Patrick Kielty is back to psychoanalyse Northern Ireland

TV review: The comedian explores the North’s centenary in One Hundred Years of Union

Patrick Kielty’s  heartfelt  film swings between optimism and despair

Patrick Kielty’s heartfelt film swings between optimism and despair

 

Alongside his work as comedian and TV presenter, Patrick Kielty has over recent years embarked on the parallel career of explaining Northern Ireland to people in Britain.

In 2018 Kielty made My Dad, The Peace Deal and Me, about the murder of his father by loyalist paramilitaries. Now, in Patrick Kielty: One Hundred Years of Union (BBC One, 9pm), he’s back to psychoanalyse the North as it marks its centenary and amid tensions over Brexit and a sea border.

As if plugging into the rhythm of politics in the North, the heartfelt and thought-provoking film swings between optimism and despair. Under the shadow of a bonfire Kielty chats with a young loyalist activist who says rioting in Belfast makes politicians in London sit up and pay attention.

He later introduces the young man to former loyalist paramilitary Jackie McDonald. He explains that a life of violence robbed him of everything: his wife, his home, his future.

Kielty, a Catholic, remarks on how extraordinary the moment is. He and McDonald began life on opposite sides of the divide. Yet here they are, older, wiser and with the scars to show for it, pleading with the new generation not to repeat the mistakes of the previous one.

Then it’s off to Derry where he talks with Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee. She moved back here so that her children would grown up in her home town. She believes Derry Girls became a success because it plugged into the psychodrama of the North in a healthy way. “It allowed people to walk about the weirdness of it all,” she says.

Kielty affects a causal jocularity in these and other encounters. Yet the escalating tensions clearly affect him deeply. And they bring back the unprocessed traumas around the shooting dead 36 years ago of his father, a builder in the Co Down town of Dundrum.

“I don’t deal with it as well as I thought I did,” he says, choking up. “You don’t need much of a trigger here.”

One Hundred Years of Union reaches a cathartic endpoint as Kielty meets Bronagh McConville, granddaughter of Provisional IRA victim Jean McConville. The IRA refused for decades to reveal where they had buried McConville. Her remains were in the end discovered by passersby on a beach near Carlingford, in Co Louth. Bronagh was just eight. In adulthood, the memory understandably haunts her.

The documentary concludes with Bronagh returning to that sandy County Louth shore. She and Kielty stand by the water, blinking away tears. The sun is shining. But as they gaze towards the horizon it’s hard not to feel storm clouds are gathering.