“YOU can be anything, Dave,” Gerard O’Mahony told his young son. His son chose to be the comedian Dave Allen, who, as a self-described practising atheist, always signed off his show with a cheery “Thank you, good night, and may your God go with you.”
He had a Roman Catholic education, and thrived on mocking religion. Roman Catholic viewers boycotted his show after he depicted the Pope doing a striptease, and children were told that they would go to hell for laughing at his jokes — although, when offered a 7 p.m. show, he protested that his material was for adults.
All this emerged in the drama Dave Allen at Peace, and the documentary that followed, Dave Allen: God’s own comedian (BBC2, Easter Monday). Stephen Russell’s drama began with a bullying nun caning the five-year-old Dave for wetting his pants. “Stuff you to the nuns, the priests, and the poverty,” was the toast as he embarked on his showbiz career.
But his wife, Karin, believed that Allen had respect for religion. “He just didn’t like brainwashing and prescribed guilt,” she said.
The likeable Irish comedian Patrick Kielty was 16 when his Roman Catholic father was shot by three paramilitary gunmen in 1988. They were among the 500 convicted men freed from prison under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Kielty has never felt able to forgive them, and is keenly interested in whether people in Northern Ireland can truly move on from the past. In My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me (BBC1, Wednesday of last week) he travelled through the country to assess the legacy of the Agreement.
He used his friendly, guileless manner to get answers from the likes of Billy Hutchinson, who served 16 years for the murder of two RC workmen and is now leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). Yes, things had moved on now, Billy considered. So, why did warlike murals still dominate the landscape, Kielty persisted?
A former IRA man admitted that there were things that did not “sit comfortably”, but was proud of what he had done, and thought that the Agreement was a staging-post towards a united Ireland.
Most remarkable was Kielty’s encounter with Richard Moore, blinded by a rubber bullet on Bloody Sunday at the age of ten. He later befriended the British soldier who had shot him. Forgiveness allowed you to let go, he told Kielty: “You have to move on in your own head, and try to build a better future.”
The then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, believed that real peace was impossible without reconciliation. The programme revealed that she had said to the parties in exasperation, “For fuck’s sake, can’t you just sort it out?”