Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Coronation Street hardman Lawson was fascinated by Loyalist gangs

Charlie Lawson: Actor, Coronation Street

Hardman Coronation Street star Charlie Lawson has no regrets for backing loyalist paramilitaries when they brought Ulster to a standstill.

The Fermanagh-born actor, who plays Jim McDonald in the hit soap, makes no bones about his fascination with loyalists who staged the Ulster Workers Strike when he was a teenage schoolboy.

Lawson is one of a number of stars who opens up to presenter Eamonn Holmes in a one-off show examining how Ulster’s stars of today remember the Troubles.

In ‘The Troubles I’ve Seen’, screen star Jimmy Nesbitt talks about his time in loyalist flute bands while growing up on the north coast and former World Champion Barry McGuigan tells how he risked his life going onto the lower Shankill to box at the same time as the Shankill Butchers were waging their campaign of cold-blooded sectarian murder on the same streets.

And comedian Patrick Kielty talks poignantly about his dad being gunned down by the UFF 20 years ago.

Says Eamonn: “It was 40 years on from the Troubles and we wanted to commemorate that, but the way TV works these days is you need well-known people talking about things.

“It doesn’t make their stories any better or any worse than anybody else’s, it just makes them their stories.

“Some people have really suffered really quite badly, no more so than Patrick Kielty, who hasn’t talked on film about his father being assassinated before and that’s very poignant.

“You look at somebody like Patrick and he talks about his father, and there’s no amount of words that can console that.

“You can try and analyse how he tells jokes and how he can joke about a situation like this, but Patrick, funny enough, is less optimistic about the peace dividend and what it will bring.

“I don’t think he believes that we’ve all become friends overnight.”

Eamonn added: “Other people talk about their beliefs, which I find very brave because they’re in the public eye.

“For example Charlie Lawson makes no apology about his loyalist leanings and I respect him for that.

“Charlie’s an Enniskillen boy who led a privileged lifestyle and was from a very good family.

“Yet he had this great fascination and attraction with the loyalist paramilitaries, which were just down the road on the Newtownards Road, and he was a great supporter of the Ulster Workers Council strike and all that sort of thing.

“That’s fantastic, I think it’s quite brave because so many people in the public eye want to appear neutral on things.

“And Jimmy Nesbitt talks about his time in flute bands and the Orange bands and things like that and how that to him was his life, and he has no apologies to make about that.”

Boxing legend Barry McGuigan reveals in the film how he diced with death, going into hardline loyalist areas to box.

Said Eamonn: “Barry was fighting behind the lines as it were.

“He would go into the lower Shankill at the time of the Shankill Butcher murders and he would fight there. He would go into the ring without an emblem or anything as an amateur and he was respected as a pugilist.

“It was quite funny and strange to see how that was deemed to be honourable and OK.

“Even though he trained at the Holy Family gym on the New Lodge Road he would do exhibitions in the lower Shankill and, funny enough, even though he lived by his fists he was respected for it and given safe passage through it all.”

News anchor Andrea Catherwood and television presenter Gloria Hunniford also speak about their memories of the Troubles during the hour-long documentary.

The Troubles I’ve Seen, UTV, Tuesday 10.40pm

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