Although the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland officially ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, it doesn’t mean life suddenly improved overnight. Whilst Belfast is trying to re-brand itself as a tourist destination, much of the province has fared far worse. Derry, a city in the heart of the violence, is still reeling from that period. Suicide rates have shot-up, whilst unemployment, teenage alcoholism and drug abuse are all much higher than the UK average. The armed struggle gave many a sense of purpose. When that disappeared, there was little or nothing to take its place. However, the paramilitary groups didn’t simply just disband.
When writer/director Sinéad O’Shea heard a story about a mother taking her son to be shot, she embarked on a journey which would end up lasting the next five years of her life. In her documentary A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot, O’Shea follows the fortunes of the O’Donnell family. It all began with a visit to Derry to visit Majella O’Donnell (the mother) and her eldest Philly (the son). This led to her meeting former IRA member and Derry Councillor Hugh Brady and the work he does within the community. These form the focal points of the film.
A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot is a powerful and disturbing film. It’s a documentary you need to approach with the full knowledge that there are no easy answers. Everyone involved comes across, to different degrees, as unreliable narrators. It’s almost impossible to tell what the actual truth is. However, the fact remains that the titular event happened and that it’s considered acceptable within the community. It’s a gloomy portrait of a city seemingly left behind by the Northern Irish political class. A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot is a fascinating and troubling documentary which couldn’t be more timely given the current political climate in Westminster.