Damian Corless recalls growing up in a time when there was only one television channel – which only broadcast for a few hours each day – and when small children were expected to act like miniature adults.


The children of 1960s Ireland were in-betweeners. Their life experience was sharply different both from that of Irish kids growing up in the grim, stagnant post-war 1950s, and those who would feel the tingly sunburst of colour that came with the more liberated 1970s. The nation’s children blinked in this twilight zone between two worlds tearing apart, but there was only ever going to be one way out, and that way was to rush towards the light of the cathode ray.

Without doubt, the arrival of television was the single greatest new X factor to impact on Irish life, opening a generation gap between the 1960s childhood experience and all that had gone before. Throughout the 1950s deeply conservative elements embedded in government, the civil service and the rest of Official Ireland had fiercely resisted the coming medium. There were fears that television would act as a Trojan Horse for the cultural recolonisation of a people who had only just reclaimed their heritage after a struggle of centuries.

When Telefís Éireann got up and running on the last evening of 1961, the first instincts of those in charge were to ration its bounty, especially to impressionable young minds. With the exception of Sundays, daytime broadcasting would be kept to an absolute minimum throughout the decade, with the sole exception of the schools tutorials provided by Telefís Scoile.
For thankful Irish mothers, the BBC provided welcome daytime interludes when an infant could be propped up in a pram, or plopped down on a blanket and lullabied towards the Land of Nod by the magic of Watch With Mother featuring Andy Pandy, The Woodentops and Bill & Ben The Flowerpot Men.

Young viewers of Telefís Éireann’s early evening output got their home-grown entertainment wrapped in the green flag of the Irish language. A noisy, roughly sketched and very static duck called Dáithí Lacha was joined by Murphy agus a Chairde, starring an Irish-speaking puppet giant, while a ventriloquist’s dummy called Beartlai popped up wherever a kids’ show needed an extra smattering of Irish.
In an effort to add Swinging Sixties zest to the native tongue, Máire O’Neill and Aileen Geoghegan were unveiled as the hip young presenters of Buntús Cainte, a TV tie-in to a state project aimed at giving the ancient tongue a thoroughly modern makeover.

Despite their best intentions and their best mod gear, the presenters of Buntús Cainte always had to battle the fact that, at the back of their young viewers’ minds, they and their lessons bore the toxic taint of being associated with a harsh school regime.

Not so Bláithín O Ciobhain who wrote and presented Let’s Draw With Bláithín. Through the course of each show Bláithín would drift effortlessly in and out of the native tongue as she encouraged her viewers to set their creative sights a good deal higher than dipping half a potato in paint and stamping it with merry gusto over a sheet of paper.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own