Back in the days when learning Irish consisted of the fear of getting a shlap with a big shtick if you failed to know any of the less miserable aspects of Peig Sayer’s difficult existence, the prospect of a TV station that would be broadcast almost entirely in Irish was not one which warmed the cockles of the heart.
Back then most of us were content enough with having to make do with the minor finals ‘as gaeilge’ and the Nuacht and a few nature programmes such as Amuigh Faoin Spéir. This new channel, it was felt would be a costly sop to a minority who were battling to save a language that seemed to be facing an imminent death.
It was an era when we were embracing globalisation, when we were so fed up of being ourselves that we looked to the world to become like them, to leave behind the bits of us that we felt had no place in modernity. It was the era of Friends and sipping herbal teas with Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox in Central Perk seemed so much more like the world we wanted to be in.
But then it all changed — and cappuccinos and pastas and hummus became the mainstream and the world got bored with its drab homogeneity and everything was ‘duh, so 1996’ and we all started to look inwards to see what was it about ourselves that we could make different.
And when that happened, we all went rooting back in the bags of our baggage that we had borne since childhood to try to see what made us the Other rather than the Self.
It was into this era that TnaG was born — and it threw the Irish language at us in a way we could never have imagined. There were beautiful people saying beautiful things against beautiful backdrops — and the common denominator, the language, seemed the most beautiful prop of all.
Suddenly Irish was sexy and cool for the first time.
Of course TnaG had to coax us in with lashings of late night European soccer, they induced hungover maudlin nostalgia with midnight showings of All Ireland finals lost and won, and they gave the spaghetti western a rebirth it could never have envisaged.
The programme makers and buyers at the station benefited too from the fact that they could buy bundles of great new programmes because it was a niche station with a small audience which made buying the best new programmes all the more affordable. I think Breaking Bad was just one of those great series that appeared on TG4 before the mainstream stations.
However, the impact of TG4 on Galway has been enormous as it created a deep pool of talented filmmakers, cinematographers, writers, presenters, actors who might never have had the chance to hone their skills on such a stage were it not for the arrival 20 years ago next Monday.
They have built on the work started a decade earlier by Gaillimh le Gaeilge which celebrates its 30th birthday next year. More of that in 2017, but back to TG4.
It is fitting that the Galway leg of the birthday celebrations will be held in NUI Galway and will feature light and sound and music and dance, just as it did on that Halloween night in 1996.
And so on the eve of the 20th birthday to be celebrated this weekend, we extend a heartiest birthday greeting to our colleagues in the media in TG4. We thank them for the colourful contribution they have made to life in Ireland but in particular to Galway over the course of the dramatic time in Irish cultural life, from the pre-boom of 1996 to the halcyon days of the early nineties to the recession and part recovery.
It has given voice and pictures to a language that seemed in danger of being lost. It has created a desire in young people to use that language, to bring it into their lives. And it has entertained and informed us along the way. Happy birthday TG4. Thank you so much for allowing us to see ourselves in a different light. Here’s to the next two decades.
Agus iad ag ceiliúradh 20 bliain ar an bhfód an deireadh seachtaine seo, tréaslaímis lenár gcomhghleacaithe i saol na meán cumarsáide, TG4. Gabhaimis buíochas ó chroí leo as a gcuid oibre a chuir go mór le saol na hÉireann agus le saol na Gaillimhe, ach go háirithe, le linn thréimhse chorraitheach i saol cultúrtha na tíre seo, roimh an mborradh i 1996 trí laethanta suaimhnis ag tús na haoise seo, trí chúlú eacnamaíochta agus trí théarnamh teoranta.
Thug siad guth agus fís do theanga a raibh an chosúlacht ann gur raibh sí ar an dé deiridh. Spreag siad daoine óga leis an teanga sin a úsáid mar chuid dá saol. Agus tá siad tar éis siamsaíocht agus eolas a chur ar fáil dúinn le scór bliain anuas. Lá breithe sona do TG4. Míle buíochas libh as deis a thabhairt dúinn breathnú orainn féin trí shúil eile. Go maire sibh an céad!