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Bird's Nally show fails to fly

padraic Nally: after the headlines (rte2)

A CHARLIE Bird documentary is like Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. His tribute to Arctic explorer Tom Crean turned out to be as much a paean to his own physical suffering as anything else.

His two-part film about his short-lived term as RTE's Washington correspondent was an embarrassing landmark in monumental self-pity. And the less said the better about last year's bizarre Election Nation, an attempt to take the public pulse that mutated into an extended meet-and-greet featuring Bird and his fans.

While not quite as rampantly egotistical as any of Bird's previous efforts -- largely, I imagine, because of the constraints of the subject matter -- Padraic Nally: After the Headlines was a strangely fractured film, not without its moments of self-indulgence, with Bird seemingly positioning himself somewhere between Louis Theroux and Paddy O'Gorman.

"This is my journey to meet Padraic Nally," announced Bird, elegantly bearded these days, over images of himself catching his train and then poring over old newspaper accounts of the case of the Mayo farmer who shot dead an intruder, Traveller John Ward, but had his conviction for manslaughter quashed on appeal and walked free, having served 11 months of his original six-year sentence.

Prior to completing his journey, however, Bird stopped off for a lengthy chat with Tuam Town councillor Owen Ward and former mayor Martin Ward. Neither man is related to John Ward, and while both spoke eloquently -- and with sympathy for both sides -- about the divisive effect of the case on public opinion and the crucial role played by the media coverage, this whole section of the film felt like an unnecessary diversion from the business in hand.

Fifteen minutes in, Bird finally came face to face with Nally at his farm. What he found was a man who's still living in the same isolated state he was at the time of the shooting. No neighbours nearby; no mobile; not even a house phone, and the nearest garda station 25 miles away. "I was happy until events changed. I'm on edge now. It's panicky, it's severe." While he's not unrepentant exactly, Nally's world view appears unchanged. He's also unimpressed with new legislation empowering people to use reasonable force to defend their property and their lives.

"You're told that you can stand your ground in your own home," he said, "but then they tell you, 'Run out the back door if you hear them coming'. The law is changed but it's not changed for the burglar."

"He's a difficult person to read," said Bird, "and comes across as someone who plays to being underestimated." To this viewer at least, Nally came across as something more basic: a worried, lonely, confused man, set in his ways, who's constantly in fear that something similar might occur again.

Bird's interviewing technique was repetitive and rarely got beyond stoking this fear. "Are you not happy anymore?" he asked, before promptly answering himself: "You're on edge now, all the time." There was an uneasy sense that Bird was edging Nally towards an answer to a question being asked obliquely: If the same thing were to happen again, would you pull that trigger?

When he wasn't doing this, he was mildly patronising Nally. "Have you ever been abroad?" "Have you ever been on an aeroplane?" "Would you like to have married?" "What would you like to be remembered for -- surely you'd like to be remembered for something?"

And most absurdly of all, "Did you consider yourself a bit of a celebrity?" "People look on me like that, but I don't see why," replied Nally. "That's their view and they're entitled to it." It was an eminently sensible answer to an eminently silly question.

The film ended with Bird, standing under an umbrella in the rain by the grave of John Ward, concluding that Nally is "a relic of a bygone age" living his life parallel to the changing world.

Maybe he's not the only one.

padraic Nally: after the headlines HHIII