The troubles

The power and the glory that was Belfast

What should we make of present-day Belfast and its compelling, fractious backstory? English visitors have long found the city invigorating, confusing or exasperating – often all three – but undeniably characterful. Philip Larkin, who lived there for five years in the 1950s, noted its ‘draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint/Archaic smell of dockland’ and found himself enjoying the ambiance: ‘the salt rebuff of speech/ insisting so on difference, made me welcome’. Not so Sir Reginald Maudling, on his first visit as home secretary amid the escalating sectarian insanity of 1970. He boarded the plane back to London with the words: ‘For God’s sake, bring me a large Scotch. What

Don’t prosecute Soldier F

Sometimes old grievances are best laid to rest. That was certainly the view of Tony Blair when his government issued nearly 200 ‘comfort letters’ to Irish nationalist gunmen in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement. But a decision by the Northern Ireland High Court on Wednesday will upend that principle, setting back years of compromise and reconciliation. For some time it has been all but impossible to prosecute IRA men for murders committed during the Troubles. British security forces, however, remain vulnerable, although most are now in their seventies and long retired. One, indeed, died during a trial last year, one suspects partly from the trauma of being dragged through the courts

Manipulative and sentimental but also affectionate: Belfast reviewed

After Artemis Fowl and Murder on the Orient Express you may have had concerns about Kenneth Branagh ever helming a film again — keep away, Ken, keep away! — but Belfast is plainly a different prospect. It is an autobiographical account of his earliest years growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, and it is heartfelt, warm and authentic even if it does sometimes tip into the overly sentimental and nostalgic. That said, it was good to see Omo washing powder once again. (It added ‘brightness to whiteness’, you may remember.) This presses buttons so deftly I welled up exactly as I was supposed to. Three times Branagh, who wrote

Sinn Fein’s troubling veneration of terrorists

Sinn Fein is not a normal party. It sometimes feels impolite to point it out in the era of the Belfast Agreement. But the legal amnesty from criminal charges offered to IRA terrorists as part of the peace process does not oblige individuals to abstain from moral judgement of their political wing. Especially when it continues to venerate those terrorists. The past year offered a grim reminder of this when the party’s leadership turned out in force, in the middle of lockdown, for a show of strength at the funeral of Bobby Storey, a Provisional IRA ‘volunteer’ who spent 20 years in prison for various offences. But yesterday offered an

This fabulous play is like a Chekhov classic: The One Day in the Year reviewed

The One Day In the Year is an Australian drama about the annual commemoration of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. It was written in 1958 but it could have been dashed off last week. What makes it thrillingly topical is that the personality of Churchill and the truth about Britain’s colonial past are central to the story. The main character, Alf, is a veteran of the second world war who works as a lift operator. He detests the new Australia and he calls the younger generation a ‘stink lot of imitation Yanks’. For him, Churchill is the greatest Englishman in history. But his rebellious son, Hughie, describes Britain’s wartime prime