Brendan O'Carroll's Who Do You Think You Are? - 'one of the best ever episodes in the show's 10 year history'
At one point during last night’s Who Do You Think You Are?, Brendan O’Carroll said: “It’s like reading a spy story.” He wasn’t exaggerating, either — there was enough gripping material here to furnish a thriller novel.
It was an absolute cracker of an episode, not just the most compelling instalment of the current series so far, but easily one of the best in the 10 years Who Do You Think You Are? has been on the air.
The more deeply the Mrs Brown’s Boys star dug into a family tragedy that unfolded against the violent backdrop of Dublin during the War of Independence, the more his efforts to unearth the truth resembled a detective story — and a bona fide murder mystery full of intrigue, red herrings, plot twists and a search for probable suspects and motives.
The victim was O’Carroll’s paternal grandfather, Peter, who ran a hardware shop in Manor Street in Stonybatter. In 1920, Peter, who was 56 at the time, was woken in the small hours by a person or persons unknown knocking at the front door of his premises.
He pulled on his trousers and socks, went downstairs and was promptly bundled into the shop by a small group of plain clothes men and shot through the head in cold blood.
“What happened that night?” O’Carroll wondered. “Why was he shot? Who shot him? If there was a purpose to it, did they achieve their purpose? I don’t know about justice, but maybe I can get the truth.”
O’Carroll had been brought up to believe that Peter — a committed nationalist and father of four sons, three of whom were active in the IRA — had died “for Irish freedom” and that it was a “random killing” carried out by a band of drunken British soldiers (which wouldn’t have been an uncommon occurrence at a time when the city was subject to curfew and checkpoints dotted the streets). As he discovered, it wasn’t that straightforward.
Peter was executed, assassinated by professionals using a small-calibre pistol that gave off a muffled report, and died instantly. A note was pinned to his body labelling him a traitor to the cause of freedom and claiming he had been killed by the IRA.
O’Carroll doesn’t for a moment believe his grandfather was a spy for the British, not least because, as the Irish Independent of the day reported, he was honoured with a nationalist funeral attended by prominent republicans.
The only witness was Peter’s wife, Annie, who looked through the window as her husband went downstairs and saw the dark figures of two or three men outside the shop. Intriguingly, she never gave evidence in a court of law.
As O’Carroll learned, the British had basically suspended the justice system as an emergency measure. While Peter’s murder was reported in the newspapers and even raised in parliament, there was no inquest.
Annie did, however, write and deliver a letter to City Hall in which she stated her refusal to recognise the authority of the crown and claimed Peter had been murdered by the British.
O’Carroll did eventually discover the truth — and then some — and his findings packed a powerful emotional wallop. His journey to that point, meanwhile, made for an utterly riveting hour of TV.