Television: Six shows to watch this week

Brendan O’Carroll’s family goes to war while there is Insurrection in the streets again

Brendan O'Carroll: My Family at War
Sunday, RTÉ One, 9.30pm; Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm

Fans of Brendan O'Carroll have long followed the antics of Mrs Brown's Boys, but 100 years ago, O'Carroll's ancestors were having adventures of a very different kind. Brendan O'Carroll: My Family at War tells the story of three of O'Carroll's uncles who took part in the 1916 Rising along with 1,600 rebels.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the lives of three ordinary Dubliners living through extraordinary times, as O’Carroll delves into the story of the Rising, from the formation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 to the shockwaves sent through the British empire in the aftermath of the event. Not much scope here for off-colour jokes, but O’Carroll promises to be an entertaining guide on this trip into the past.

Exodus: A Would You Believe Special
Sunday, RTÉ One, 10.40pm

Most of us have watched the refugee crisis unfold on our TV screens – and then switched over to catch the latest home improvement or cooking show. RTÉ journalist Valerie Cox, however, decided she wasn't going to sit around and do nothing. She and her husband Brian and their adult son Eoin headed off to the Greek island of Kos to volunteer to help refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria. Exodus: A Would You Believe Special documents the family's week spent helping new arrivals as they arrived on the island after a perilous journey across the Aegean sea.

“This experience is probably the most worthwhile thing I have ever done in my life,” says Cox. “Right now there is a desperate human crisis. We need to literally pull people out of the sea, feed them, clothe them and provide them with basic shelter from the elements.”


Monday, RTÉ Two, 9pm

Season four of Vikings opens with Ragnar lying in his sick bed, Floki undergoing water torture as punishment for his treachery, and Kalf and Lagertha in bed together, having formed a power-sharing alliance. Lagertha's son Bjorn is living alone in the snowy woods, sharpening his combat skills by single- handedly taking on a bear. The new series promises more intrigue and bloodshed, shifting loyalties and sundered alliances – and a deadly new foe for Ragnar.

Eureka! The Big Bang Query
Monday, RTÉ Two, 10.25pm

Science has tackled some of life's big questions: How did we get here? What is the universe made of? Is it possible to have sex in space? How likely is a zombie apocalypse? Neil Delamere, Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin and PJ Gallagher will attempt to answer some of those questions in a new comedy quiz panel show, Eureka! The Big Bang Query.

Each week, Delamere will put his life in peril to recreate a eureka moment in science, including shooting lightning from his fingertips, starting an earthquake and undergoing gruelling astronaut training. Meanwhile, team captains Ní Shúilleabháin and Gallagher go head to head in a series of scientific challenges, supported by teammates Colin Murphy, Lucy Porter, Prof Luke O’Neill and Dr Shane Bergin.

St Patrick's Festival Parade
Thursday, RTÉ One, 12.15pm
Back in the bad old days, the Paddy's Day parade would consist of a few marching bands, a couple of bread vans and milk floats decked out with shamrocks, a few leprechauns and, if we were lucky, a beardy fella dressed as St Patrick. These days Dubliners expect nothing less than an elaborate visual spectacle, with monsters, mythical creatures, acrobats and floats that resemble small towns on wheels.

The St Patrick’s Festival Parade captures all the colour and theatrics of this year’s festivities, with presenters Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, Aidan Power and Des Cahill. This year’s theme is “Imagine If”, and pageants will explore visions of Ireland’s future. Presumably, that doesn’t include whingers.

Friday, RTÉ One, 11.55pm

We already know much about what happened in 1916, through newspaper reports, photographs, eyewitness accounts and archive documents. But did you know there was also a TV news crew on hand to report on the Rising as it happened? Insurrection is an eight- part drama produced by RTÉ in 1966 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rising. This is no dry documentary, but presented in the style of a news report, with camera crews capturing the action at the GPO, and correspondents on the streets of Dublin reporting on the tumultuous events and interviewing key figures as the drama unfolds.

Scripted by Hugh Leonard, Insurrection was RTÉ's most ambitious project at the time, with elaborate studio sets recreating the GPO and Liberty Hall, and a cast of well-known actors of the day, including Ray McAnally as the studio presenter. The series has been painstakingly restored to bring it back to our screens for the first time in half a century.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist