‘It’s like a different planet,’ says an awestruck Ray D’Arcy. ‘You have to experience it for yourself’

Radio: The National Ploughing Championships is a fixture on the airwaves for the first time since 2019

It is a unique spectacle, not seen for years. Amid colourful pageantry and time-honoured rituals, foreign dignitaries mix with thronging crowds, paying homage to an institution that may seem arcane to some but for many is, to quote one commentator, “the pulse of the nation”. Little wonder radio presenters admit it is difficult to capture the scenes they witness. “We’ll try and paint a picture, but you have to experience it yourself,” an awestruck Ray D’Arcy says of the National Ploughing Championships. “It’s like a different planet.”

Staged for the first time since 2019, the annual festival of country life is a fixture on the airwaves throughout the week, making a joyous counterpoint to the sustained show of solemnity surrounding Monday’s funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Broadcasting The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) from the event on Tuesday, the host is in breezy form as he hears his fellow Montrose presenter Marty Morrissey use the national-heartbeat metaphor to describe the Ploughing. “This is where Ireland is for the next three days,” Morrissey says, comparing it to an All-Ireland final or a Republic of Ireland home match.

Such acmes of collective nationhood thus invoked, D’Arcy chats to the Irish goal-scoring hero Ray Houghton. International sporting royalty is present, too, in the shape of the former Italy striker Totò Schillaci. The former rivals are on site for a pizza-making contest, which slightly diminishes the glamour, while the interview is cheerful but cursory. Houghton predictably looks back fondly at Italia ‘90, while Schillaci’s limited English means soul-baring revelations are at a premium.

In the face of this, D’Arcy occasionally labours in his questioning: “Do you eat pizzas at home?” But his obvious enthusiasm, allied with his Italian guest’s palpably lively presence — “You have a huge smile, why?” he asks his host — make for an upbeat item. Overall, D’Arcy’s sprightly demeanour is testament to the feelgood atmosphere of the championships. As was the custom before the pandemic intervened, much of the Irish radio world decamps to the event, from the typically perky Marty Whelan, on Lyric FM, to the ever laconic Kieran Cuddihy, on Newstalk.


But D’Arcy in particular sounds as though he’s truly excited to be there, his gusto undiminished by a soundtrack of country’n’Irish, or by the arrival of his old television sparring partner Dustin the Turkey. The dependably fowl puppet fires off cruel zingers at D’Arcy’s expense before turning on the predominantly rural crowd’s supposed love for Garth Brooks. It’s fairly funny, although the host wisely ends the item before his mouthy guest overstays his welcome: “Farmers and turkeys, there’s only one way that relationship is going to go,” he drily remarks. D’Arcy, by contrast, appears revitalised by his country jaunt.

Elsewhere, Pat Kenny (Newstalk, weekdays) sounds refreshed as he returns to the air after a holiday. Certainly, he approaches the extensive coverage of the queen’s death with admirable vim, lending an indulgent ear to Edwina Currie as the normally acerbic former Tory minister rhapsodises about the late monarch’s “wicked” sense of humour. That said, the host also hears the journalist Enda Brady point out that the immense wealth of the British royal family exists in a country that also has 2,200 food banks.

While Kenny discharges such duties in respectfully thorough manner, he sounds energised as he gets stuck into his interview with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe. Grilling the Minister in advance of next week’s budget, the host is at his nitpickingly forensic best as he ranges over issues from soaring energy tariffs to the housing crunch.

The host adopts the same approach with each topic: a detailed opening question followed up with tetchily impatient observations. The Minister’s careful comments on the huge increases in electricity standing charges and hotel prices are met by snappy comments about “people gouging for all they’re worth”.

As Pat Kenny decries rocketing rents and the lack of properties to buy, the host’s despair is audible: he calls the situation ‘a scandal that’s going to come back to haunt future generations’

Kenny’s exasperation only grows as he switches focus to the target-rich topic of housing. As he decries rocketing rents and the lack of properties to buy, the host’s despair is audible: he calls the situation “a scandal that’s going to come back to haunt future generations”. When Donohoe, who remains unflappably on-message throughout, talks positively about the role of the private property sector, Kenny has had enough: “They always cry the poor mouth, but I’ve never seen a developer on a bicycle.” Such ire is unlikely to have any meaningful impact, but it’s still enjoyable to hear the host let rip.

If Kenny indulges the grouchy side of his persona in this instance, he reminds listeners of his current-affairs prowess when discussing the ramming of a Garda car in Cherry Orchard, in Dublin. Despite the alarming circumstances — a crowd of teens cheered on as joyriders turned their car on gardaí — the host eschews his occasionally apocalyptic tone on social unrest. Instead he hears Hazel De Nortúin, a local councillor, bemoan the lack of local services and Pat Marry, a former detective, note that such outrages are nothing new, stretching back to the 1980s.

When Kenny is refreshed, few can plough the radio furrow with such idiosyncratic aplomb

Perhaps the most telling comments come from Calvin O’Brien of the Talking Bollox podcast. He talks about the “snowball effect” of ingrained poverty, and picks up on the host’s earlier observation that the cheering youths have no fear of the police: “You shouldn’t be intimidated by the Garda: you should feel a sense of security,” he notes. His podcast’s name notwithstanding, O’Brien talks sense.

The nuanced joyriding discussion is one of several highlights helmed by Kenny. He has an absorbing conversation with the novelist Maggie O’Farrell about murderous Renaissance princes, and hears clarifying analysis on the escalating Ukrainian war with the journalist Shashank Joshi. When Kenny is refreshed, few can plough the radio furrow with such idiosyncratic aplomb.