Cold blooded

  • 18 October 2006
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Marú, TG4's series about well-known Irish murder cases, is invasive and cynical, says Dermot Bolger

I t's unfair, but personally I blame Cathal O'Shannon. It was he in 1994 who introduced the public to landmark Irish murders in the then innovative television series, Thou Shalt Not Kill. This took as its first case for re-enactment the infamous Green Tureen murder in 1983, when a sixteen-year-old Dublin girl, Hazel Mullen, was killed by a twenty-two-year-old foreign medical student, Shan Mohangi. This case was of huge social importance because Mohangi was found guilty of murder in his first trial and sentenced to death, thereby being instrumental in the hurried abolition of the death penalty in the intervening period before he was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter on appeal.

Social changes between 1963 and 1994 gave validity to this re-enactment, but as the genre of the televised re-enactments of Irish murders has expanded, the justification for the intrusion into private tragedies seems more tenuous. The latest series to do is Marú (TG4, Thursday, 10.30pm), which re-enacted the brutal murder in Co Meath in 1994 of Bernadette O'Neill, shot dead by her jealous and possessive fiancé when he discovered that she no longer wished him to be part of her life. Bernadette O'Neill's killing was a truly brutal act that must have left many lives shattered.

One can only feel absolute sympathy for her family, yet, having watched Marú, I cannot see the justification of it being re-enactment as televised entertainment in a graphic and almost gratuitous way.

Marú has no measured narrator like Cathal O'Shannon. Instead it has (to this viewer) a cynical narrator who walks on set and makes such bizarre remarks that at times I wondered was it an elaborate hoax. As Bernadette O'Neill is about to be shot in graphic detail in a milking shed, the narrator comments on farmers witnessing the dawn. Having extracted the maximum gore, the narrator cryptically tells us to take care and lock our doors at night. I hate to even discuss a real-life tragedy that occurred so recently, but while Thou Shalt No Kill told us how Ireland in 1963 was changed by the Green Tureen murder, Marú gave us little context to justify such an intrusive re-enactment.

As my sons live and breathe song-writing, there was great anticipation of This Note's for You (RTÉ1, Thursday, 11.15pm), the new series examining the art of song writing, presented by the excellent Tom Dunne. Visually this is fast, free-flowing and glossy, but hops about so much that it tells us little. Great songwriters like Paul Brady are interviewed, but we constantly cut away to trite comments about music by "names" like Ben Dunne and Ken Doherty. If I wanted to learn the art of snooker I would not seek Paul Brady's opinion. This Note's for You is visually stunning, but if it slowed down and focused one songwriter crafting one song we might know less but learn more.

I have enjoyed writing about television over the past two years, and hope to return to it at a future date, but circumstances and other writing commitments mean that this is my final column for Village. I would like to thank the readers who wrote to me; Vincent Browne and Sara Burke who first gave me the chance to do so and everyone else in Village who were unfailingly helpful; Dearbhla Keating and Joseph Hoban of RTÉ who were incredibly cooperative in forwarding advance tapes, and Ann Coughlan and Pauline Cronin of TVPR. I have particularly enjoyed seeing some much new Irish drama, either made by RTÉ or showcased on its Shortscreen series. Some dramas worked better than others, but all showed a willingness to tell stories for and about a society.

For now though I look forward to putting my feet up and simply staring at the television set for pleasure only. After a few weeks I may go mad and plug it back in, but I think I'll enjoy the silence for a while yet.