Some TV programmes are nasty, some are forgettable fluff, some are enjoyable entertainment and some are hugely important.
I’d put Children of the Troubles (RTÉ1, Monday) in that latter category. Presented by Joe Duffy, assisted by journalist Freya Clements, it outlined the stories of the children who died as a result of ‘the Troubles’. It was the saddest programme I’ve seen in a long time, one that can teach empathy and even save lives in the future.
We learned that of the 186 children (under 16s) who died violently, 18 were killed in their own homes, 106 died in Belfast, 17 in Derry and 13 died outside the North (including in the Republic – in Mullaghmore and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings). Several unborn children died too when their mothers were killed, and significantly they too were listed and remembered.
The interviews with surviving relatives were quite affecting – the emotions were still raw and the sadness still deep. Family members spoke of “perished potential”, of “real lives cut short”, of “a human space that’s no longer occupied”. The small details were particularly touching – the teeth marks on a toy belonging to a baby killed while in a pram, the pictures of the bereaved hanging prominently in the survivors’ houses, the young teen killed in the Omagh bombing who was in town to open his first bank account.
Joe Duffy described the project (there’s a book also) as “an act of reclamation, recognition and remembrance but not of recrimination”. Like his work on the children who died in 1916, this is a fine contribution to Irish history, and with the peace process rather shaky in the North, it’s a timely reminder that we surely don’t want to risk going back to those dark days.
I was also very moved listening to Today With Seán O’Rourke (RTE Radio 1) on Tuesday of last week when we heard from Christine Ryan, mother of Michael who died in a plane crash in Ethiopia. His remains had finally been identified and she was in Frankfurt waiting to accompany the remains home to Ireland for burial. It was a desperately sad story but she handled it with dignity and determination, obviously proud of Michael who was involved in humanitarian work with the UN.
Not unrelated, the tragedy of the 39 migrants who were found dead in a container in Essex rumbled on last week as the investigations proceeded apace.
I was struck by the Vietnamese Catholic priests who figured so large in the coverage on Sky News. One priest in London and his church were acting as a support to the Vietnamese community, while a priest back in Vietnam gave some context as to why these young people were seeking a better life abroad. The stories of worried and bereaved parents back home were heart-breaking, and it was uncomfortable that so much about this human trafficking seemed to lead back to Ireland.
I was also uncomfortable with President Trump’s gloating over the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. On The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) on Tuesday we heard of a tweet from Trump back when Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden in a similar operation. At the time, Trump had criticised Obama for taking credit and said it was all down to the military.
Of course this terrorist leader deserved to be brought to justice and official statements said that the aim was to capture or kill. However, gloating is never the right option when a human being dies, and as for that corny stuff about the military dog …so cringe worthy!
Finally, there was a striking story on Sunday Worship (RTÉ1) last weekend. It was a Mass to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the new Church in St Joseph’s Church Urlaur, Co. Mayo. Fr Vincent Sherlock deftly linked the story of Zaccheus with that of “a descendant of Zaccheus’ people”, Nathaniel Goldstein of the New York Times, who helped fundraise for the new church in 1969 at the behest of enclosed Dominican Sister Mary (Margaret Cafferkey), a native of the area who had emigrated 50 years earlier.
Goldstein had attended the opening in ’69, saying the world would be a better place with more places of worship. Fr Sherlock urged people to “come down” like Zaccheus, to respect, reverence and attend their own community places of workshop.
What an uplifting story.
Pick of the Week
EWTN, Sunday, November 10, 7 am, also Wednesday, 5.30 pm, Thurdays (night) 12.30 am
David Kerr discusses faith and moral issues in modern Ireland with renowned Irish journalist and social commentator John Waters.
NEW! UNPLANNED – THE 40 DAYS FOR LIFE STORY
EWTN, Sunday, November 10, 2.30 pm, also Monday 10 pm
A documentary on the real-life pivotal figures depicted in the film Unplanned, who played a key role in the conversion of former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnston.
UNREPORTED WORLD: Schools Under Siege
Channel 4, Friday, November 15, 7.30 pm
Meeting pupils, parents and teachers trying to survive at a primary school caught in a turf war in Cape Town, between lawless, drug-dealing gangs.