RTE Television

A Lost Son

Eoin MacNeill was one of the founding fathers of the Irish Free State. With Collins, Griffiths, and WT Cosgrave he grasped the chance the Treaty offered to build a new Ireland. But even at its inception this newly independent state was divided against itself. Where MacNeill saw freedom, republicans saw sell-out and surrender.

Ireland descended into civil war. As Eoin MacNeill sat in cabinet directing this war, his own son, Brian, was fighting to destroy the new state.

For Brian MacNeill, the war would end with his death in Sligo - at the hands of the army directed by his father.

Brian's death cast a long shadow over the MacNeill family. The controversial circumstances of his killing were too painful to examine. 90 years on Brian's nephew, Michael McDowell, goes on a journey to discover what happened that day in September 1922. Did Brian and his five comrades really die in an ambush, as the official version goes, or were they murdered in cold blood by Free State troops? And why was Brian MacNeill, the son of a minister in the Free State government, fighting on the Republican side? What were the forces, events and ideologies that drove him and other Irish men to take up arms against their former comrades - and in Brian's case, members of his own family?

Filmed in Sligo and Dublin, the documentary follows Michael's investigation. Piecing together accounts from the military archives, IRA papers, interviews with descendants, and family letters, Michael paints a compelling picture of a family divided and a country riven apart. At its core is the story of Brian MacNeill, the brilliant young medical student whose death goes to the heart of one of Ireland's greatest historical traumas.

A Lost Son
  • RTÉ One, Monday, 9.35pm