The Den (TV programme)

The Den is a long-running popular 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
Broadcast areaIreland
Northern Ireland
Worldwide (online)
NetworkRTÉ One (1986–88, 2020–present)
RTÉ Two (1988–2010)
HeadquartersMontrose, Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Picture formatPAL I standard
OwnerRaidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ)
Sister channelsRTÉ One, RTÉ Two
Launched29 September 1986; 35 years ago (29 September 1986)
Former namesDempsey's Den (1986–90)
Den TV (occasionally between 1990 and 1997)
Den2 (1998–2002)
The Den (2002–2010)
The Den
Dempsey's Den 1989 logo.png
Dempsey's Den logo used in 1989
Also known asDempsey's Den (1986–90)
Den TV (occasionally between 1990 and 1997)
Den2 (1998–2002)
The Den (2002–2010)
Presented byIan Dempsey (1986–90)
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 companyRaidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ)
Original networkRTÉ One (1986–88, 2020–present)
RTÉ Two (1988–2010)
Original release30 September 1986 (1986-09-30) –
Related shows2Phat, 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 in 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, Socky 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), while Dustin ran for President and achieved global notoriety by representing 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 ad breaks during shows on The Den. It aired a lot of shows from around the world.

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 bespoke strand for children's programming, Dempsey's Den in September 1986 – initially as a two-hour strand each weekday afternoon on RTÉ 1 and 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 until 1998, and was later replaced by Damien McCaul and in 2003, Francis Boylan Jr.


The Den format changed little over its first decade on air – generally consisting 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.

The studio set changed frequently – various themes included a treehouse (1995), a chip-van, a hair salon called On The Noggin (1999), No. 10 Celebrity Square, a UFO and a newsroom – the presenter tended to be sat behind a desk (or counter in the chip-van), with any puppets perched between desk and the locked-off studio camera.[1][7][8]

Upon D'Arcy's departure, the format changed significantly. The annual Christmas special was dropped (though old specials were occasionally repeated) and an hour of morning programming was introduced, presented by Geri Maye (with Soky).

D'Arcy's last broadcast was on Friday 29 May 1998.[9]


Damien McCaul and Dustin the Turkey on Den2 after the 1998 relaunch

The 1998 relaunch saw The Den renamed Den2 (in keeping with Network 2's revamp the year before) and gained more of its own presentation along with extended hours, from 6 am to 5 pm. From 2003, a further strand aimed at older viewers, iD, aired from 5 pm to 7 pm.

In-vision continuity was confined to the morning and afternoon strands, fronted by Geri Maye (who was once engaged to Ray D'Arcy),[10] Damien McCaul (until 2003),[11] and Francis Boylan Jr. (until June 2005).[12] The strand re-adopted The Den name in 2002 before McCaul's departure.[13] Despite the format changes, much of The Den's original spirit remained intact, including quizzes, birthday greetings and puppets.

As Den2, it launched a website in October 1999.[14] In 2003, the strand gained its own daily news bulletin, news2day, similar in format to the BBC's Newsround.


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.[15]

This final revamp removed much of the cast (bar Dustin, Socky, Charly and Zuppy), with the launch of their own programme (DDN). 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. Further changes in September 2008 saw the separate shows axed and in-vision presentation replaced by out-of-vision announcements.

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


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, making a debut return to RTÉ One whereas, previously, the slot was on RTÉ 2.[16]


Presenter[17] Period
Ian Dempsey 1986–1990
Ray D'Arcy 1990–1998, 2020–present[1]
Damien McCaul 1998–2003[11]
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 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.[18]

The television special, Best Bitz From Back Den, returned to Zig and Zag's origins on The Den. Broadcast on RTÉ One on 27 October 2008, it was compiled to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Zig and Zag and 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 Ireland's 1989 Irish Film and Television awards at which Zig and Zag "accidentally" mistook then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds as actor Burt Reynolds and addressed him as "your majesty".[19][20]

A television special and DVD Dustin: 20 Years a Pluckin' was released in November 2009. Broadcast on RTÉ One on 8 November 2009, it was compiled to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Dustin the Turkey.[21]

The Den returned for a Comic Relief charity special on 26 June 2020.[22][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 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.
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ "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...
  10. ^ Nolan, Larissa (30 July 2006). "Pregnancy finally fixes the big Ray and Jenny question". Irish Independent. Retrieved 30 July 2006.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "'The Den' ends after 24 madcap years". independent.
  13. ^ "RTE's Autumn TV Schedule Announced | The Irish Film & Television Network".
  14. ^ "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 11 April 2015.
  15. ^ RTÉ Guide, 17–23 September 2005 edition and subsequent dates
  16. ^ "Den and now: Ray, Dustin and Zig & Zag to reunite". 22 September 2020 – via Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ "Ray Re-unites with Zig and Zag!". Today FM. Archived from the original on 1 November 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2008.
  19. ^ Whitington, Paul (25 October 2008). "The Bourne Supremacy". Irish Independent. Retrieved 25 October 2008.
  20. ^ Neville, Sarah (21 October 2008). "Zig and Zag return to TV for 21st anniversary". Evening Herald. Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  21. ^ Stacey, Pat (9 November 2009). "Dustin's endurance prove he's no turkey". Evening Herald. Retrieved 9 November 2009.
  22. ^ Neill, Bronwyn O. (12 June 2020). "The Den is set to return for RTE Does Comic Relief!".

External linksEdit