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Robert Kee: Ireland – A Television History – Part 10 of 13 – ‘Civil War 1921-1923’


BBC 1980

Robert Kee (1919-2013) was already a veteran British broadcaster, writer, historian and journalist when his 1980 thirteen part series ‘Ireland: A Television History’ was first broadcast in Ireland and Britain.

The series was highly acclaimed as Kee followed Ireland’s complex history through the island’s development from pre-Christian times, to various uprisings down the centuries, explains the famine of 1845, the 1916 Rising, Independence and up to the late 1970s, with a specific emphasis on the creation of the modern independent republic and the roots of the Troubles. More importantly, the series presented many British viewers with their first detailed insight into the history of Irish politics, especially the issues surrounding sovereignty and identity in Northern Ireland. It could also be argued that the series did much the same for many Irish viewers too.

The series proved unexpectedly timely, since its broadcast coincided with increased tensions in Northern Ireland and the start of the IRA hunger strikes in the Maze prison which catapulted Irish history back into the heart of British politics. It also scored a notable coup when the Republic of Ireland broadcaster and co-producer RTE screened the last two episodes uncut, despite the fact that they contained statements from organisations banned in that country. Kee’s aim, however, was not to spark debate amongst historians and politicians but to inform an audience that was largely ignorant of Ireland’s past and its bearing on present events. Kee also managed to capture for posterity, first hand video testimony from many participants from the Easter Rising and War of Independence onwards.

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