19 incredible Irish stories that would make for fascinating documentaries 5 months ago

19 incredible Irish stories that would make for fascinating documentaries

Featuring a Tyrone MP who slapped the UK's Home Secretary, a pivotal protest over pints, Nazis, and more.

In recent years, the renaissance in the documentary genre has changed the TV and film landscape as documentary features have become massively popular.

Platforms like HBO and Netflix are a large reason for the growing popularity of the genre, but it's worth noting that there have been some incredible Irish features in recent years too.

For example, RTÉ recently aired the superb No Stone Unturned, which received an Emmy nomination.

BBC's seven-part series Spotlight on The Troubles: A Secret History has been incredible, TG4 are doing some excellent work with their Irish-centric stories in Finné and even Netflix allocated a part of their considerable financial resources to document The Miami Showband Massacre.

Despite all of the above, we're selfish and would like to see even more Irish stories being told, particularly some select examples we feel are tailor-made to be adapted as a documentary.

Another story worth telling, about the late Phil Lynott, is currently being made into a documentary, so we'll leave the iconic singer off the list for now.

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

Civl rights leader, the youngest elected MP aged 21 in 1969 and the youngest woman ever elected to Westminster until 2015, convicted and jailed for inciting a riot, a republican who rejected the traditional republican tactic of abstentionism, shot nine times in front of her children by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Aside from those remarkable feats, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey famously slapped the UK's Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, in the face when he incorrectly asserted in the House of Commons that the paratroopers had fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.

An extraordinary woman who continues to live an extraordinary life.

This footage alone is worth its own documentary.


Clip via AP Archive

Patrick Fowler

The Dubliner was a cavalry soldier during World War I and got cut off behind enemy lines.

Miraculously, he spent five months wandering in the woods until a French man noticed him and gave him shelter.

For four years, Fowler lived in a cupboard while hiding from German troops.

Alex Higgins in 1990

The Hurricane is still one of the finest sportsmen this island has ever produced. Simply put, the 1972 and 1982 World Champion was a maverick who became known as the 'People's Champion' because of his popularity and style of play.

Temperamental, unpredictable and supremely talented, he revolutionised the sport of snooker and while the BBC have already made a feature on his life as a whole, 1990 was an extraordinary year for 'The Hurricane'.

At the 1990 World Championship, after losing his first-round match to Steve James, he punched tournament official Colin Randle in the stomach before the start of a press conference at which he announced his retirement. He proceeded to abuse the media as he left.

This followed another incident at the World Cup, where he repeatedly argued with fellow player and compatriot Dennis Taylor and threatened to have him shot. For his conduct, Higgins was banned for the rest of the season and all of the next.

Higgins and Taylor buried the hatchet later on, but this period of his life was extraordinary.

Irish documentaries

Violet Gibson

Born in Dublin, the daughter of Lord Ashbourne attempted to assassinate Benito Mussolini in 1926.

She managed to get one blast off, but Mussolini moved his head at that moment and the shot hit his nose. She tried again, but the gun misfired.

Colonel Thomas Blood

Only once in history has anyone ever stolen the Crown Jewels of England and, wouldn’t you know it, it was an Irishman. In broad daylight on 9 May, 1671, the Meath-born daredevil and adventurer tried to steal the jewels.

Unfortunately, he was caught but not before he got away with a crown, a sceptre and an orb.

However, King Charles II was so impressed that Blood was pardoned and rewarded with a large annuity. It has been suggested that Blood was treated leniently because he was a government spy. Ever since this incident, the Jewels have been protected by armed guards.

 27 August, 1979

Four people, including Lord Mountbatten, were murdered when a boat was blown up by the IRA off the coast of Sligo.

Later that day, an IRA bomb attack killed 18 British soldiers and a civilian in Warrenpoint in Down. It was the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles.

Irish documentaries

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty

During World War II, O'Flaherty was responsible for saving over 6,500 Allied soldiers and Jewish civilians from the Gestapo, where discovery would have spelled certain death.

Born in Cork and raised in Kerry, Hugh O’Flaherty was awarded the highest honours, including a Commander of the British Empire, the Congressional Medal of Freedom and was the first Irishman named Notary of the Holy Office.

Terence MacSwiney

Playwright, author and politician.

MacSwiney was elected as Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence in 1920. He was arrested by the British Government on charges of sedition and imprisoned in Brixton Prison.

His death in prison after 74 days on hunger strike brought him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.

A man of immense historical importance to Munster and Ireland.

Irish documentaries

Ben Dunne in Florida

The former Dunnes Stores chief survived a kidnapping by the IRA, became embroiled in bribery scandals and has been arrested for cocaine possession and solicitation of a prostitute.

His visit to Florida in 1992 rocked the world of Irish business and politics. A standalone feature on that trip alone would be extremely interesting.

Michael Collins series

Brendan Gleeson played him in The Treaty, Neil Jordan's film is still beloved despite questions over historical accuracy, John Creedon made Michael Collins’ Last Day and Colllins has been pivotal in countless other documentaries about Irish history.

However, Charles Haughey was the subject of a four-part mini-series, as was Bertie Ahern.

We'd love to see the life of 'The Big Fellow' being given a lengthy series too - just like the BBC's recent Spotlight series on The Troubles. To be honest, the breadth of the topics that could be examined is endless.

War of Independence

Constance Markievicz

Politician, revolutionary, nationalist, suffragist, socialist, the first woman elected to Westminster as well as being elected Minister for Labour in the First Dáil, becoming the first female cabinet minister in Europe.

In 1911, she threw gravel at police and burned the giant Union Jack at Leinster House. Her family and society friends were appalled. From the basement of Liberty Hall during the 1913 Dublin lockout, she ran a soup kitchen, selling her jewellery and taking out loans to keep it going.

"Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank, and buy a revolver," are her famous words.

An extraordinary life.

The Blueshirts

The failure of the Army Comrades Association (ACA), later named the National Guard and better known by the nickname 'The Blueshirts,' hasn't been the subject of a TV documentary yet, at least not one we're aware of.

Their plans to hold a parade in Dublin in August 1933 is arguably the most interesting period in their history.

The parade was to proceed to Glasnevin Cemetery, stopping briefly on Leinster lawn in front of the Irish parliament, where speeches were to be held. The goal of the parade was to commemorate Irish leaders Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and Kevin O'Higgins.

The Blueshirts also adopted elements of European fascism, such as the straight-arm salute, uniforms and large rallies.

However, the government banned the parade on the grounds that they feared a coup d'état, similar to Mussolini's March on Rome. In response to the banning of the National Guard, Cumann na nGaedheal and the National Centre Party merged to form a new party, Fine Gael.

Irish documentaries

9 March, 1932

The first ever change of government in the Irish Free State took place on this day and the majority of people wondered if Ireland would pass its first true test of democracy.

Could the men who won a civil war only a decade earlier hand over power to their opponents?

Various reports claim that a number of Fianna Fail TDs had guns in their pockets. However, the feared coup d’etat did not take place.

WT Cosgrave adhered to the principles of democracy that he had practised while in government. A very important day in the history of Irish politics and civil decorum.

Sinead O'Connor and The Pope

On 3 October 1992, the singer appeared on Saturday Night Live as a musical guest.

Her performance of Bob Marley's 'War' was intended as a protest against the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church.

Moments later, she ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II while singing the word "evil". The singer was absolutely vilified for her actions.

Nine years later, Pope John Paul II acknowledged the sexual abuses that were regularly occurring within the Catholic Church.

Irish documentaries

The IRA attack Margaret Thatcher by bombing the Grand Hotel, Brighton

On 12 October, 1984, a long-delay time bomb was planted in the Grand Hotel by IRA member Patrick Magee, with the purpose of killing Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet, who were staying at the hotel for the Tory conference.

The blast badly damaged Thatcher's suite's bathroom, but left its sitting room and bedroom untouched. Thatcher and her husband Denis escaped injury.

Patrick Magee was found guilty of planting the bomb and of five counts of murder - he received eight life sentences - but was released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

After the attack, the IRA claimed responsibility in a statement that read: "Mrs. Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it. Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war."

The next day, Thatcher replied, saying: "That is the scale of the outrage in which we have all shared, and the fact that we are gathered here now — shocked, but composed and determined — is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail."

Michelle Smith

Doesn't it feel a bit strange that the trials and tribulations of Michelle Smith at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 haven't been turned into a documentary already?

Smith won three gold medals and a bronze medal at those Olympics, but those achievements have since been tarnished by allegations of doping which were never proven. Smith (Michelle de Bruin by marriage) was banned for four years in 1998 for tampering with a urine sample, a ban which effectively ended her swimming career.

Irish documentaries

William Melville

The Kerryman was the First Head of MI5.

In 1882, he was chosen to be one of the founding members of the Special Irish Branch founded to work against Fenians and anarchists.  The Irishman is believed to have been part of the “blueprint” for the character ‘M’ in the James Bond series.

Helen O’Carroll, a researcher at the Kerry County Museum, said Melville was “an Irish Catholic, who was proud of his Irish identity, defending Britain from terrorist threats that included Irish terrorism.”

The Belfast Blitz

It's arguable that 'The Blitz' on mainland Britain is more well known and documented, but Ireland suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe too.

The Belfast Blitz consisted of four German air raids on strategic targets in the city of Belfast in April and May 1941 during World War II, causing high casualties.

A change of leadership and a power vacuum in Northern Ireland didn't help the preparations as Belfast came under heavy fire.

Ultimately, over 900 people were killed and 1,500 people were injured.

Irish documentaries

The pints protest

In the early 1970s, Dublin pubs legally refused to serve women pints of beer unless they were accompanied by a male chaperone. Pints were considered to be 'unladylike'.

In protest over this legislation, Nell McCafferty led a group of 30 women who each ordered 30 brandies in a pub. They then ordered a pint and, when refused, drank the brandies and refused to pay, claiming their order had not been fulfilled.

A small act of civil disobedience that had a seismic impact in terms of advancing women’s rights.

This was the start of a number of protests by the Irish women’s liberation movement, including when 49 Irish women challenged the ban on the importation and sale of contraception by personally importing condoms via the Belfast to Dublin ‘contraception train.'

We haven't even mentioned the scope and interest in the likes of Jim Larkin, James Connolly, John Redmond, Rosie Hackett, William Coman, Charles Stewart Parnell, Sean Lemass, Gerry Adams and more.