Life

TV review: There was a time when a taoisech could get away with threatening to slit people's throats

Fianna Fail Director of Elections PJ Mara looks on as Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fail Bertie Ahern fields questions at the launch of the Fianna Fail Manifesto for the General Election in 2007.
Billy Foley

A legacy – PJ Mara, RTE 1, Monday at 9.35pm

So who said this?

“There's a few f***ers whose throats I'd slit, push them over the nearest cliff, but sure there's no percentage in that.”

It was former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Charlie Haughey in an interview with Hot Press magazine in 1984.

Charlie expected the journalist – John Waters – to expunge all the expletives but Hot Press, a music and current affairs mag, was going all Gonzo journalism at the time and everything went in.

His press secretary PJ Mara got the blame.

Mara had convinced the “boss” that he'd get down with the kids if he gave an interview to Hot Press and now it had backfired.

Inevitably the tale of PJ Mara's life was intertwined with that of Charlie.

Mara (or ‘Maaara!' as satirical radio show Scrap Saturday christened him) was a successful businessman who attended the arms trial and was so attracted to Haughey that he vowed to help him get back to the top.

For years he spent his weekends driving the “boss” all over the country to attend Fianna Fáil 'chicken and chips' functions.

So when Charlie had finally slithered back up the greasy pole, Mara was there to be promoted to government press secretary.

And then it was Mara who got quoted saying things he expected journalists not to report.

Addressing Dail reporters, Mara famously borrowed a phrase from Italian fascist Mussolini to describe how a prospective heave against Haughey would be dealt with.

“Uno duce, uno voce (one leader, one voice)” after which he directed the reporters to stop “nibbling at my leader's bum.”

But these were strange days indeed, when a former Taoiseach could survive threatening to slip people's throats.

There was lots of fun in this portrait of PJ Mara – the second in the excellent Legacy series – but little new information.

The most striking thing, when it was all brought together in one place, was just how well connected Mara was.

He hung out in the Horseshoe bar with Eamon Dunphy and U2 manager Paul McGuinness, and after he left Fianna Fáil he worked with almost every influential business figure in Dublin, including Tony Ryan, Dermot Desmond, Tony O'Reilly and Denis O'Brien.

It may have been Mara's PR skills that all these people sought, but I suspect it was more about his access to the corridors of power.

**

The Silk Road, BBC 4, Sunday at 9pm

There's a marked stone in the middle of the Shah mosque in Isfahan from where an Imam can speak in a gentle voice and be heard throughout the enormous mosque.

It's a remarkable piece of 17th century Iranian design and is created by an enormous echo chamber in a cavity between a dome that's 100ft on the inside and 145ft outside.

Sam Willis, who's been our guide on this wonderful journey from China back to Europe on the Silk Road, arranged for a call to prayer to echo around the site.

“God is great … there is no god but God, Mohammed is the messenger of God” is the most mesmerising sound in Arabic.

As a traveller to the Islamic world you get used to the rhythms of its sound five times a day.

The magnificent Isfahan mosque is but one of the many wonders of Iran and her creative people.

And there's no arguing with Wills when he says that “modern politics has obscured the glories of her Persian past.”

The artefacts of the Persian renaissance, the site at Persepolis, one of the ancient world's largest empires, the Zoroastrian religion and the mud city of Bam are among the great treasures of the world.

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