Peter Taylor: Ireland After Partition

Photograph: BBC
Rating 8.2
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 1 x 60 mins

This film was made to mark one hundred years since the partition of Ireland, with the award-winning reporter Peter Taylor reflecting on the programmes he has made documenting the contentious idea of a united Ireland.

And we see what that might have looked like in some of the footage Taylor shot almost 50 years ago – he filmed six protestant and six catholic children in their respective homes, understanding their opposing positions before bringing them together to cross the Irish Sea into Wales. On their way, they each sang their opposing songs about bloody battles and defeating the other, then are seen on arrival in Wales playing peacefully together in a pond. The footage sits in stark contrast to the other shots we see of a war-torn Belfast, with near constant gunfire and homes and community buildings destroyed.

This is a deeply personal film to Taylor who has spent most of his career trying to further understand Ireland’s conflict, and he provides fascinating insight into the history of the country, along with enlightening interviews with people on either side. We also see fascinating footage of Taylor interviewing the MI6 agents who were secretly meeting with the IRA, having talks which would ultimately lead to peace. A few major moments – Bloody Sunday being the most obvious – aren’t included in the film, but it still remains an informative and utterly watchable hour of TV.

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And it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time, as the delicate peace enacted by the 1998 Good Friday agreement is tested by negotiations over the EU single market stemming from Brexit. However, Taylor himself professes his belief that within a few years, the loyalists will be outnumbered, admitting that he believes that there may one day be a united Ireland.

The subject of Ireland, the troubles and the prospect of the country uniting has always been a contentious one, and this documentary broaches the subject with compassion and insight, providing an interesting history not just on Ireland, but on Peter Taylor’s impressive career as an Englishman documenting the country’s sectarian division and its fallout.

In The Guardian, Stuart Jeffries calls this film “fascinating,” but admits he wishes “Taylor had caught up with… any of those little boys and girls who enjoyed that Welsh idyll a lifetime ago. What would they have made of the Troubles and the fragile peace that has shadowed their lives? Did they ever meet again? Could they live together happily in a united Ireland? It is possible, but I doubt it.”

First shown June 2021.

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