The Den (TV programme)

The Den was a long-running children's television strand of Ireland's public broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann. First broadcast on 29 September 1986 on RTÉ1, it moved to Network 2 two years later. Initially a continuity strand for weekday afternoon programmes, The Den later expanded during the late 1990s and the 2000s until it became synonymous with RTÉ's children's output. At various times during its run, it was known as Dempsey's Den, Den TV and Den2.[2]

The Den
The Den 2005 logo.png
The Den 2005 logo
Also known asDempsey's Den (1986–1990)
The Den (1990-1993)
Den TV (1993-1998)
Den 2 (1998–2002)
The Den (2002–2010, 2020)
Presented byIan Dempsey (1986–1990)
Ray D'Arcy (1990–98, 2020–)[1]
Damien McCaul (1998–2003)
Francis Boylan, Jnr (2003–05)
Kathryn McKiernan (2005–2010)
StarringAunt Monica, Dustin the Turkey, Snotser, Soky, Zig and Zag, Zuppy
Country of originIreland
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodesOver 5,000
Production locationDublin
Production companyRaidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ)
Original networkRTÉ One (1986–88, 2020)
RTÉ Two (1988–2010)
Picture formatPAL I standard
Original release29 September 1986 (1986-09-29) –
20 December 2020 (2020-12-20)
2Phat, Anything Goes, A Scare at Bedtime, Dustin's Daily News, Echo Island, Jo Maxi, The Podge and Rodge Show

In mid-2010, RTÉ Television announced an overhaul of its children's output, with the launch of RTÉjr and TRTÉ.[3] The Den aired for the last time on 19 September 2010.[4] It returned for six weeks from November 2020.


The Den is considered to have pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable viewing for children and young people, often employing irreverent and occasionally satirical humour within its continuity links. It also introduced anthropomorphic puppet characters to Irish culture, including Zig and Zag, Podge and Rodge, Soky the Sock Monster, and Dustin the Turkey.[5] Zig and Zag later transferred to Channel 4, Podge and Rodge moved onto adult comedy programming on RTÉ (including their own talk show), and Dustin represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest.

In later years, The Den took up much of Network 2's schedule, airing for over 11 hours each weekday and on weekend mornings. It also acquired a reputation for airing new episodes of imported shows before other television networks in Europe. There were no commercial breaks during shows on The Den, although there were commercial breaks between shows.

Broadcast historyEdit

President of Ireland Mary Robinson makes a live appearance on The Den in 1990.[6]

Following on from the success of a Children's BBC strand in the UK, RTÉ launched its own strand for children's programming, Dempsey's Den, on 29 September 1986. Initially it was a two-hour strand each weekday afternoon on RTÉ 1 featuring nearly all of the broadcaster's youth output (the main exceptions being Bosco and Jo Maxi).

Taking a cue from CBBC's Broom Cupboard format, Dempsey's Den was broadcast live from a tiny, single-camera presentation studio at RTÉ Television Centre, used mostly for in-vision continuity. Upon its move to Network 2 in September 1988, Dempsey's Den gained an extra hour of airtime each weekday.

Ian Dempsey fronted the strand until the summer of 1990, although he continued to present the music feature Pop Goes the Den for a number of years. Ray D'Arcy took over The Den from 1990 to 1998, followed by Damien McCaul (1998-2003), Francis Boylan Jr (2003-2005) and Kathryn McKiernan (2005-2008).


Dempsey's Den logo used in 1988-1990

The Den launched as Dempsey's Den in 1986, with Ian Dempsey as presenter. He was joined by Zig and Zag in 1987. They were joined by Dustin the turkey in December 1989, after Zag won Dustin in a golf tournament.

The Den format changed little over its first decade on air. It generally consisted of several cartoons and music videos, at least one RTÉ production, a daily birthday slot, and on certain days of the week, a viewers' quiz. Occasional features included location inserts, interviews and sketches.

In September 1990, following Ian Dempsey's departure, Ray D'Arcy became the presenter, and the programme was relaunched under the name The Den. In September 1993, the name was changed to Den TV.

The studio set changed frequently. Themes included Number 10 Celebrity Square (in which Dustin set up a chip van for a period) (1992-1993), a building site, a treehouse (1995-1996), a caravan (1996-1997), a smelly shed (1997-1998), a big bus (1998-1999), a hair salon called On The Noggin (1999-2000) and a spaceship.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][1][15][16][17] The presenter tended to sit behind a desk (or counter in the chip-van), with any puppets perched between the desk and the camera.

In September 1992 Zig and Zag joins Channel 4's The Big Breakfast in the UK and they left The Den after the 1992-1993 season to spend more time appearing live on British television. Shortly into the 1993-1994 season, Dustin neglected to do the laundry for so long that the smelly socks in the linen bin at the back of the set eventually came to life in the form of Soky the sock monster.

D'Arcy's last broadcast was on Friday 29 May 1998.[18]


Den 2 1998-2002 logo
Damien McCaul and Dustin the Turkey on Den2 after the 1998 relaunch

In September 1998, the Den was relaunched under the name Den 2, with Damien McCaul taking over as presenter. A morning show, presented by Geri Maye (joined by Soky) was launched for the first time. A further strand aimed at older children, iD, aired from 5 pm to 7 pm.

Den 2 was broadcast continuously from morning to evening, but in-vision continuity was confined to the morning and afternoon strands.

As Den 2, the programme launched a website in October 1999.[19] In 2003, the strand gained its own daily news bulletin, news2day, similar in format to the BBC's Newsround.

The programme's name changed to The Den in 2002.[20]

Damien McCaul left the presenter's role at the end of the 2002-2003 season and was replaced by Francis Boylan Jr in September 2003.[21] Boylan remained as presenter until June 2005.[22]


The Den was revamped again on 17 September 2005 with a new graphics package designed by Dunning Elley Joans (now Dunning Penny Joans). By now, the strand had been split into several daily shows, including Wakey Wakey, Den Tots and The Club, alongside the existing news2day bulletin at 5 pm.[23] This final revamp removed much of the cast (bar Dustin, Soky, Charly and Zuppy), with Dustin moving to his own programme, Dustin's Daily News. It also refocused the breakfast slot away from pre-school children and towards older viewers, with one continuity presenter, Kathryn McKiernan, fronting both morning and afternoon shows.

In September 2008, the separate shows were axed and in-vision presentation was replaced with out-of-vision announcements.

The Den ceased in September 2010 when RTÉ launched two new strands for its children's output: RTÉjr and TRTÉ.[3][4]


Following a popular Comic Relief special reunion episode in June 2020, on 22 September 2020, RTÉ confirmed the return of The Den as a new weekend family show, reuniting Ray D'Arcy with Zig and Zag and Dustin the Turkey. The show returned on 8 November 2020 and ran for six episodes including a Christmas Special, airing on Sundays. The show was aired on RTÉ One, whereas previously, the slot was on RTÉ 2.[24]

Special episodesEdit

  • Christmas 1988: Dempsey's Den go to Santaland: The first Christmas special. The gang travel to Santaland.
  • Christmas 1991: Must go to Moscow: The gang travel to Moscow.
  • Christmas 1991: Turn on the Christmas lights at Dublin Airport: Ray D'Arcy, Zig and Zag travel to Dublin Airport to turn on the Christmas lights.
  • October 1992: The Den goes Disney: The gang travel to Euro Disney.
  • Christmas 1992: The Christmas Crisis: Podge breaks into Number 10 Celebrity Square, steals a gift of aftershave meant for Ray D'Arcy's mother and breaks D'Arcy's clock, and frames Zig. The episode culminates in a trip to Lapland to save Santa, who has been kidnapped by Podge.
  • Christmas 1993: Together for Xmas: Zig and Zag return to the show on the occasion of a Swiss chocolate being made in Zag's likeness. Zag has become self-obsessed since becoming a celebrity in the UK, and is led on a journey of self-realisation.
  • 1996: The Den is 10: A reunion episode celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Den.
  • Christmas 1996: Christmas Crisis 2: Zig and Zag return again for a Christmas gathering with the gang at Cranberry Lodge, 10 Celebrity Hill. Over the course of the evening, Podge and Rodge conspire to kidnap each guest, one by one.
  • Halloween 1997: Halloween on the Den: Podge and Rodge trick Dustin into thinking he has won the Irish presidential election, and lure him to a house that they convince him is Áras an Uachtarán, where they plan to kidnap the gang and take over the Den.
  • Christmas 1998: The Den Christmas Special: The gang travel to New York to find a Mr Blue Bucket with removable arms for Soky for Christmas.
  • June 2020: Comic Relief Special


Presenter[25] Period
Ian Dempsey 1986–1990
Ray D'Arcy 1990–1998, 2020[1]
Damien McCaul 1998–2003[21]
Francis Boylan, Jnr 2003–2005
Kathryn McKiernan 2005–2010


Ciara Carroll served as a regular assistant during D'Arcy's time as presenter.[1] She would arrive at the studio to announce new competitions, provide observations from behind the camera and her laughter could often be heard in the background as Zig and Zag accused her of being responsible for breaking wind. She would also include herself during many other features throughout the day. During the Dempsey years, The Den assistant was Celine, who would later present Jo Maxi when D'Arcy departed that programme to succeed Ian Dempsey.

In its latter years, The Den remained on air during the summer, either using temporary cover presenters (Aidan Power, Aoileann Garavaglia, etc.) or with no presenter-led continuity.

Home-produced programmingEdit

These included programming such as Echo Island, The Grip and The Works.


On 27 October 2008, a compilation episode, Best Bitz From Back Den, was broadcast on RTÉ One. The episode featured clips dating back to Zig and Zag's origins on The Den. It was compiled to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Zig and Zag. It was released on DVD a month later. Presenters D'Arcy and Dempsey featured heavily in the special. Other highlights included assaults perpetrated by Ted (a malicious panda) on the presenters, Christmas specials of The Den, footage of other characters such as Captain Joke, Captain Pillowcase and Cousin Nigel, and the 1989 Irish Film and Television awards at which Zig and Zag "accidentally" mistook then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds for actor Burt Reynolds and addressed him as "your majesty".[26][27]

On 14 November 2008, an edition of The Ray D'Arcy Show (then of Today FM) aired live from Vicar Street in Dublin, reflecting on the formative years of The Den from 1986 - 1994.[28]

On 8 November 2009, a compilation episode, Dustin: 20 Years a Pluckin', was broadcast on RTÉ One. It was also released on DVD. It was compiled to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Dustin the Turkey.[29]

The Den returned for a Comic Relief charity special on 26 June 2020.[30][5]

See alsoEdit

  • Cúla 4 - Irish-language children's channel


  1. ^ a b c d "From left to right; Don Conroy, Soky, programme presenter Ray D'Arcy, Zuppy, Ciara Carroll and Dustin". Archived from the original on 11 April 2015.
  2. ^ "The Den 2 Presenters – Where Are They Now?".
  3. ^ a b "The New Season on RTÉ Television". RTÉ Press Office. 5 August 2010. Retrieved 5 August 2010. [...] RTÉ Television will soon be announcing [...] the launch of two completely new schedules of Young People's programmes in September. This [...] will be broadcast in two brand new channel blocks, commissioned to cater specifically for [...] the nation's younger viewers as they develop from pre-school through to teens.
  4. ^ a b McGreevy, Ronan (13 September 2010). "RTÉ overhauls children's TV schedule". The Irish Times. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  5. ^ a b "'The reason it worked is because RTÉ had feck all involvement': Dustin on The Den's reunion and the show's popularity". The Journal. 25 June 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  6. ^ "Mary Robinson on The Den". RTÉ Archives. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  7. ^ The Den set 1990-1991
  8. ^ The Den set 1991-1992
  9. ^ The Den set 1992-1993
  10. ^ The Den set 1992-1993
  11. ^ The Den set 1993-1994
  12. ^ The Den set 1994-1995
  13. ^ "The presenting team that worked on RTÉ Television's young people's programme 'Den TV' in studio in November 1994". Archived from the original on 11 April 2015.
  14. ^ The Den treehouse set 1995-1996
  15. ^ The Den caravan set 1996-1997
  16. ^ "The presenting team that worked on RTÉ Television's young people's programme 'Den TV' in studio on 18 September 1996". Archived from the original on 11 April 2015.
  17. ^ The Den smelly shed set 1997-1998
  18. ^ "Dustin in need of fresh foil as Darcy deserts 'The Den'". The Irish Times. 23 May 1998. Friday is Ray Darcy's last day in The Den...
  19. ^ "RTÉ broadcaster Liz Bonnin posing with Dustin the puppet turkey and a computer monitor in a publicity shot to launch the 'Den 2' website in October 1999". Archived from the original on 25 March 2023.
  20. ^ "RTE's Autumn TV Schedule Announced | The Irish Film & Television Network".
  21. ^ a b "Talent search for new Den presenter". RTÉ. 26 May 2003. Archived from the original on 9 April 2015. Retrieved 26 May 2003. Damien McCaul has spent five years in the Den chair, helped along by Dustin and Soky and is due to step down at the end of May.
  22. ^ "'The Den' ends after 24 madcap years". independent.
  23. ^ RTÉ Guide, 17–23 September 2005 edition and subsequent dates
  24. ^ "Den and now: Ray, Dustin and Zig & Zag to reunite". 22 September 2020 – via {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  25. ^ "From left to right are; Ian Dempsey, Ray D'Arcy, Damien McCaul and Francis Boylan - all four were former presenters of RTÉ Television's 'The Den'". Archived from the original on 11 April 2015.
  26. ^ Whitington, Paul (25 October 2008). "The Bourne Supremacy". Irish Independent. Retrieved 25 October 2008.
  27. ^ Neville, Sarah (21 October 2008). "Zig and Zag return to TV for 21st anniversary". Evening Herald. Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  28. ^ "Ray Re-unites with Zig and Zag!". Today FM. Archived from the original on 1 November 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2008.
  29. ^ Stacey, Pat (9 November 2009). "Dustin's endurance prove he's no turkey". Evening Herald. Retrieved 9 November 2009.
  30. ^ Neill, Bronwyn O. (12 June 2020). "The Den is set to return for RTE Does Comic Relief!".

External linksEdit