Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Liam Neeson: Bloody Sunday made me learn my history

Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson and wife Natasha Richardson
Liam Neeson in Broadway March 19, 2009
Liam Neeson waves to journalists as he arrives with family and friends to the funeral of his wife Natasha, March 22, 2009
Natasha Richardson
Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson
Vanessa Redgrave dressed for her lead role in the film "Isadora', talks with her daughter Natasha, in 1967
Liam Neeson leaves Lenox Hill Hospital in New York
Antonio Neeson, second from right and his brother Daniel Jack Neeson, left, sons of actress Natasha Richardson leave Lenox Hill Hospital in New York
Natasha Richardson
British actress Vanessa Redgrave, center, poses with her daughters actresses Natasha Richardson, left, and Joely Richardson
Natasha Richardson
Vanessa Redgrave and her husband, film director Tony Richardson, with their first child, week-old daughter Natasha, 1963
Liam Neeson's wife Natasha Richardson
Natasha Richardson
Natasha Richardson
Natasha and Liam

Hollywood superstar Liam Neeson has told how he grew up in a religious Catholic background untouched by the Troubles.

The Ballymena actor said he was politically unaware until he went to Queen’s University and was blackballed by students protesting in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday.

And he said it was at this time he decided to start learning about Northern Ireland’s history.

In an interview with the Radio Times, conducted before the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson, Neeson and fellow Ulster actor James Nesbitt discussed the upcoming BBC drama Five Minutes Of Heaven.

In the drama Neeson plays Alistair Little, a former UVF man who was convicted of the murder of Catholic man Jim Griffin in 1975. Nesbitt plays Joe Griffin, the younger brother, who witnessed the murder.

Neeson said he had a happy upbringing within his “strong Catholic family” and despite being head boy at the predominantly Protestant Ballymena Tech, he said he was never made to feel “inferior or even different”.

However according to the star of Schindler’s List and Taken, his ignorance of the political situation in Northern Ireland changed when he went to Queen’s University for one year.

“I went to my lecture on a Monday morning and I thought it was odd that there were no other students about — there were maybe three people in the lecture,” he said.

“So I came walking out with my wee briefcase and was heading back to the halls of residence and suddenly I was surrounded by maybe 200 students all shouting ‘Scab! Scab! Scab!’ at me!

“Bloody Sunday had happened, students were boycotting lectures and I knew nothing about it.

“That’s how out of touch politically I was. It was terrifying, but it was a real awakening for me that I had better start learning about my history.”

Nesbitt said he too was unpoliticised by what was going on around him.

He recalled an incident in which his father had briefly left him and his sister in the car while he went to Ballymena town hall to get his car taxed.

Bells started ringing and a man ran out and told Nesbitt and his sister to leave the car as there was a bomb scare.

He said: “I remember us running up onto a hill and seeing my father running down the street the other way,” he said.

“A few minutes later there was this dull thud and when the smoke cleared we saw that the car next to ours had been blown up.

“You were always aware that the violence was going on and there were boys who were sucked into it, boys you’d be sitting beside in class who somehow got involved with the paramilitaries and ended up doing time for shootings or GBH.”

Five Minutes Of Heaven is aired on BBC2 on Sunday at 9pm.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that Neeson has completed filming the movie Chloe In Toronto.

The actor had been shooting the movie when he was alerted to his wife’s skiing accident in Canada.

Neeson rushed to her side in Montreal and accompanied her to a specialist hospital in New York where she passed away.

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