In most Irish households Bernard Dunne is known as a champion boxer, so when he appeared on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show labelling himself as a champion of the Irish language a few eyebrows were raised.
The retired boxer joined Brendan O’Connor to launch a new campaign aimed at encouraging people to re-engage with the Irish language. On Monday night, the first episode of Bernard Dunne’s Bród Club made its debut on RTÉ 1.
The series follows the progress of the campaign, which will use a combination of guerrilla tactics, publicity stunts and local advocacy to motivate people to use whatever Irish they have.
Given RTE’s track record in the area, the viewer could be forgiven for finding it difficult to believe that the series or the campaign will achieve great success.
In 2004 Sharon Ní Bheoláin took to the road to help the people of Ireland brush up on their Irish on a Turas Teanga. Four years later Des Bishop challenged himself to learn Irish and perform a stand up routine as Gaeilge In The Name of the Fada.
So if Sharon and Des couldn’t save the language, does Dunne’s Bród Club stand a chance in 2012?
Well, just so you know, Bernard’s Bród Club is different. Unlike its predecessors it isn’t trying to teach you Irish. It’s a campaign. It’s Bernard’s campaign and just to make sure you knew that, he repeated the mantra several times throughout the first episode.
It’s good that he explained that so often. His relentless repetition of both the Irish and English versions of almost everything he said would have left you thinking otherwise.
In fact, after about five minutes you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bernard Dunne was the only man in the country who could speak the cúpla focal. This modern day messiah of the Modh Coinníollach was sent just in time for Seachtain na Gaeilge.
You couldn’t fault the former world champion for his passion but throughout the show his advocacy of Irish was almost as forceful as the blow that sent Ricardo Cordoba to the ground in 2009. Dunne came across as more of a militaristic man an tí than a chap who’d enjoy a chat and a cupán tae.
One scene showed Dunne brainstorming in a boardroom with a few Irish-speaking cailiní. It was like watching the girls from Fade Street join forces with The Apprentice, more ciúnas bothar cailín bainne than a cultural revival.
The campaign encourages people to use the few words they have but the snippets of Irish here and there just seemed forced to fit in.
It’s all about hype and as episode one revealed, Dunne’s team pulled out all the stops to create a Bród Club buzz. They drafted in a number of well-known Irish faces to front the campaign and even encouraged Mr World to strip for the club’s supporters.
There was something about the idea of Kamal Ibrahim losing an item of clothing when five thousand new members joined the Bród Club that just felt wrong.
Do 100,000 people want to re-engage with their Gaeilge? Or are they just eager for a peek at Ibrahim’s backside?
And then there was the flash mob. The Dublin Gospel Choir gave a rousing rendition of U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, but the crowd most likely gathered for a gawk and not for the Gaeilge.
That being said, episode one was still rather engaging. Radio host Ray Foley recited a ream of Irish verbs that would have taken any student right back to the classroom and the Bród Club’s answer to Come Dine With Me was thoroughly entertaining.
Foley and the girls made me want to use my cúpla focal. It felt like Dunne would rather ram them down my throat.
He traded the gloves for the Gaeilge but didn’t seem to realise he wasn’t in the ring. If he focussed more on the fun and less on the fight, the show could be a knockout.
Getting 100,00 people to sign up to the campaign is, in his own words, a big ask. “I might fail” Dunne admits, “but I’m up for the challenge.”
After round one, he’d certainly want to be.