Charred Remains Reviews

“I’m not an archivist, or a historian,” Patricia Baker says in Charred Remains (Newstalk, Sun 7am), her documentary on an obscure but very significant piece of Irish history, centred on events in 1922. She goes on, “but what I really like are stories.”

The story she tells is amazing in its own way. Ireland’s Public Records Office, located in the Four Courts, was a historical Aladdin’s Cave of legal and church records, genealogies, wills, population censuses, right down to parish registers. An entire other history of this country: much of life as it was actually lived by the people, beyond the “great” deeds of nation.

It was destroyed by explosion and fire during the Civil War – an act of unpardonable cultural vandalism, regardless of one’s politics. Charred Remains charted the heroic efforts of a team of scholars who basically rebuilt the National Archive, from ashes metaphorical and actual.

An incredible tale of incredible people. Baker does them justice with her customary mix of rigorous research, personal warmth and – important, to me at least, in radio – a beautiful speaking voice. Latest in her series of excellent productions for Newstalk, the show went out, as usual, at a weirdly early time – who the hell but someone like me is listening at seven on Sunday morning – but happily, it’s repeated tonight at the more civilised time of 9pm, and well worth tuning in for.

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