‘The Riordans’, Popular Culture and Negotiating Social Change

Did you watch RTÉ’s The Riordans? If so, can you help with a research project? Details below.

In my last post, I wrote about some of the ways that the lives of women changed as the 1970s progressed. One of the topics discussed was the legalisation of the sale of contraceptives. As I mentioned in that post, it was a divisive topic.

One woman wrote to the Department of the Taoiseach in October 1973 expressing the view,

We are not going to have contraception, even if it means not getting the six counties. They are less important than preserving our society from being debauched to pander to a minority.

That same month, another woman reminded the Taoiseach that (in her opinion)

Contraception, in any form, is a grave sin.

Three years later, similar letters were still reaching the Taoiseach’s office. Mrs Deane of Wexford was adamant that

The spiritual life is more important. Eternity awaits us.

But if policymakers, politicians and certain sections of society were reluctant to confront the reality of a changing Ireland, it was not always possible to escape it. Television played an important role in this regard.



As John Bowman explains in his recent book Window and Mirror, the medium introduced viewers to opinions contrary to their own, and they could find themselves obliged to confront controversial topics through such popular programmes as The Riordans. A drama-serial set in rural Ireland, it was broadcast on RTÉ television between 1965 and 1978 and broached a number of topical issues, including sexuality and the use of contraceptives. One particular episode in which a priest advised the use of artificial contraception to a mother fearful of further pregnancy caused a public outcry.

I’m currently doing research in preparation for a paper that will examine The Riordans as an expression of social and cultural conflict. As part of that research, I’m keen to conduct ‘non-elite’ interviews, that is, interviews with ordinary people who watched the programme. In order to draw viable conclusions, I need quite a large participant set. If you’re interested in sharing your recollections, or want further details on the project or how your information would be used, please contact me using the form below. Thank you!

Published by Dr Ciara Meehan

Reader in History at the University of Hertfordshire.

2 thoughts on “‘The Riordans’, Popular Culture and Negotiating Social Change

  1. The one thing I remember about the Riordans was it was the first time I ever heard the word ‘Bastard’ on TV, in the episode where some old friend of Benjy’s holds his wife hostage. I’ve seen a documentary that featured that episode since, but I do remember being shocked at the time. The Riordans was always on in the background (Sunday nights?), and I could recognise the main characters, but I was too young to understand it.

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