Oh dear, oh dear, oh bloody dear. The National Song Contest is over and it has been decided that Dustin the Turkey will represent us in the semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Of course, there are more important things in the world to be upset about but I have to say that I am hugely disappointed at the outcome. I genuinely thought the decent, sensible people of this country would have sent a message to RTE and ignored the Turkey’s entry but, sadly, I was wrong. Dustin is an acquired taste, a comedy turn that works for many people in this country but I don’t think such quirky, local humour will travel well.

It could now be argued that the wider public, especially the younger sector, is so contemptuous of the contest that they are happy to give it a two-fingered salute by sending such a horrendous entry. The result is also just one important reason why telephone/text voting should not be used on such occasions.

Dustin’s ‘Irelande Douze Pointe’ is like some amateur send-up that, years ago, the lads in Tops of the Town would have come up with in five minutes flat if they were stuck for a front of curtain ‘filler’. The difference is that a similar Tops sketch and its choreography would have been far superior.

As a contributor to a range of RTE radio and television programmes for over 25 years, I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say from personal knowledge that the place is crammed with extremely talented and creative people. But, for some reason, our public service broadcaster has lost the plot and misread the public’s attitude as far as the Eurovision Song Contest is concerned. Perhaps they have been paying too much attention to a handful of media critics who spend their time poking fun out of a contest that has, admittedly, become wackier with every passing year.

But I firmly believe that, for some time now, those in charge of the contest have totally misread the public’s attitude to a National Song Contest. It has taken several years of a slippery slope to come to the present sorry situation and lessons never seemed to have been learned along the way.

The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who do take the competition seriously and there are thousands of talented songwriters, amateur and professional, who would love to have one of their compositions selected to represent their country. There are also lots of excellent singers for whom a Eurovision slot would be a great move for their careers and they have been denied that break by a puppet!

I am absolutely convinced that the vast majority of people in this country would like to see us represented by a good song performed by an experienced singer. And if it came last in the voting then so be it, it wouldn’t matter because there is no shame in trash triumphing over class. We would occupy the musical high ground and could hold our heads aloft.

This year, because of the stiff entry rules, RTE only received 200 entries and I simply do not believe that the six songs we heard on Saturday night last were the best of that lot. The well known people who choose the final six from a shortlist should know what they are about so I can only assume that the anonymous panel that vetted the original entries was mostly at fault. Mind you, the blame is still with the final panel for selecting Dustin.

But, it is too simple to target individuals. As an organisation, RTE has the overall responsibility and the sad part is that it doesn’t seem in the least concerned and doesn’t appear to accept that it has not measured up to the hopes and aspirations of so many people. The telephone/text method of voting is handy for the organisers but it is a flawed system for such a competition and there should be a return to the regional panel format.

In the past, when it put its mind to it, RTE produced some excellent national song contests with several potential winners in the line-ups. It could do so again but, in the meantime, the national station has, in many people’s opinion, displayed a lack of breadth of vision and has insulted the country’s singers and songwriters while, at the same time, offending a huge swathe of public opinion.


The man who gave Elvis his ‘Hound Dog’

Still on the subject of music, Freddie Bell, the man who introduced Elvis Presley to the song ‘Hound Dog’, died recently aged 76.

Freddie and his group The Bellboys were already a successful lounge attraction in The Sands Casino in Las Vegas when Elvis got his first booking there in 1956. ‘Hound Dog’ had been specially written for the singer Big Mama Thornton by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller but Freddie Bell had turned it into one of his ‘big’ songs and Elvis first heard it as he strolled though the hotel. His guitarist, Scotty Moore, admitted many years later that they ‘stole it straight from The Bellboys, arrangement and all’.

However, Freddie Bell wasn’t even remotely bitter and went on to have a very successful career, especially in his home country of the United States. He only ever had one chart success in Britain and that was ‘Giddy-Up-a-Ding-Dong’ which went to No.4. Several years before Brendan Bowyer and The Royal Showband made the song their own, Freddie released his version of The Hucklebuck but it didn’t take off.

The dead of two world wars buried in this country

To more serious matters now and an important new book written by Fergus A. D’Arcy, the eminent historian and emeritus professor of University College Dublin, entitled ‘Remembering the War Dead: British Commonwealth and International War Graves in Ireland since 1914′.

Thousands of men from the Waterford and South East area lost their lives in the two world wars and, since the 1920s, the Office of Public Works in Dublin has been responsible for the graves of those who died in the two world wars and came to be buried and commemorated in the Republic of Ireland. On the whole island, there are at least 5,700 such graves, over 3,100 in the Republic and 2,600 in Northern Ireland.

The history of those 3000 plus war dead in the Republic, how they came to be there and how the Irish government came to be responsible for them has not, until now, been written. These war dead were mostly Irish and British but they came from twenty different nations across the world from American, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, China, Japan and New Zealand.

Researching hitherto unused archival sources of the OPW in Dublin, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in England and the German War Graves Commission in Kassel, as well as the National Archives of Ireland and of the United Kingdom, Professor D’Arcy has reconstructed the story of these British Commonwealth and International War Graves since 1914.

When the British left the Irish Free State in 1922, their concern for the future care of their war graves and military cemeteries led to a complex diplomatic dialogue in trying to reach a settlement with the new State. What was to be done, and decently done, and by whom for the dead of the First World War, the Anglo-Irish War and, later, for the dead of World War II who would also be buried here.

That concern became the responsibility of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission on whose behalf the Irish government and its agency, the OPW, took up the challenge of locating, memorialising and maintaining these graves in perpetuity.

It is more than a complex diplomatic and administrative story, it is also the human story behind the tragedies that brought these people to be buried, forgotten or remembered, in every county in Ireland. Today, they are commemorated in over 550 separate burial places, from isolated graves in desolate coastal graveyards of the south-west, west and north-west coasts to the major military cemetery at Grangegorman which holds over 600 dead of the two world wars.

The remembered and forgotten were men, women and boys; soldiers, sailors, airmen, medical and merchant navy personnel. And they weren’t just Irish and British, the number also included German and Austrian civilian and military internees of World War I. German soldiers, sailors and airmen of World War II were laid to rest originally in over fifty separate burial places before being re-interred in the purpose-built German War Dead Cemetery at Glencree. The story behind the creation of that unique war grave cemetery is told in the book for the first time.

Where once and for long the graves of these people were forgotten and their remembrance put to one side, strikingly this is no longer the case today when, throughout the country, their memory is sustained or honoured, from the modest Moyvoughley War Memorial in Westmeath to the splendour of the restored Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge, Dublin.

Costing €22, the book is available directly from Government Publications Sales Office, Sun Alliance House, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 or by mail order from Government Publications, Postal Trade Section, 51 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2.