Troubling times told by those who witnessed them

We all know about the troubles, or think we do. Everyone the world over has some sort of opinion of how the troubles started or who was at fault. As someone who was born in the midst of the chaos, this particular reviewer, when asked about the troubles always explains it as different versions of the same truth. That is to say that each person who lived through the troubles will have experienced the events from a certain point of view and that particular point of view isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s simply the version that that particular person has come to think of as the truth given their own unique set of circumstances. That is not to say that everyone doesn’t come with their own particular set of prejudices but it is up to the interested and impartial observer to listen to each point of view and make up their own mind. Among those observers, who often put themselves in harm’s way in order that you the public were informed of events, were the journalists and reporters who reported on the numerous tragic events so for this to happen. Reporting the Troubles: Journalists tell their stories of the Northern Ireland conflict, does exactly what it says on the tin so to speak. With participation of well known international journalists such as Kate Adie, Martin Bell, Robert Fisk along with lesser known hacks who lived among the people about whom they reported. Each one has their own perspective, their own memories of a particular person or incident which occured during the over thirty years of violence. Each one is heartfelt and sincere and tries to bring attention to some of the many victims of the troubles, it also does what every journalist is often told not to do – it makes things personal. The strength of the book is as has been mentioned already, in the wide variety of reporters who have been asked to contribute. Perhaps where the book falls down is in a way in which the reporters themselves would critique their own work, it highlights one particular incident over another. Another point worth making is that once you read about an incident you have yet to come across you are fairly certain that the next is linked in some way, there isn’t enough of a variety. With that said it is indeed hard to remember every terrible incident, to pick one victim over another. What the book does do well is explore the human, private side of the reporters involved. It allows them to open up to an audience like perhaps not permitted at the time about the events and personalities involved. As someone who grew up during the troubles it is perhaps difficult to look at these events totally objectively, however at times the perspective of the intervening years and unawareness of some events certainly helps. A book best for those with a distant perspective on events perhaps

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Black 47 is a harrowing tale with a tongue in cheek twist

Little over a year ago viewers of ITV’s hit series Victoria starring Jenna Coleman, were left aghast and dismayed by the harrowing depiction of the Great Famine; an event which is ingrained into the national pshyce of the average Irish person. People had written to a well known television weekly wondering why they had not been taught anything of this in their schools. They were surprised at their own lack of knowledge about such a harrowing experience in both their own history and that of their nearest neighbour which, at the period of history in question, was part of the British Empire. 

This thought came to mind as the opening credits rolled and the bitter sweet opening scenes of Black 47 appeared on the screen. An autumnal palette of pale blues and greens and muddy earthy brown’s appeared thanks to the cinematography of Declan Quinn. Bitter because of the abject poverty on display; sweet because of the stunning landscaped on view

As the plot unfurls you see skeletons in human form in nearly every shot, so authentic looking its unimaginable that you are merely watching someone playing a part.

 The main plot of the film revolves around Feeney, a renegade ranger who has been ironically fighting for the British in India. Upon his return home he witnesses first hand the effects of the Penal Laws and the Potato Famine; which at this time are at their worst. The land that he returns to is one of decay, despair and desperation. Indeed one of the final times he sees his family is when his brother is shot for stealing and the rest of his family are left homeless when their house is “cleared” (that’s burned down to you and I), with tragic consequences.

It is these events which prove to be the final straw for Feeney as he sets about avenging his family and gaining revenge on those he feels responsible. This leads him to an ultimate confrontation with an old comrade Hannah, who served with Feeney in India and is now sent to track him down along with Captain Pope (played by Freddie Fox of the Fox acting dynesty) and a local villager called Conneely, (played by Stephen Rea). The character of Hannah is a typical adversarial type who has a begrudging admiration for Feeney. He is a soldier himself and so naturally knows the mentality of the man he is pursuing. It ultimately however leads him to wonder what cause he is fighting for. Coneely, (played by Stephen Rea in his usual dour understated manner is in many ways the character through which the narrative flows. He is there as us, as the casual onlooker through which the viewer in the cinema can feel they are playing a part. At one point he says, “I better stay and see how this tale ends”, telling the audience that he is the narrator. Meanwhile Jim Broadbent, in what is a rather small part for him, plays the affable landlord. Possessing land in a place foreign to him, has callous disregard for the people under his care. To him they are part of the problem rather than people under his care.

For some who have been to see this film they are unsure as to whether they should treat it as an off the boil period drama, criticising the more swashbuckling or gun hoe elements; for others the opposite is true.

Sufficit to say as a first major telling on the big screen of the great famine it was never going to satisfy everyone. 

What perhaps most well practiced viewers should see is a well plotted and well shot drama which doesn’t loose the ability to plant it’s tongue firmly in it’s cheek. It is also important to note the role that the Irish language plays in this film. Having more dialogue in Ireland’s native tongue than can be remembered for a long time.

In this year when perhaps Britain is in danger of repeating the offence, it would do people on “the other island” some good to witness the consequences of the last time their poor decisions and bad judgement had tragic consequences – before they go making any more.

Review of Holding by Graham Norton

We probably all know Graham Norton for his quirky, sharp-witted, fast-paced chat show, some of us may even remember him for his role in Father Ted as the erratic and chaotic Fr. Noel Furthlong. To his list of many talents and achievements Norton has also added novelist with his debut novel Holding

Holding is set in Duneen where we find P J Collins, a hapless, overweight Garda who has never had much ambition and who people have never expected much from until a body is unearthed on a building site. It turns out that the body isn’t the only thing from the past that has been dug up as this one single event has a domino effect and uncovers the secrets of many of the villages residents.

For a debut novel, Norton’s characterisation is vivid and imaginative. Given his upbringing he has managed to capture the essence of small town rural Co. Cork masterfully and created characters which spring to life off the page and which we are all familiar with, be it the local Garda in the sleepy village with nothing much to do, of the alcoholic whose a shadow of their former self, of the housekeeper who makes a house a home with her cooking and fuss and gossip.

If you are planning on a late holiday in August, you would do worse than taking this gripping novel and welcome the residents of Duneen into your life