A Bloody Friday; Bombings…

by John Boland

On these balmy summer evenings, when God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world, there’s nothing that boosts one’s sense of euphoria quite like a a barrage of programmes about bombings.

TV3 was first up, with Sunday night’s A Bloody Friday: The Dublin-Monaghan Bombings, RTE continuing the theme on Tuesday with the first instalment of Bombings, while in between the carnage caused by lethal explosive devices featured in Adams, BBC1’s profile of the Sinnm Fein leader.

All of these programmes were curious, if not inscrutable, in their timing, especially the TV3 film, which concerned murderous events that occurred thirty-six years and seven weeks ago. So, with no obvious anniversary being commemorated and with no recent developments to lend the film a degree of topicality, what function did this raking through the past serve and why were we being asked to watch it?

Neither of these questions was answered, or even addressed, by this hour-long documentary, which took the viewer dutifully through the events which led up to that dreadful day in May 1974 when thirty-four people were slaughtered in Dublin and Monaghan, then through the day itself, and finally – and cursorily – through an aftermath which saw no one being convicted and no justice for the victims or their loved ones.

Unavoidably, there were affecting moments, and some distressing ones, too, most of them provided by survivors or relatives of the dead, but the script was leaden and cliched and the narrator’s delivery lugubrious and ponderous, and for the life of me I couldn’t see the point of its transmission at this time in our history.

The same applied to RTE1’s Bombings, and though this had the virtue of being a half-hour shorter,
anyone expecting a weighty consideration of the tactics of violent terrorism (as the title seemed to suggest) soon found that what was being offered instead was something more akin to the life stories that are favoured by Would You Believe and other determinedly worthy series.

This opening episode concerned a roadside bomb on the Cavan-Armagh border that killed an investigating Garda inspector in June 1982 and seriously wounded a young army lieutenant who accompanied him to the scene.

What gave this film its edge were the reminscences of the lieutenant, John Gallagher, who recalled being “burnt to a crisp – fellows fainted when they saw me.” His near-death experience on the day led to nightmares and “a recourse to the old reliable, alcohol, which was a big factor in my life for years afterwards.”

Nor could he discuss his trauma with his army colleagues: “You’re a soldier, you’re a big boy, you can’t go to your mates and say ‘Listen, I was crying last night’.” And his search for compensation from the Army was refused, his superiors arguing that the bomb had actually detonated thirteen feet on the other side of the Border. “Off you go to the Northern Ireland Office” was the response he got.

Yet though Gallagher was a striking and engaging contributor to the film, its inclusion in the RTE schedules thirty-eight years after the even it described seemed to be without purpose.

And does anyone in the summer of 2010 really need an hour-long profile of the Sinn Fein leader, especially one so essentially hagiographic as BBC1’s Adams?

“No longer a pariah,” trilled narrator Kathy Clugston, “politically Gerry Adams is now a global superstar.” To demonstrate this, the film followed him into a New York hotel lift, where he encountered Barbra Streisand. Plainly smitten by him, she deemed him “smart and sensitive and attractive and very charming.” Gerry returned the compliment, telling us that Babs was not just “a beautiful singer” but also “a very, very ordinary person.”

No, Gerry, she’s not, but I suppose your perspective on life gets a little skewed when you’re a guest of honour at a Clinton Global Initiative function where fellow-invitee Jesse Jackson compares you not just to Nelson Mandela but to no less a sanctified figure than Jesus, who, in Jesse’s words, was also once “seen as disturbing the peace.”

“Gerry is held in high esteem around the world,” Jesse assured us, and indeed one of the striking aspects of this documentary was that it couldn’t find anyone who had a bad word to say about him. Tony Blair – who, we were told, has hugged trees with him (don’t ask) – praised his “genuine sense of compassion for all victims,” adding that Gerry and Martin McGuinness were “people I would call friends,” while Babs popped up again to describe him as her “hero.” And even David Trimble seems more kindly disposed to his former adversaries than one would have imagined, referring to them simply as “Gerry and Martin.”

Of course, the thousands of victims of IRA murder campaigns might have had a few other words to say, but they’re all conveniently dead, and the film only bothered locating the husband of one of these, a man who had sought a meeting with the Sinn Fein leader, finally met him and now feels more forgiving towards him.

I’d say there were lots of others, though, who seethed as they watched this admiring profile.

On BBC1, Panorama asked ‘What’s Up with the Weather?’ but this once-great current affairs series has become so gimmicky and superficial that its answer was inconclusive and frankly uninteresting. On the following night’s A Burning Question (RTE1), Duncan Stewart fretted over the same question but came up with nearly as little hard or persuasive information. Matters weren’t helped by the programme’s frequent recourse to the streets, where it solicited opinions that weren’t worth tuppence from uninformed passers by.

Graham Linehan’s The IT Crowd (Channel 4) has returned for a fourth season and the opening episode was genuinely funny, though for reasons that are hard to describe, or even define. The script, for one thing, has few memorable one-liners, while the situations aren’t especially hilarious. But there’s a benign daftness about the whole thing that’s very engaging, and the playing of Chris O’Dowd, Katherine Parkinson and Richard Ayoade is irresistible. It’ll never be Father Ted, but it’s itself.

On the evidence of its opening episode, Rev (BBC2) will certainly never be Father Ted. In fact, what this sitcom about a bumbling Church of England vicar thinks it’s up to beats me – it just comes across like a lame imitation of that lamentable 1970s comedy series starring Derek Nimmo. Oh, brother, indeed.

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