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The RTÉ is again showing the film Bloody Sunday, about the shooting of unarmed protestors in Derry / Londonderry* in January 1972. This award-winning film claims to show the true events of the day, and was positively reviewed here in Ireland, but it’s hardly been noticed elsewhere. The RTÉ also showed it on its release a few months ago, but clearly couldn’t wait to do it again. It shows the British authorities in a poor light, naturally; this version of events claims to show the commanding officer ordering his troops to retaliate severely if attacked in any way. Is this correct, and if so, so what?

I don’t claim to know what really happened; my point is that I probably never will know, now. This government-funded movie version will become the official history, here in Ireland, much as Shakespeare’s plays have to the general public. Outside Ireland, few people care anyway. The truth is almost irrelevant now, after over thirty years “Bloody Sunday” has become a cliché and a U2 hit.

Is it safe for me to criticize Irish popular culture in this way? Though Ireland doesn’t have an official “free speech” policy, there seems to be one in practice, and only bigots have a problem with that. Looking at the history, though…

* The way you refer to Derry / Londonderry marks you down as either Catholic Republican or Protestant Unionist respectively, and there was a time when using the wrong version in the wrong company could get you killed. Some half-seriously refer to it as “Stroke City”, playing on the physical reaction you may experience if asked your opinion. Here in Ireland, the RTÉ likes to give weather forecasts etc. as if there was no border, so you can guess which version they use. The dual naming reflects the city’s status as a pawn in religious battles dating back to the 6th century, when the Catholic monastery was repeatedly wrecked by Vikings. A millennium later, Derry was captured by the Protestant King James I and given to the citizens of London, prompting the change of name and a large settlement of Protestants. It’s not surprising that it’s been a focal point of terrorist activity in the last century. People have long memories, don’t they?

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Written by brian t

January 26, 2003 at 9:54 am

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