Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Pete Travis (director), Paul Greengrass, Guy Hibbert (writers), Omagh (2004)

The film Omagh (2004), directed by Pete Travis and written by Paul Greengrass and Guy Hibbert, tells the story of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group and its struggle for justice and human rights.  On 15 August 1998, the Northern Irish town of Omagh was the target of a 500-pound car bomb placed by the terrorist splinter group the Real IRA, which killed 29 people and wounded hundreds.  It was the single most deadly terrorist atrocity of ‘The Troubles’, the 30-year guerrilla war fought to determine the status of Northern Ireland that cost the lives of several thousand people. 

The Real IRA was a terrorist splinter group that broke away from the Provisional IRA in order to disrupt the peace process. It failed to do so and peace did finally come to Northern Ireland.  However, by focusing on the story of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, especially the family of its leader, Michael Gallagher, the film sympathetically explored the impact of a terrorist bombing from the perspective of the innocent civilian victims.  With sympathy and compassion, the film explores a family’s horrific trauma over the loss of a loved one and their gradual recovery. 

The filmmakers used cinematic techniques associated with documentary filmmaking to give a quality of authenticity to their storytelling and to position the audience to identify with the feelings of these unfortunate, fragile yet resilient people.  In this way, the filmmakers sought to bring to life the powerful emotional dramas of the people behind the shocking headlines and graphic pictures seen on the evening news.  In this sense it could be argued that this is a film more about exploring feelings than one documenting historical events.

Importantly, by sympathetically looking at the events from the perspective of the victims of terrorism who were in the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, the film presents a critique of the realpolitik (realism) and utilitarian ethics that appeared to have influenced the major political actors involved in the intricate and delicate peace process, notably the British, Irish, and Northern Irish governments, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the Provisional IRA.  The film shows how their secret negotiations and deal-making to secure peace overrode the struggle of the families of the victims of the bombing to achieve justice.  It was perceived by these negotiating authorities that prosecuting the terrorists responsible would have upset a peace process on the verge of success after many years of being so close but yet so far.  By contrast, the film favours empathy and idealism over realism.   The film celebrates how ordinary people from socio-economically diverse backgrounds can come together and engage in political activism to fight for their rights rather than place their trust in a system whose authorities can often have other priorities. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Omagh meaning, Omagh themes, Omagh analysis, Omagh notes