Ransom ’79: film review

Ransom ’79 (dir. Colm Quinn, 2024) is the story of Charlie Bird working on his final documentary, about a demand to extort £5 million from the government or foot-and-mouth disease would be unleashed into the south of Ireland, back in 1979. This is a true crime story, that remained covered up for decades, just like the Magdalene Laundries, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the Stardust fire, where 48 young people died.

According to the preview by Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema, Ransom ’79 is “the story of a legendary reporter and his determination to break one final story before his life is cut short by Motor Neurone Disease”. The disease has already taken Charlie’s voice. But he can still do interviews using a voice app on his iPad and, even as his strength falters, he keeps chasing the story.

The audience are shown a brief history of events from Ireland fifty years ago, when Civil Rights protesters were brutally attacked by the RUC, and the burning of the the British embassy after the Bloody Sunday killing in Derry, along with news reports about bank raids across the state.

A good example of this was the arrest of four people including Padraig Dwyer, in a failed attempt to raid the Munster and Leinster Bank at Ballyfermot by the left-wing Republican organisation Saor Éire. Roughly a dozen meticulously-planned bank raids were attributed to and claimed by this group.

More significantly, there’s a photograph of Charlie with Tariq Ali giving the clenched fist salute at the funeral of Peter Graham in Dean’s Grange cemetery in October 1971. News of Peter Graham’s assassination was greeted with shock by Charlie as they had worked together in the Dublin Young Socialists and it came as a surprise about his activities in relation to Saor Éire.

When Charlie’s health begins to deteriorate he calls in the help of journalist Colin Murphy whom he had worked with before. They begin to join the series of events together from interviews conduced with leading politicians, Garda and political activists. What’s more, a breakthrough comes when the names Padraig Dwyer, Patrick McCann and Saor Éire are mentioned.

In a tragic turn of events, as they were in need of cash, they waited for a £5 million payoff that was never going to happen. Two Gardaí were shot dead In a failed bank robbery in Ballaghaderreen on 7th July 1980 by three armed men, including Patrick McCann.

It’s incredible watching Charlie Bird with the passion of a young man as he works
with a sparkle in his eyes, telling a vibrant story.