amplified background noises to add dramatic and audio effect to the music. We can hear the clinging of weights above the music as Clare talks about her weight and size, and we hear the fridge door closing when her and Declan discuss her typical diet.

Other sources and characters introduced are some of her teammates, and they’re hugely diverse pastimes. Eimear who is a part-time burlesque dancer and beautician and Lynn with her two kids who accompany her to the gym every Sunday as she is a single mum. The show includes her two kids giggles amplified in the background. After Lynn announces the difficulty of training with two kids, it cuts to her daughter giggling and eventually saying to Declan “Act like a lady, lift like a beast” and the room erupts in laughter. Here we click the humorously cute origin of the documentary’s title, and automatically as a listener you feel a fondness for it.  Another is her mother when they travel to her hometown, a typical Irish mammy filled with concern or her daughter, and the typical Irish dad joking about not wanting her to turn into a man.

The documentary paints an honest picture of Clare, and what the world of female powerlifting really looks like. The difficulties they face, their diverse background, the stress of keeping their weight down in the preparation for the competition and so on. The constant diary like responses Clare gives make us feel closer to her, and both her and Declan’s stark examination of her faults hide nothing from the listener. The background music fits in with the mood of the documentary, between calm and pensive to upbeat and intense when the documentary calls for it. We really hope she wins the competition in the build-up, with her family screaming and the emotional music coming in. Finally we find out she’s taken world champion in her age category, and feel like we’ve been there with her throughout the journey and smile as she deserves her reward as the documentary closes.

Listen to the documentary online here:

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/documentary-podcast-female-powerlifting-strength-club.html

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ST Marys Park Floods, Loss turned to Triumph

There’s a distinctive sense of abandonment when there are forces destroying your home and you have no control, your only option but to sit back and watch. That’s how we all felt the morning we woke up last Saturday not to our houses being flooded, but to our entire bottom floors already submerged knee deep in river water. We didn’t even see or hear it coming, we just woke up, heard a gurgle and a creak downstairs and switched on the light to see all our possessions floating past. If we had received a weather warning the night before or were awake to see the first stream come trickling in we wouldn’t have felt as helpless as we did that morning.

The second stage of the nightmare was trying to do a full comparison with the rest of the community. What do we do, should we wade through the water to try and see how the neighbours are doing, or do we sit and wait on the stairs for word from some or any authorities. Our entire blocks bathrooms are situated at the back room of our bottom floor. I did my first and last dash attempt into the water to get to the bathroom that morning. Making my way through the two rooms in a pair of old boots that were spare was possibly the coldest water I have ever put my feet into. Then the blind panic of remembering the animals and pets we had outside. Thankfully my own dog had a wooden dog house that was on a higher level than the rest, so he was okay. But I heard how hard family members further in the centre took the news that their dogs had drowned.

In the midst of peering out our front windows upstairs and everyone posting their photos to Facebook to see if their shock was in line with our own, something truly uplifting happened. People started rescuing other people. Of course, the armed forces and fire brigade were the pillars of our community those few horrible days. But everyone else really stepped up to the plate. St Marys park still remains one of the oldest community’s in our city, and I think that day when everyone was at their lowest and most desperate did its residents remember that. Everybody did their best to restore meaning to the word community that morning, with people rescuing the old and young alike.

When the worst of that day was over and the forces pumped away most of the water there was nothing but quiet assessing left to do. Many people had been evacuated from their homes but my mother, like many others down there, was too proud to leave her house behind. We were all told to stay indoors and upstairs for fear of another flood. To this day, despite the stack of sandbags that’s permanently outside our front door, that fear has been haunting us. That evening, once everyone had received the most help the authorities could give, fear led way to its closest friends – confusion and rumours.

With the few on hand officials and the limited knowledge they could tell us of the floods, rumour began to rip through the houses on our street. The electricity was being shut off at seven. It wasn’t. It’s going to flood again tonight. It didn’t. They’ve stopped giving out sandbags. They hadn’t. It’s natural for a group of people living in fear of the river five feet away to be desperate for information, but the past few days have been a constant torture of relying on ever-changing rumours.

Then it felt like the nightmare was never going to end. After the weekend had passed and we were just about coming to terms with the possessions we lost and the danger we were in, came the contamination warning. Everything the water had touched, from furniture to wallpaper had to be thrown away for fear of contamination. But there’s still the silver lining on the edge of our little grey cloud.  The local government employees are coming around on a daily basis to help clear out furniture and lend a hand. We’ve had local electricians come in to assess the damage and have been given free use of humidifiers for inside the house. There’s even been an immediate relief fund given out to all of us before any real financial aid can be assessed. The entire city has been amazing in its support. We have received all manner of donations from hot lunches to fresh bed sheets from organisations and individuals city wide. Even though we couldn’t be more at a loss at this moment in time, I have never been more grateful to the people we live with. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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Paul Maguire on Investigative Journalism

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I have a real hatred for Injustice”

Paul Maguire, although from humble beginnings as his first job in a Superquinn store, now stands as the head of RTE’s Prime Time Investigates (PTI) and today addressed the journalism students of UL on the skills needed for investigative journalism.

As the seasoned journalist put it himself, you have to have a real joy and love for the job because sometimes it won’t always love you back. “If you’re standing behind a bush in the lashing rain for six months for the sake of one shot, which is literally what we did, you will feel like saying oh feck this and going home.” But you must really love it, and one of his own reasons for taking such pride and joy in his line of work is that he loves talking to people and hearing their story, “and I have a real hatred for injustice.”

But don’t fool yourself into the idea of becoming a rebellious vigilante of the public’s interest. Mr Maguire stressed that under no circumstances would PTI willingly hand over all or any of their information to Gardaí on an issue before it went to air. “We are not the second arm of the state.”

The job is becoming increasingly harder. There’s long hours, increasing difficulties with the Freedom of Information act, no paid overtime, and hours of waiting. According to Mr Maguire, a good investigation can take up to 18 months – which is true for the case of their documentary Profiting from Prostitution. The investigative piece on the trafficking and conditions of prostitutes in Ireland took over two years to produce.

But the stressed point of his entire message was that the people who you deal with are everything. You must realise that when a victim of whichever violation you are investigating willingly comes to you with information, you must consider yourself honoured. Mr Maguire revealed the extensive aftercare that his team provides to those directly affected by their work.

For example, take their aforementioned documentary on prostitution. They offered the prostitutes they encountered a range of external help from professional bodies, ensured those volunteers who spoke on camera were completely unnoticeable through the use of wigs and voice changes and even returned to those they were worried about to offer more help.

Mr Maguire stressed the importance of ensuring the people you work with are happy and safe. Even on the very last day of production, the RTE team will be willing to remove any content that their interviewees may be uncomfortable with. “When dealing with sensitivity, you must realise that they’re human beings. Don’t forget that fact in your haste to get a good story and reach a deadline.”

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Was Frank McCourt the Only One?

English: Limerick, looking northeast up the Ri...

Limerick

My father is an honest man. He’s hard working, family orientated and deserving of every bit of luck he gets in life. He’s lived a hard one, being the second oldest in a family of 14, beginning work at the age of 13 to support a large family. They weren’t the poorest of the poor, because having a dad in the army meant a set sum came home each week to help them along. But he remembers the poor. They were all struggling back then, in the 1960’s. The way they saw it, nothing was given to you in life. You had to work god damn hard for it, and if you could once in a while cut a little corner to make it easier. These are the people who lived the life of Angela’s Ashes, the life of the Limerick slums depicted in the biography of Frank McCourt.

But was that a correct depiction, or was it exaggeration for want of a better story? Did Frank McCourt go to false extremes to add drama to his Pulitzer Prize winning material, or was Limerick really such a god forsaken place for the broken-backed families living under Irish poverty?

There were millions of families just like Frank McCourt’s struggling in Limerick, my fathers’ one of them. But Mister McCourt spoke of beggars at the church doors, starving children, a stinking rat-infested city. My father doesn’t remember such a city. “Sure, you had the odd hole in your sock, you carried a paper Tesco bag in your hand instead of a school bag on your back and you ate boiled potatoes every day till it came out your ears. But we weren’t poverty stricken. The worst I ever saw was borrowing money off the loan sharks.”

One of the biggest presences amongst struggling families in the old walls of Limerick was the church. They went to mass and paid their dues in the hope it would pay off. They went to school and learned from them, and were scolded by them. One thing Frank McCourt didn’t fail to mention was the absolute power of the church – the fear and respect they incited in the children and the poor alike. Visiting the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick an exact replica of a classroom is on display, teachers cane included. The museum itself was once Frank McCourt’s former school, Leamy House. Tour guide Dorothy Cantrell explains that Mr McCourt attended such an establishment, and he writes of corporal punishment in his book.

 

Mostly nuns taught in primary schools and after that the secondary education available to young boys in Limerick was the Christian brothers. My father’s memories of punishment are very similar to that in Angela’s Ashes. He remembers the nuns wouldn’t put force into the stick but the “brothers”, as he calls them, would. “We feared them because if you got something wrong, they’d ring you up in front of the class and slap you across the hand with a stick, or worse a leather strap. They could whack you four or five times over and there was certain bitterness about the way they hit you. It was both a punishment and warning to the class.” Even outside the classroom they held a high status in Irish society. “We were brought up to respect them, to bow your head if you saw them in the street passing,” remembers my father.

But what he doesn’t remember are beggars at the church door, which was a big presence in Mr McCourt’s memoirs. There were individual members of the clergy that were generous and would help people out of their own will. But collectively the church did nothing for the poor aside from the odd collection, according to my father’s memories. “Some would steal from the candle boxes and collection boxes for the poor. The priests claimed the money was for the poor but personally I never believed it. Which is why some boys I knew would steal from them, it was supposed to be going to them anyway right?”

In his memoirs, Mr McCourt writes about stealing the odd loaf of bread or carton of milk to help his family along. This depiction of a family trying to make ends meet does not seem to be an exaggeration. Petty crime was big back then, more so out of survival than anything else. It was an innocent crime of hungry children. “We were as naive that when you broke into a bakery, you’d rob a few buns but not even think to look at the till for the hunger in your stomach commanded you,” recalls my father, speaking from experience.

My father recollects a lot about the way of life of a struggling Limerick family. In order to make ends meet, they had to try things differently. Their mentality was the way of the underdog; nothing was fairly given to them, so why should they play by the rules. He remembers most of the fathers of the families he lived near went down to the Dock Road of a Saturday morning. “They’d follow behind the horse and cart that carried the coal, and the coal that fell off they’d bag it and keep. Some would go home and use it, others would sell it, and I remember a lot of men coming into the pub to swap it for a few pints. We all had our own recycling systems going,” he laughs.

But there has been some outrage amongst members of the community in how Mr McCourt depicted the city. There have been public accusations of lying against him when he appeared on TV shows. The museums guide, Mrs Cantrell, commented that it was always a case of for and against when it came to Angela’s Ashes. “I can only say that here in the museum we have a comment book, our visitors like to write in it after they’ve seen the museum. Every single one of those comments is positive.” Their museum has encouraged a foreign interest in both the story and the city of Limerick, with visitors ranging from Japan to Texas.

So was Angela’s Ashes accurate, did it debase an entire city or did it bring it fame? It has upset Limerick residences and its author has been accused of lying. Then again it has brought a huge foreign interest to Limerick. His story has certainly left its legacy on his city. Mrs Cantrell says that both Mr McCourt’s story and the museum, in his honour, stand as a reminder. “To remind us what it was like for the majority of families in Limerick, it holds on to the story and offers hope. Hope for those less fortunate, that you can still aim high and that you can reach to the level of a Pulitzer prize, just like Frank did.”

The book strayed from a kinder view of Limerick to that of a harsh one. Life in the slums, although it was poor and sometimes cold, was not a constant stream of misery. One of the things my father looks back on fondly is the city’s sense of community. Community being another aspect which Mr McCourt failed to write about. It was a tale of sorrow, but a tale from only one man among thousands. It may have been the life of Frank McCourt, but it wasn’t the life of every Limerick resident. There are many more people left to tell their versions, people just like my father. So no, Frank McCourt wasn’t and will not be the only one to share his memories. Limerick city remains full of untold stories.

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Local Rat Disturbance

A rat disturbance in St Marys Park is causing some of its residents to move out of their homes and file complaints.  The infestation of rodents is mostly in the back gardens of these residents, due to the demolition of houses by the Limerick North Side Regeneration. The complaints are being handled by Limerick City Council.

Jessica McNamara (31), of 3 St Munchins Street Court, had to move out of her home two months ago for three weeks. The then pregnant mother of six had her back garden infested with rodents, but after finding a rat in her house she felt she had to move out. “I spent three weeks in my mother’s house, with me and my six kids sleeping in a single room.”

For the three weeks Limerick Corporation sent out pest control to put down rat poison in her garden. Once she moved back in, she threw out all her infants’ possessions. She explained: “I had to throw out all her stuff; I was worried it wasn’t safe.”

The infestation of rats in people’s back yards is due to the ground disturbance and the demolition of boarded up, derelict houses. These derelict houses are known to be home to rats for over 60 years. In Ms McNamara’s case, there had been derelict houses in her area recently knocked on both sides.

Thomas Kelly is the Senior Executive Engineer, in housing demolitions, for the Regeneration project team in Limerick City Council. He said that they foresaw this problem before beginning the demolition of houses and that they recognise the presence of rats.  “That is why we bait the property before demolition.”

He also added that the level of complaints they are receiving is normal, especially for this time of year. When they receive a complaint from an occupied house, the housing maintenance will investigate and carry out the necessary baiting procedure.

But in certain cases this isn’t working, with some residents having to ask for their yards to be exterminated a second time. One such woman is Mary McGrath (47), of 93 St Munchins Street. There had been derelict houses knocked across the road and directly behind her house. The family dog they kept in the back garden was killing up to 14 rats a week. She added that: “Six months ago a rat got into my roof. I could hear it in the ceiling from my kitchen”

Two months ago she had complained about her rat problem and had her back garden exterminated. Rat poison was placed along her walls, on the roof and in the boarded up house next door. However, last week she had to ask a second time, saying: “The rats had only stopped coming for a day or two. I’ve even started to buy rat poison myself”

Mr Kelly added: “part of the process is removing environments rats may inhabit, such as boarded properties, domestic waste and hedging. We are creating an environment that doesn’t attract rats and we’re cleaning up the area as we go.”

Local councillor for the area, John Gilligan, said that he was “absolutely horrified at the way things have been going.” He added that it is part and parcel of the regenerations job to control the rodents, and to have this problem under control is “way above what’s acceptable.”

Mr Gilligan explained there is a health and safety issue involved for the residents. “The rat’s urine can result in disease; they’re a major health hazard so there is something we have to do.”

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