The Funeral Murders - a reminder of a troubled past

The triple funeral for the Gibraltar Three (Sean Savage, Dan McCann and Mairead Farrell) in Belfast, in March 1988
The triple funeral for the Gibraltar Three (Sean Savage, Dan McCann and Mairead Farrell) in Belfast, in March 1988

It seems hard to remember now, when security threats seem to originate from the maelstrom in the Middle East, that it wasn’t long ago we seemed to have daily reports of atrocities which came much closer to home.

During the 1970s and ’80s, barely a day went by without reports of violence in Belfast, or Londonderry, or Armagh.The Falls Road, the Shankill Road, and the Bogside were places as familiar as Coronation Street or Albert Square.

Since the mid-1990s, however, the Troubles seem to have largely faded from memory, although The Funeral Murders (BBC2, Monday, 9pm) brought them sharply back into focus to us all.

The documentary looked at a few weeks in 1988, when tensions between the Republicans and Loyalists came close to combustion.

After three IRA members were shot dead on Gibraltar by the SAS, their bodies were brought home and at the funeral –attended by huge numbers – a Loyalist paramilitary called Michael Stone attacked the mourners with grenades, killing three.

A few days later, at the funeral of one of those victims, two off-duty soldiers who blundered into the area were pulled from their car and murdered.

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Speaking to members from all sides, the programme made clear that, although the violence may have largely stopped, divisions still run deep.

Now, much of the conflict is driven by who will win the war for history – a war which rages as fiercely as ever. As one witness said: “Who’s going to be believed? Whoever shouts the loudest.”

A clear-eyed, admirably balanced programme, this was a reminder we ignore Northern Ireland at our peril, as the cracks which still divide the communities there could widen at the merest tremor.

TV moment of the week? A middle-aged couple sharing a hug in a suburban garden. Yes, Mum (BBC2, Wednesdays, 10pm) still retains the capacity to provoke laughs and tears from the seemingly mundane.

Scariest programme of the week? You can keep Reqiuem, it was Contagion! (BBC4, Thursday, 9pm), about how a new flu pandemic could spread like wildfire. I’m off to buy some anti-bacterial handwash.