Last Friday, Irish people around the world took a break from their usual evening activities to tune into the country’s most-watched television programme. It wasn’t a political debate or even a sporting event but a toy show – The Late Late Toy Show, to be more precise. Yes, nearly a quarter of the Irish population – both at home and abroad - spent over two hours watching a TV programme dedicated to children’s toys.
The show started out in the mid 1970s as a small segment of the world’s longest-running chat show, The Late Late Show; it has since become a full-length broadcast. Over the years it has been fronted by three of Ireland’s most prestigious television personalities, often accompanied by the country’s national turkey, Dustin. Yes, Ireland has a national turkey - a short feathered puppet with a strong Dublin accent.
The Toy Show, as it is familiarly known, is an Irish institution, a key event in the calendar of the country’s national broadcaster RTE. The two-hour broadcast features a handful of articulate and bright-eyed youngsters who diligently review their chosen toy or book. It is every child’s dream to stand alongside Irish heartthrob Ryan Tubridy but only a select few make it through the rigorous audition process. Unfortunately, I was never chosen but much to my disgust, the blond-haired brothers from next door made the cut. I can vividly remember the occasion, tears rolling down my face, as David and Cormac introduced the latest Pokemon gadgets. This setback was short-lived and I continued to be a devoted viewer, each year - pen in hand - compiling my Christmas list.
Malfunctions and mishaps are guaranteed to occur in a production involving so many children and The Toy Show is no exception. There isn’t a year that goes by without a child cycling into a camera or a young girl snapping the legs off a doll as she tries to place it inside its plastic car.
Yet despite what you might assume, the show has strong adult following, not just parents of young children but those eager to have a giggle at the expense of a nervous child. The studio audience - comprised entirely of adults - is always clad in festive attire. And yes, they jovially heckle the presenter with the assistance of some stiff drinks.
Baffling, indeed. But for one night leave your judgements aside because this is one of Ireland's greatest institutions.
Barbara Feeney is an associate producer for Monocle 24.