Award winning journalist revisits Strabane for new film

Journalist Peter Taylor pictured in Strabane.

AWARD winning British journalist Peter Taylor has returned to Strabane this week, 44 years on from a poignant film he made about the town.

With Britain utterly bewildered and horrified by the 1,000 deaths in the early years of the Troubles, the documentary maker chose Strabane as the subject for an extended report into the devastating impact of the conflict for ITV’s ‘This Week’ programme.

‘Remember Strabane’ examined the violence, deaths and to a large extent the economic carnage of the Provisional IRA’s early bombing campaign.

The shocking footage profiled the remnants of a campaign that saw 200 bombs rip through the town in less than five years.

“For a place its size, it has suffered more than any other community in Northern Ireland,” Taylor told the British audience in 1974.

Back in the town more than four decades on for BBC Newsnight, the journalist has been motivated once again to inform a broad British audience of the impact places like Strabane face in the wake of Brexit.

“Really we’re looking at what Strabane was like and the risks if there is a hard border.”

Peter Taylor interviews Strabane Chamber of Commerce president Martin Gallen. DR11

Although he concedes a hard border is unlikely – “because nobody wants it” – he maintains that the risk remains. “The risks are that it might reopen the old wounds and take us back to those dark days from which all of us came.

“Really Strabane is a microcosm, a reminder of what the Troubles meant to a small community, but also what they meant to the community at large outside of Strabane,” he said.

Introduced to the North in the wake of Bloody Sunday, Peter Taylor went on to produce a string of films and books on political violence over the decades, including the trilogy ‘Provos: The IRA and Sinn Féin’, ‘Loyalists’ and ‘Brits: The War against the IRA’.

Among those he interviewed in 1974 was the mother of Eamonn McDevitt (28), shot dead by British soldiers in 1971, and the widow of William Bogle (27), a UDR member shot dead in front of his wife and three children in Killeter in 1972.

Taylor and his crew also captured a dramatic gun battle on the Lifford bridge, while aerial footage catalogued the extent of the bomb damage to the town centre.

The journalist suggested that a hard border could see dissident republicans similarly attempting to target any potential physical infrastructure at the border post-Brexit in order to galvanise support.

“The dissidents only have pockets of support, but you don’t need that big a support base to do what dissidents and other organisations can do. So there’s still a threat,” he said.

Local traders also featured heavily in 1974, with the film including the wry local graffiti warning shoppers to ‘shop fast while shops last’.

Back in the town centre this week chatting with traders including Martin Gallen, the president of Strabane’s Chamber of Commerce, the topic is no longer bombs and bullets, but Brexit.

Reflecting on how the town has modernised, Peter Taylor noted, “It has been rebuilt and is far more prosperous than what it was. 
But also, what strikes you is the retail park, which is just like the retail park in any other British town or city, with all the familiar names. That’s part of the new Strabane.”

But the journalist said in the age of Brexit, Strabane and the surrounding area represents – as it did during the early years of the Troubles – a microcosm for the key issues.

“We’re looking at what it was like then, what it is like now and the need to make sure that we don’t return to the past. Strabane epitomises all those things, both then and now.”

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