The Funeral Murders, broadcast on BBC Two earlier this week, made for grim, compulsive viewing. Film-maker Vanessa Engle pieced together the events that took place in Belfast and abroad in March 1988 – an appallingly savage burst of violence, even by the bloodthirsty standards of the Troubles.
After the killing of three members of the Provisional IRA by the British Army in Gibraltar, Loyalist terrorist Michael Stone launched a gun and grenade attack on the trio’s funeral which left a further three people dead and 60 wounded. At the obsequies of one of those killed by Stone, two British soldiers drove towards the crowd of mourners. They were dragged out of their car, beaten and summarily executed.
Engle uses archive footage and interviews with people from all sides to tell the story. We hear from former IRA and Loyalist terrorists, and family members of those killed (some speaking publicly for the first time). The point of view of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Army is also voiced, from the rank and file to top brass. We hear briefly from Gerry Adams, and Engle even manages to speak to one of the funeral directors who administered the ceremony that Stone attacked.
Towards the end, one of the Republicans notes that a “war of the narratives” is still going on, and urges the film-maker, and by extension the viewer, not to take anyone’s recollections as the gospel truth. While listening to the conflicting memories and conspiracy theories, and seeing the damage to individuals these incidents have wrought, that seems like very sage advice.
If you’ve got access to Amazon Prime and, like me, find yourself transfixed by this recent history despite its hideousness, then it’s worth seeking out Alex Gibney’s excellent No Stone Unturned. Like The Funeral Murders, it’s an unflinching account of a stand-out moment of barbarity in Northern Ireland’s civil war – when Loyalist gunmen burst into a pub frequented by Catholics and shot dead six people who were watching the Republic of Ireland play in a World Cup match.
Both of these films, and the current Brexit-related wranglings over the border, remind us that in Northern Ireland the Troubles may be over, but division endures.
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