Bernadette Devlin McAliskey versus William F. Buckley Jr.

I thought some of my political anoraks might be interested in this appearance by a young Bernadette Devlin McAliskey on Firing Line, the long-running American current affairs program hosted by conservative journalist and writer William F Buckley from the mid-1960s to the late 90s Jr. This episode was recorded in a television studio in London in March 1972, just weeks after the British Army carried out a murderous attack on a civil rights demonstration in the city of Derry. She features challenging answers and questions from the then 25-year-old working-class Tyrone woman to the condescending interview conducted by the wealthy upper-class New Yorker.

Of course, throughout his career, the well-traveled Buckley remained the embodiment of that caste of Anglophile intellectuals in the United States who preferred to look at the Irish through partisan British eyes. A view that is aptly reflected in the explicitly racist contributions of another guest on the show, future Conservative Party politician Roger Evans, when he tried to ingratiate himself with the American host while he was McAliskey – and the inferior non-Anglo-Saxon residents Ireland’s – Offended In General. While the latter spectacle will likely cause your skin to crawl, the ethno-classical nature goes well with Buckley’s own WASP Patrician Act, not to mention the ignorant incidents that British journalist Peter Riddell * also threw on McAliskey.


* Note: Riddell had at least the wits and humanity to be a little more nuanced in his formerly venomous views on the Irish-British conflict which he wrote in 2003:

If we English were to bear the cost of the “colonial past” in terms of lost and shattered lives and livelihoods, we would be forced to seek forgiveness from those who suffer and seek ways to serve them. It would be both an appropriate response to our past and an inspiring way forward that lays a foundation for partnering with some who currently view us as their enemy.

We should also ask ourselves whether we are maintaining any attitudes that led to brutal actions in earlier times. Not so long ago, I argued with an Irishman that over the centuries England had no choice but to occupy Ireland to ensure its own safety. “What about Irish security?” was all he had to ask to shock me at my Anglo-centric point of view!

And what about our relationship with those who were instruments of our rule, the Protestants in Northern Ireland? It was fortunate for us that they were ready to settle in Ireland three hundred years ago. Now it seems our convenience dictates that they give up their British identity and privileged status.

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