Highlighting Ireland’s forgotten heroes

A few times a year, RTÉ produces an excellent documentary and last week we got another one.

Gallipoli – Ireland’s Forgotten Heroes (RTÉ One) was a personal journey for presenter David Davin-Power, whose grandfather fought in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of World War I.

The film benefited from this personal touch and, in fact, the best thing about this documentary was the telling of personal stories, stories of those soldiers told by their still living relatives (e.g. the Lee and Horne families; I felt a sadness listening to their stories and seeing the grainy black and white photos that accompanied them, all that terrible loss of life, in an awful war and disastrous campaign). 

One of the most touching stories was of the Brennan family from Tipperary – a tearful mother saying goodbye to her sons heading off to Australia, sons that later joined the army there and ended up in Gallipoli, and at least one them died there.

I would like to have heard more about the motivation of all these young men: why did they join, voluntarily, to fight for a British Empire that had so oppressed their own country? The programme suggested it might be for some a sense of adventure, and indeed some seemed to go to war enthusiastically, if not naively – one wrote of giving the Turk a ‘bloody nose’!

While most of the emphasis was on the Allied side, the perspective of the Turks was not ignored (we got a look at their memorials for their ancestors who fought to defend their country. This showed again how multi-layered the documentary was), the narrative of what happened, the story of the other side, the motivations of the soldiers, the story of their families and so on. Another interesting strand was how the Irish who survived were received when they came home. The 1916 Rising had utterly changed the political landscape at home, and, as one commentator put it there wasn’t room for two sets of heroes. And so their story was forgotten or ignored as an embarrassment until the relatively recent rehabilitation.

For the most part, I liked the style of the film, with intriguing shots from an old movie about the events and some striking artwork, but I don’t think the few brief modern reconstructions worked that well.

The current migrant crisis is taking place not too far from the scenes of terror at Gallipoli. The plight of those drowning farther west in the Mediterranean was the subject of a lively debate on last weekend’s Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster).

People of goodwill argued over what was the best response to the migrant crisis, the dominant solution appearing to be that all communities in Europe would accept a small number of these migrants. Interesting links were made with the awful coffin ships that took Irish migrants to the USA during the Famine, and we heard a story that was new to me at least, of philanthropists who traveled incognito on these ships and drew attention to the terrible conditions.

It was Philanthropy Fortnight and in that context there was also a discussion of Charles Shiels from Northern Ireland who, in the 19th Century set up ‘almshouses’ for the homeless, a work that continues to this day.

And finally, the referendum roundup. In a week that saw Bosco and Dustin promoting a ‘yes’ vote (I kid you not!), a debate about posters highlighted the issue of surrogacy. It is at least arguable that surrogacy is relevant to the referendum, so I think it was another case of blatant media bias when, last Thursday morning on Newstalk’s Breakfast show, presenter Chris Donoghue declared, as if fact, that surrogacy had nothing to do with the referendum.

Later in the show, Keith Mills of Mothers and Fathers Matter made the surrogacy connection clear.

The previous Tuesday, on Morning Ireland, Cathal Mac Coille asked some hard questions of Minister Aodhán O’Ríordáin (in debate with an impressively rational Tom Finnegan).

There was also a reasonable debate later that day on Today With Sean O’Rourke between Una Mullally of The Irish Times and Ben Conroy of the Iona Institute, while last Sunday David Quinn got to make some of the main ‘no’ arguments on the RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week. All worth listening back to.


Pick of the Week

RTĖ One, Sun, May 3, 11am
Fr Liam Belton celebrates Mass in the RTÉ studios with pupils, staff and friends of St David’s Secondary School, Greystones, Co. Wicklow.

Tonight with Vincent Browne
TV3, Wed, May 6, 11pm
Debate on the marriage referendum.

The Stranger on the Bridge
Channel 4, Wed, May 6, midnight
Story of a one man who helped another to avoid suicide.