The Story Of Ireland

Fergal Keane is one of the great journalists to have worked in the Foreign Affairs section of the British media. His reportage of Africa in particular leaves a searing mark on the memory. His very human story in his powerful memoir All of these People on Valentina, a young girl who survived the Rwandan genocide despite being hacked with a machete by a Hutu Power thug, is a moving testimony to the power of his observation and depth of his empathy. In his book Seasons of Blood a palpable sense of fear is emitted from its pages, confirming that Keane is a writer who can convey like few others in his trade. A natural story teller his style is the essence of simplicity.

So it was with a sense of great expectation that I learned that he had been selected to both write and present a six part history series, jointly commissioned by BBC and RTE to be broadcast in 2011. It is billed as the first major television series about the history of Ireland since the Robert Kee 13 part epic in 1980. In his comment to the Sunday Tribune Keane said:

in documentary terms this is the biggest thing I have ever taken on. I do feel a responsibility to get it right. I see it as a chance to bring two things together, my passion for Irish history and everything I have experienced in conflict over the last twenty five years.

Titled The Story of Ireland refreshingly it shall not be featuring the voices of people like Bertie Ahern, Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley. Keane explained ‘very often what you get with politicians is their version of events. I’ll be reading everything they’ve said but this will be my take on it.’ This augers well for the series surviving the suffocating powers of peace processery. New voices will lift the rank staleness that for long has sat like a fog on our understanding of our own history.

Nephew of the writer John B Keane and son of the actor Eamon Keane, Fergal Keane will not be without his detractors. His family background in Fine Gael will inevitably lead to howls of ‘bias’ and ‘revisionism.’ But Keane is such a brave, competent and professional journalist that his credibility will be much stronger than his critics’ own. The family’s historical roots in Fine Gael have not endeared him to party icons like Garret Fitzgerald whose public image was beguiling in that it belied a sly steeliness Keane had a disdain for. Although he knew Charley Haughey was a rogue he preferred the Fianna Fail Taoiseach to his nemesis and counterpart in Fine Gael.

Keane has plenty of northern experience where the continuous practice of attending funerals of the conflict’s victims wore heavily on him. For a time he lived a few streets from where I grew up in Belfast’s Lower Ormeau Road and through which I often ambled, armed or otherwise, on IRA business He did not have a high opinion of the North’s politicians and there is certainly little chance of him being bamboozled or bullied by them. He has faced down thugs equally as avaricious as them and much more bloodstained.

Historical investigation is so important for giving us a sense of where we are today. In the hands of Fergal Keane that sense should be both honed and challenged. Although there is no chance of Ireland being united in 2016, by 2011 we might have a better understanding why not.


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  2. Kate

    I feel you are being far to pessimistic, the value of a good TV documentary is it creates an interest in the subject. People then search out books and information to widen their knowledge.

    In the UK history book are flying out of the book shop doors, often provoked by a TV documentary.

    A hard back book like Antony Beevor's D-Day, out sells or equals that of the most popular non fiction books.{by the way I would recommend this book]

    If I look back to the TV documentaries like 'world at war' or the Robert Kee documentary on Ireland, they have yet to be equalled and I look forward to Fergal Keane's new film.

    What we do not want is hagiographies which have been a curse for Ireland and yet have become so beloved by Irish Republicans.

    If we fail to understand the past, we have not a hope in hell of moving forward as we repeat the same mistakes all over again.

  3. Mick, I got D-Day as a birthday present from my wife and am so glad you recommended it. I will be reading it on holiday this summer. I loved his Stalingrad

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  5. Yes Robert Kee's Ireland and Peter Taylor's Provo’s were good TV but we've come to learn that the North's recent history has been muddied by Sinn Fein spin. A more in-depth look at this period is very welcome.