Sunday 5 April 2009

All the dead voices

Just finished watching a BBC drama called "Five minutes of heaven" on BBC2 and although it had dark,sombre overtones it has left me more positive about this troubled little country I live in.

The drama revolves around two men whose lives intersected briefly in the late 70's when the one of the men murders the other's brother in a sectarian tit-for-tat murder.

Now I realise that many of my readers come from outside Northern Ireland and you probably don't know more than what the media has served up about "the troubles" through the years. Basically it came down to two tribes who hated each other with a ferocity that knew no bounds. The dogma of the two tribes was so strong that when strangers met they would either politely dance around looking for clues as to the tribe you belonged to, or they would ask bluntly "What are you?". It was and in some cases what tribe you were in was more important than who you actually were.

One tribe were mainly protestant and loyal to the Crown (ie the UK) the other mainly catholic and republican (ie wanting a united Ireland). The warrior elite of both tribes segregated themselves into ghettos and regarded the other side with a hatred that was as dark as it was palpable. To these "warriors" simply being in the other tribe was ample reason for your execution. It has been my experience that reason plays little part in proceedings that are driven by hatred fuelled by religion and I have long since stopped looking for it.

The drama this evening made me look at the effects "the troubles" had on me, my friends and those people I met along the way who were involved more intimately with the machinations of whatever tribe they chose to be in and the continuing effects it is having today.

The story went like this, some time in the 70's a protestant 16 year old goes to the UVF commander in his estate and volunteers to kill a catholic. There had been a spate of Tit-for-tat killings and some Protestant workers had been threatened by the Provisional IRA. The Protestant UVF then selected at random a Catholic worker from the same business, gave him a warning to quit and a couple of days later sent the 16 year old to kill him ... which he duly did. The killing was witnessed by the dead man's younger brother.

We zoom back up to the present, the killer and the young boy are now men. The killer served 12 years for his crimes and then was released under license as part of the peace agreement. A TV crew approach the two men with a view to making a program about "truth and reconciliation" and the two men agree to meet.

The program is available on iPlayer and stars Liam Neeson and Jimmy Nesbit, if you didn't get a chance to see it.. I urge you to.. it is not pleasant and the ending you expect may not be exactly the way you expect it to be.

For the first time in many years here was a drama that had hope amidst the violence and hate. The hope is that while all the dead voices are still there, their cries as strident as they ever were but instead of crying for vengeance perhaps they are crying for peace?

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