UNHIDDEN HIS­TO­RIES

RTÉ pre­sen­ters Joe Duffy and Myles Dun­gan look at two dis­tinct his­tor­i­cal events from dif­fer­ent an­gles, and both bring fresh per­spec­tives

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - AUDIO - MICK HEANEY

One of the more durable cliches about An­glo-Irish re­la­tions is that while the English never re­mem­ber his­tory, the Irish never for­get it. At the very least, Ire­land seems to have a his­tor­i­cal par­al­lel for ev­ery oc­ca­sion. Sure enough, on Thurs­day, as Theresa May strug­gles to pre­vent her Brexit deal un­rav­el­ling, Fiona Kelly finds two sep­a­rate ref­er­ences to Michael Collins ne­go­ti­at­ing the An­glo-Irish treaty as she sur­veys the news­pa­pers on Morn­ing Ire­land (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days). Given how that worked out for Collins, it’s prob­a­bly best for May not to hear such com­par­isons.

Even so, there are signs that the old chest­nut on his­tor­i­cal aware­ness no longer holds true. It’s not just that many English seem keen to evoke the past these says, with Brex­i­teers hark­ing back to Vic­to­rian vi­sions of Bri­tain as a global trad­ing pow­er­house. As Joe Duffy dis­cov­ers on Live­line (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days), some peo­ple in Ire­land feel im­por­tant parts of our his­tory have been for­got­ten.

On Mon­day, Duffy talks to Bernie McNally, who was in­jured in the Dublin-Mon­aghan bomb­ings of 1974, about her crit­i­cisms of a new Ju­nior Cer­tifi­cate his­tory text­book which fails to men­tion the atroc­ity, which left 34 peo­ple dead. McNally says she is dis­ap­pointed but not sur­prised at the omis­sion, as she feels “they’re try­ing to air­brush us out of ex­is­tence”. She ex­presses dis­ap­point­ment that three Dáil mo­tions seek­ing ac­cess to Bri­tish doc­u­ments on the bomb­ings have been ig­nored (“what kind of lily-liv­ered politi­cians do we have?”) and con­cludes that “we don’t get the same recog­ni­tion that the vic­tims do in the north of Ire­land”.

Such state­ments are un­der­stand­able given the trauma en­dured by McNally and other vic­tims. But Duffy, a bit of a his­to­rian him­self, seeks to bring some bal­ance to pro­ceed­ings: “A lot of the vic­tims up north feel they’ve been for­got­ten as well.” He also gamely tries to sug­gest that all this might be con­signed to, well, his­tory. “What do you think of peo­ple who say this is all be­hind of us?” he asks. “It doesn’t go away for us,” McNally replies.

Not that Duffy thinks the past should be for­got­ten. For one thing, he is work­ing on a book about the chil­dren killed in the Trou­bles, as he men­tions sev­eral times. More­over, his pro­gramme has al­ways been at its best when air­ing the un­heard sto­ries of those marginalised by of­fi­cial­dom. As if to em­pha­sise this, Duffy also talks to Mar­garet English, whose fa­ther Hugh Wat­ters was killed in a Dun­dalk pub bomb­ing in 1975, only for her fam­ily to be side­lined af­ter­wards.

Though she re­fuses to feel bit­ter­ness about her fa­ther’s mur­der, English none­the­less re­counts many poignant de­tails. “We ran around look­ing for Daddy,” she says of the bomb­ing’s af­ter­math. De­spite the ap­palling crime, English says the Garda never called to her fam­ily by way of in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It what seems to be a com­mon theme (McNally also says she had no con­tact from the Garda), English says the State has ig­nored her at­tempts to dis­cover the iden­ti­ties those re­spon­si­ble. “I would say the State has hurt us more than the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally mur­dered my dad,” she says. This par­tic­u­lar English his­tory isn’t go­ing to be eas­ily for­got­ten.

Longviewed­with­am­biva­lence

One event is still con­spic­u­ously re­mem­bered in both Bri­tain and Ire­land, how­ever, in the form of last week­end’s cen­te­nary com­mem­o­ra­tions for the ar­mistice that ended the first World War. But as The His­tory Show (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, Sun­day) un­der­lines, the event has long been viewed with am­biva­lence on this side of the Irish Sea. Host­ing pro­ceed­ings with his usual en­gag­ing aplomb, pre­sen­ter Myles Dun­gan speaks to lo­cal his­to­ri­ans Tom Burke and Cathy Scuf­fil about the ex­pe­ri­ences of those Irish sol­diers who sur­vived the trenches only to re­turn to a coun­try in flux.

By way of ex­am­ple, Burke re­counts a re­mark­able dou­ble book­ing at the Man­sion House in Dublin on Jan­uary 21st, 1919, when a re­cep­tion for mem­bers of the for­mer pris­on­ers of war from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was fol­lowed by the meet­ing of the first Dáil in the same build­ing. The same day also saw the first shots fired in the War of In­de­pen­dence, when two RIC con­sta­bles were “mur­dered, killed, as­sas­si­nated, what­ever word you want to use” by Irish vol­un­teers at Solo­head­beg. “It’s an in­ter­est­ing piece of sym­bol­ism,” Dun­gan re­marks, lest any­one miss the wider point.

The chang­ing per­cep­tions of the war are made con­crete, as it were, in the War Memo­rial Gar­dens at Is­land­bridge in Dublin. Point­edly built out­side the city cen­tre in 1931, the gar­dens were none­the­less funded by the Free State govern­ment. But, as vet­er­ans’ pa­rades slowly ceased, the memo­rial fell into dis­re­pair, and were only ren­o­vated in the late 1980s. “It re­flects our at­ti­tude as a na­tion,” says Burke, “be­cause we went through that process of in­dif­fer­ence to re­dis­cov­ery to re­gen­er­a­tion.” Over­all, it’s an in­trigu­ing dis­cus­sion on how our view of the past is coloured by con­tem­po­rary con­texts.

Of course, some events are so dis­puted they con­tinue to haunt us, be it the Dublin bomb­ings or the “Bal­ly­mur­phy mas­sacre” in Belfast in Au­gust 1971. As an in­quest opens into the lat­ter in­ci­dent, which saw 10 peo­ple killed by Bri­tish sol­diers over three days in west Belfast, re­porter Tom­mie Gor­man talks to pre­sen­ter Christo­pher McKe­vitt on Mon­day’s News at

One (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days), and hears from rel­a­tives whose emo­tions re­main pal­pa­bly raw. McKe­vitt, though alert to the charged sub­ject, also sug­gest that the in­quest may merely be rak­ing over old coals: “For many peo­ple, it’s his­tory.” Maybe so. But for many oth­ers, to para­phrase James Joyce, it’s a night­mare from which they are still try­ing to es­cape. Let’s hope it doesn’t re­peat it­self.

‘‘ As Theresa May strug­gles to pre­vent her Brexit deal un­rav­el­ling, Fiona Kelly finds two sep­a­rate ref­er­ences to Michael Collins ne­go­ti­at­ing the An­glo-Irish treaty as she sur­veys the news­pa­pers. Given how that worked out for Collins, it’s prob­a­bly best for May not to hear such com­par­isons

Joe Duffy: at his best when air­ing the un­heard sto­ries of those marginalised by of­fi­cial­dom

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