Love in the afternoon

TO say that TG4 covers Wimbledon would be a serious understatement. TG4 covers Wimbledon the way hair covers a tennis ball. So slavish is TG4’s devotion to Wimbledon that you might say of it that seldom in the field of sports broadcasting has so much been aired by so many to so few.

You get five to six hours of Wimbledon ‘beo’ every afternoon, and another hour of buaicphointí at night. This has been going on every summer for years. TG4 first began broadcasting Wimbledon back in 2005, some years after RTE dropped it.

Clearly TG4 has a viewer – at least one viewer – in mind for all this dedicated broadcasting. But who is this viewer who wants to watch Wimbledon in Irish? Who is it?

Well, let’s call him Proinsias. Imagine an earnest Gaelgóir, the sort who never strays too far from the path of righteousness. He wears both a Fáinne and a pioneer pin. He speaks Irish whenever social conditions allow, and even when they don’t, he inserts Irish phrases into conversation, even with people who don’t speak the language. He routinely says things like “Slán go fóill” and “Sin a bhfuil” and “I must go home to my leaba”.

Every morning he jogs out into the chilly dawn, his socks at half-mast, yelling “Bail ó Dhia ort!” at startled neighbours just getting into their cars for the daily commute. He coaches the local under-nine hurling team. By night he plays the bodhrán in the local pub, even though he is a teetotaller and has no appreciable musical ability.

Proinsias enjoys moderation in all things, except for Wimbledon. Wimbledon is his secret shame, his love in the afternoon (pun intended), his daytime, curtains-closed passion, complete with sound effects of grunting and moaning. For a few weeks in June ever year, Proinsias is nothing less than the very reason for TG4’s existence.

But what if Proinsias’s friends were to discover his clandestine love of this quintessentially English game? What would his unreconstructed republican Gaelgóir friends, of whom there are very, very many, and for whom Irishness is a terrifyingly narrow spectrum, think of him if they knew?

At one end of this spectrum of Irishness you’ve got your full-on, Gaelic-speaking, regular-mass-going, jig-loving, Brits-out, 800 Years Irishman. For this sort, De Valera’s “contest of athletic youths” doesn’t permit anything more exotic than the ongoing GAA omission that is the game of rounders. He actively disapproves of even loveless League of Ireland soccer, and cannot contemplate the idea of anyone mincing around a lawn tennis court in London SW19.

From there the spectrum fades into lesser and lesser gradations of Irishness, or rather, increasing gradations of west Britishness. It takes in those who forget everything about the Irish language except for how to ask for permission to go to the toilet, yet who remember, in a flash, what ‘Géill Slí’ means while driving around the Gaeltacht. It also includes those who’ve never actually been to the Gaeltacht – “I keep meaning to go… Do they really speak Irish there? Is it not just a wheeze to get grants?”

It takes in those who always preferred coffee to tea, and not just since coffee became ubiquitous; those who call their mothers Mum instead of Mammy; those who like traditional music well enough for the first five minutes but start feeling increasingly, inexplicably homicidal thereafter, necessitating an abrupt departure from the potential crime scene.

It reaches towards those who find they don’t actually mind the queen, really, especially since her visit – didn’t she seem such a nice lady, and so energetic, bless her, standing around smiling for all those hours?

And at the very end of the spectrum, at the invisible, infrared end, are Protestants, heaven help us, who don’t even get to be called Irish without attaching the cumbersome prefix ‘Anglo’, a word that has come to be even more loathed than ever in the past few years.

Judged by those standards, liking Wimbledon is a betrayal. Whatever the men of 1916 died for, it wasn’t so that their descendants could watch John Bull eating strawberries and cream between the showers.

But happily, Wimbledon Beo is the solution – or at least the mitigation – of that problem. Not only are you watching tennis on Irish television, instead of on the BBC, but you’re watching it in Irish. This more than offsets any perceived west Britishness associated with watching tennis.

In fact, it’s such a weighty counterbalance that you could probably watch Wimbledon Beo while sipping Pimm’s from a jubilee commemoration highball glass and shouting abuse at the lower orders, and it still wouldn’t matter. I’d go so far as to say you could have the misery of an entire subcontinent on your conscience, and watching Wimbledon in Irish would make up for it.

It’s also strangely addictive, even for those of us who aren’t all that gone on tennis. At first it’s just the usual, monotonous pock, grunt, pock, grunt, pock, grunt, cheer. But gradually you find yourself drawn in… Is it the tennis, or could it be the unexpected refresher course in Irish?

“Aw, go deas, aw, go deas… Oh, beidh sé mí-shásta leis sin… Agus tá sé aige!…” Once or twice it even seems as if the umpire has started to throw in the odd cúpla focail. Did he just say “uafásach” after that serve?

Multilingual tennis throws up a multitude of pleasures. Even grunting is different in different languages. David Ferrer, we discover, grunts in Spanish. Maith thú, a Daithí. Older viewers might contrast this with the grunt of the pioneer, Jimmy Connors, whose grunt was an American grunt. Maria Sharapova also grunts in American, despite being Russian. Maith thú, a Mháire. If you were watching Wimbledon in English, you wouldn’t notice these things.

So you see it becomes clear why Proinsias has his curtains drawn all afternoon. Anyone for leadóg?


TO complement Wimbledon Beo, TG4 also presents an English-Irish dictionary of tennis terms on its website. It includes the words comórtas (match), maor (umpire), dias (deuce), buntáiste (advantage) and amuigh (out). Racket is raicéad, although there’s no mention of racquets.

It also has phrases such as “new balls” (“liathróidí nua”) and “prolonged rally”, which translates as ““an t-imreoir a bhuafaidh sa chaitheamh dreas fada”, and by the time you’ve finished saying all that the rally will surely be over.

But some other terms have been omitted which might prove useful to those looking for an understanding of the sport, as follows:

Tá sé ag cur báiste: “It’s raining.”

Tá sé ag cur báiste go fóill: “It’s still raining.”

Tá sé ag cur báiste arís: “It’s raining again.”

Tá tú ag magadh: “You cannot be serious” (catchphrase of John McEnroe)

Hóigh!: (loosely) “Oh, I say!” Catchphrase of the late commentator Dan Maskell, formerly the BBC’s ‘voice of tennis.’

Ag deireadh an lae: “At the end of the day” and

Bhí gach seans aige: “He had every chance” and

Bua do leadóige: “a victory for tennis” (essential phrases when speaking about any sport).

And finally, love, strictly speaking, is náid, because of course love means nothing to a tennis player. But who is there to criticise you for saying grá? No one is watching.

Published in the Irish Daily Mail, Tuesday 3rd July 2012