The U.S. premiere of Pulitzer Center grantee Callum Macrae’s The Ballymurphy Precedent screened at the E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C., on Monday, June 10, 2019. The film covers the Ballymurphy massacre, an event that occurred early in Northern Ireland’s "Troubles." In August 1971, members of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment killed 11 unarmed Catholic civilians in Belfast’s predominantly Catholic Ballymurphy neighborhood.
The Parachute Regiment gained worldwide notoriety six months later on "Bloody Sunday," for the murders of an additional 13 unarmed civilians in Derry, an event that sparked international outrage and is now seen as one of the key events leading to the emergence of the Provisional IRA.
The British government recently apologized for its role in the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, but Macrae notes that the government effectively absolved itself of full responsibility by claiming it could not have known or planned the attack. Macrae suggests that the fact the same unit was involved in another massacre in Belfast just six months earlier–at best–shows a pattern, and–at worst–something far more sinister.
History is one the central components of the film, and a substantial portion is devoted to explaining the events that occurred across Ireland from the 1920s until the 1960s that led to the massacre.
“Unless people understand what led to Ballymurphy, I don’t think you could make sense of what happened,” Macrae said after the film screening, during the Q&A session with Pulitzer Center Contributing Editor Kem Sawyer. He further explained that history not only provides necessary context, but also gives invaluable insight into the actions taken by all sides during the fighting.
The film is part of a broader campaign by the families seeking answers to what happened to their loved ones in August 1971, and Macrae hopes that it will help publicize their struggle and put pressure on the British government to reveal the truth about the massacre.
The film resonated with the audience. Father Sean McManus was resident in County Fermanagh in the western part of Northern Ireland when the massacre happened. He thanked Macrae sincerely for his efforts publicizing what he called “a declaration of war on the non-unionist, non-loyalist Catholic community” of Northern Ireland.
“It is an extraordinary film,” Fr. McManus later wrote. “Powerful, moving and beautiful—agonizingly beautiful. Not only beautifully filmed and narrated, but beautifully revealing the dignity, courage, and grace of the innocent victims’ families: their heroic determination to find and reveal the truth, without hatred or vengeance.”
The push for truth continues, but it is only the first step towards the ultimate objective, Macrae told the audience.
“The truth is difficult for all sides,” he said. But “you need to have truth before you can have justice.”