Do wars really end? A Mother Brings Her Son to be Shot (Sinead O’Shea)
by Allan LEONARD
19 April 2018
A Mother Brings Her Son to be Shot, a film directed by Sinead O’Shea and screened at the Belfast Film Festival at the Queen’s Film Theatre, is a story about Philip O’Donnell Jr and his world around him, in supposedly post-conflict Northern Ireland.
For the film takes place in Derry/Londonderry, and more specifically, the Creggan housing estate area, where tension remains between dissident republicans and those who once belonged or were associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. O’Shea later made clear that she doesn’t propose that this film is about the city, but one could argue that it is a metaphor for unresolved trauma.
From mother Majella’s account, early on we learned how she drove her son to a “shooting appointment”, where Philip Jr received two bullet wounds to his knees; bullet fragments remained in one. Sharp-mouthed younger sibling Kevin Barry argues with his mum about the calibre of the bullets.
Philip Jr is exiled to Belfast, while local community mediators consult on his likely fate.
O’Shea interviews Gary Donnelly, of the 32 County Sovereignty Group, which describes itself as a “political pressure group” (the USA defines it as an association of a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (Real IRA)). We are also introduced to Hugh Brady and Darren O’Reilly, who both work at the Rosemount Community Centre.
O’Reilly provided an insight into how the abnormal becomes the normal. After someone is shot, instead of a reaction of horror, the usual response is, “What was he shot for?”
Philip Jr returns to his hometown city, but struggles. He has nightmares of men in balaclavas. He is angry at what he sees as the hypocrisy of those purporting to protect the streets from drug dealing.
He considered suicide.
“But I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of hanging myself. And for my wee brother,” Philip Jr explains.
The fact is revealed that the suicide rate has doubled since the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. And as many people have died since by suicide as were killed during the Troubles.
A scene shows a patrol of a neighbourhood by half a dozen masked paramilitary men. The Belfast audience responded with laughter. Then Brady is told that the sister of Andrew Allen, murdered by dissident republicans, witnessed this show of force; Brady immediately goes to her to apologise for not knowing that she might see this. For her, this episode brought back the trauma.
The most shocking moment was probably when Kevin Barry, now five years older, aged 16, said, “I want the Troubles back.” O’Shea asked him to confirm this. “Oh yeah, the madness, the riots,” he replied.
After the screening, Declan Lawn moderated a question-and-answer session with the audience. He began with his own thoughts about the damage revealed in the participants, with the passage of time as a form of tragedy itself.
O’Shea replied, “Yes, a whole community is still at war. It’s a form of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). You see that both [Brady] and [Philip Jr] take four years to get over their incidents; I think it takes a very long time to get over any kind of trauma.”
Furthermore, she described the peace process as “just that — an ongoing process”, and one where there remains so much distrust in certain communities, where one gesture can set back community relations by years. But O’Shea sees this as another element of PTSD, with individuals and a whole community continuing to live the trauma.
Several audience members suggested that the BBC should air this film as it is “a salient and relevant piece of work”. The fact is that A Mother Brings her Son to be Shot received no funding from the BBC or any other UK organisation. O’Shea replied with her astonishment at how the British Government “disregards these communities”.
In a similar regard, Paul Smyth, who has many years of experience working with young people, remarked that there is no real media coverage of loyalist “punishment shootings”. Indeed, he added, their beatings — which take longer to administer than an instant shooting — can be more torturous and traumatic and take longer to recover from.
O’Shea was inevitably asked the question all artists are asked, what is her next project? She told us that she has just finished a short film that only took her six months (not five years!) to do. She also told us that she’d like to do another documentary like this: “I do find post-conflict very interesting … so much that happens after a war officially ends.”
At the start of the film, O’Shea narrated, “Do wars really end?”
By the film’s end, we may still wonder. Yet the film, A Mother Brings her Son to be Shot, brings to our attention the complexities and challenges involved, and the need to repair the psychological damage in our community.