I’m conflicted about the late Terry Wogan. The conflict is probably best summarized in the comments of two people I know. One of them texted me saying ‘Terry Wogan – Irish as it should be served, sycophantic, groveling, awestruck and grateful. With some loathing for all nationhood, bar UK, on the side.” The other person argued that Terry Wogan was an entertainer and consummately successful at the job he did.
I certainly agree with aspects of the second description. Wogan could be very funny, he was a reassuring presence and his death does leave a hole in the lives of many people, most of whom never met him. Enda Kenny declared that he formed a bridge between England and Ireland: England where he made his home and was so popular and successful, Ireland which he always acknowledged and celebrated as the place where he was born and grew up in.
On RTÉ this morning, a reviewer of today’s papers quoted the ‘Irish’Daily Mail as saying that he was particularly popular with Irish people living in England during the years of the Troubles, in that he showed how the great majority of Irish people rejected the violence that was being carried out in Ireland.
And that’s where I find a nagging voice that tells me Terry Wogan’s radio presence may not always have been what it could have been. Yesterday was the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. I wonder did Terry Wogan refer to it on his radio show, and if he did, what did he say? Maybe, as the ‘Irish’ Daily Mail says, he reflected the rejection of violence by so many people. But of course what the ‘Irish’ Daily Mail means is that he rejected republican violence, not the violence carried out by the British army and ‘security’ forces.
I’ll be honest – I liked the man. I thought he was witty and charming and self-deprecating. But if the Irish – or some Irish – in Britain were grateful for his presence, it was because some in the British population wouldn’t blame them for IRA or INLA actions. If they wouldn’t blame Terry Wogan, why would they blame uninvolved Irish? In some respects, Terry was the kind of Irish the British like: full of good humour, a nice brogue, never taking authority or anything else too seriously. I’m reminded of a story I once read about a woman living next to Auschwitz, who tended her flower-garden with loving care, ignoring or dismissing the horrors of what was happening within smelling distance.
My positive respondent from the start of this piece argued that Terry Wogan was an entertainer, not a newsman or a political commentator. Which is obviously true. Maybe my conflict comes down to two questions: do we all have the right, should we so decide, to opt out of politics and do other things? And if we have, is that commendable?