TV review: Miriam O'Callaghan hears personal experiences of a century of the border

Darach MacDonald and Miriam O'Callaghan stand at either side of the border
Billy Foley

Border Lives, RTE 1, Monday

TRYING to explain Northern Ireland to a predominantly southern audience has always been a difficult exercise.

Nuala O’Faolain’s effort for The Irish Times in the peace process years of the late '90s was widely regarded as having been a failure.

She was criticised for being partitionist while at the same time struggled to explain some of the subtler cultural differences created by the then almost 80 years of partition.

As part of RTÉ’s centenaries coverage, veteran reporter and presenter Miriam O’Callaghan set out to give the viewer some similar insights into how the border has affected lives on either side of it.

Unlike documentaries dealing with the chronological history of the period, encapsulating the breath of experiences and the effects of partition on individuals is difficult in an hour of television.

O’Callaghan focused on a number of specific areas. Families whose lives were changed by a new line in the map through, or at either side, of their land. The differences in experience north and south in the years of the Second World War, with the UK fighting the Nazis and the south officially neutral. And the economic advantages of Northern Ireland until the Republic’s economy began to outgrow it in the 1990s.

Author Darach MacDonald showed us around his home town of Clones in Co Monaghan. His grandmother's house was divided in two by the border, he explained, so she went to bed "with her head in the Free State, and her backside in the north".

In another part of Monaghan, Angela Graham told how her family felt “forgotten about” by the British government at the time of partition.

A proud “Ulster Protestant”, she recalled walking with her mother as a child and when she asked about the abandoned houses of her Protestant neighbours, being told that they had all left.

Perhaps the most remarkable story was that of Billy Kohner, who came to Northern Ireland when his Jewish family were given refugee status to escape the Nazi death camps in their native Czechoslovakia.

O’Callaghan reflects on a “shameful” period in Irish history with Dublin reluctant to take in Jewish refugees, noting that the Irish government took just 100 while the UK accepted 10,000.

Mr Kohner, whose family is eternally grateful to the north, tells a story about when his mother was giving a school talk about the holocaust and when asked how she “liked living in Northern Ireland”, replied simply that “she liked living”.

Border Lives is an important contribution to a whole series of television productions which try to explain the history of this island and its people.


GB News

Even in the mid-200s on the Freeview station list, media plurality is a controversial issue.

Two weeks into Andrew Neil’s GB News experiment and the terrible sound issues are not the only issue plaguing the channel.

There’s already been a partial advertising boycott, some set changes and content issues.

The sound issues have been abysmal. Initially it was a lack of lip sync which is entirely unwatchable.

That appears to have been fixed but the sound quality remains poor and the volume levels vary between participants.

The content has been the least interesting thing. GB News set out to counter what it views as the BBC’s ‘woke leftism’ but it took me a couple of days to realise that it is an opinion format and wouldn’t cover breaking news.

When former BBC director general Tony Hall was giving evidence to a Westminster committee about Martin Bashir and Princess Diana, the BBC and Sky News streamed it live.

Remarkably, GB News ignored it for a conversation about… well, I can’t remember, it was too boring.

Media plurality is a good thing and GB News is entitled to exist alongside BBC News 24, Sky News, Al Jazeera and others, it’s just not for me.

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