Comment & Analysis

Vincent Browne: Sic transit gloria mundi
Vincent Browne 'made a stimulating and often original contribution to the Irish national conversation', writes Mary Kenny

Vincent Browne.

There is an apt Latin phrase in response to the retirement of Vincent Browne from our screens: Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus passes the glory of the world! It would be inflating even the remarkable VB’s reputation to call him a reflection of the world’s glory, but the phrase just underlines the passing of all things. And that passing of all things is particularly relevant to a television career.

You can be, via TV, almost the most famous person in the land: Walter Cronkite (1916-2009) and Johnny Carson (1925-2005) dominated the national conversation in America in their day, and were probably bigger celebrities than most of the presidents of the United States. But now, their fame lives only in occasional clips involving media history, and their celebrity has been eclipsed by new television faces, new media voices of the contemporary scene.

TV fame is a vivid illumination of the ephemerality of all things, and notably of the way in which issues and debates which seem so hotly contested at one time fade into an oubliette of history. Some debates continue and develop, certainly, because they are important subjects in themselves, but each set of participants recede, in their turn, into yesteryear. As St Paul said: we are dwellers of no abiding city.

VB made a stimulating and often original contribution to the Irish national conversation: his programme was admired and disparaged in equal measure, and on the one occasion when I sat in that studio I felt a certain edge of not knowing, quite, what would happen next: indeed, after a rational opening (the subject was Ireland’s relationship with the British Royals), Vincent suddenly erupted into a spontaneous hail of denunciation against “the culture of deference”. 

Spirit

I liked his spirit, though I’d have preferred more conversation. But most of what occurs on TV doesn’t really matter much: if anything interesting, or embarrassing, occurs it will pop up sometime on YouTube, but that’s the extent of its durability.

No disrespect to VB, or any broadcaster, but I’d rather have written six lines of enduring poetry than enjoy the most dazzling TV career. The contribution of the Ballyshannon poet, William Allingham, who wrote ‘Four ducks on a pond’ lives on in a way that no TV show ever could.

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A powerful moral punch

There was a shattering letter in The Tablet last week from the Rev. Tony Falcon, an Anglican who had worked in a biomedical science lab for 40 years. “One of the most unpleasant tasks I had to undertake was to check the contents of specimen bottles following an abortion – to check that all the foetal parts had been removed from the patient, thus preventing infection. These foetal parts were recognisable as human, even from a very young gestation,” he wrote. 

Rev. Falcon (father of four children) was responding to a point suggesting an abortion doctor can be performing a “social, pro-choice” act. “What hypocrisy! All babies are fully human from the moment of conception – to kill them is legalised murder...” 

Tony Falcon’s letter delivers a powerful moral punch not because he condemns abortion – but because he has been a witness to its consequences. He has been in that laboratory: he has seen what he has seen, and gives witness to it.

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Hooray for coffee! Two new studies tell us that drinking three cups of coffee a day has a beneficial impact on our health, and can help us live longer. Coffee is good for the liver, and it may also have a positive effect on the heart. It may deter or delay the onset of dementia.

One study is published by the science-based Imperial College, London. A second study with similar findings about the coffee bean’s positive effect comes from the University of Southern California.

This is altogether good news for several reasons. Firstly, it’s great to see so many coffee-houses springing up in our towns and cities, as an alternative to the pub (and it’s a welcome development that pubs, too, now often serve decent coffee). 

Secondly, it’s terrific that trade in the coffee-producing countries is thriving – and let’s hope it’s fair trade, too. I started buying Colombian coffee a few years ago when it was suggested that it was a better alternative for Colombian farmers than trading in cocaine. Then I discovered that Colombian coffee was delicious – strong and rich without being bitter – and I’ve become a steady customer.

Thirdly, the ‘coffee morning’ can often be an occasion for good causes – and be an enjoyable community get-together with other people anyway. Some churches do ‘coffee mornings’ after Mass.  But to obtain all those health benefits of the three daily coffees, it has to be the real thing. Instant coffee only has one-eighteenth part of the beneficial ingredients of ground coffee beans. As any barista will surely agree!