“Ken Loach“, the repulsive overfed bigoted bullshitting git Simon Heffer says in the Torygraph; “hates this country, yet leeches off it, using public funds to make his repulsive films. And no, I haven’t seen it, any more than I need to read Mein Kampf to know what a louse Hitler was.”
The Sun says it’s “a brutally anti-British film … designed to drag the reputation of our nation through the mud.” Strangely though, when George Monibot of the Gruniard checked, the Sun’s review was written before any advanced copies of the film were available. Hmm.
As was Ruth Dudley Edwards’ “review” in the Daily Voting Labour Gives You Cancer Mail which pronounced it “old-fashioned propaganda” and “a melange of half-truths”.
As a result of this brutal media campaign, harking back to the worst anti Irish sentiments of the 1970’s and 80’s, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, despite winning the Palm D’Or at Cannes the most coveted film prize in Europe, only opened on 35 screens nationally on it’s release in May. A complete and utter scandal which shows censorship is alive, well and thriving in Britain.
I declare an interest in this particular period of History as I was privileged to learn at the feet of perhaps the most renown and respected historian of modern Irish History, Professor Sean Connolly, Head of History at Queen’s University Belfast who was my Personal Tutor during my Under Graduate days.
Like all great teachers, he was a bit eccentric and oddly formal, always addressing us as Mr or Miss, but every single moment spent in his presence forwarded knowledge and understanding and most of all he never made a negative comment regarding opinions, provided you could justify it with evidence and thus lively debate always ensued at seminars and continued over caffeine, nicotine and alcohol long into the night which is exactly how it should be. That fervour and passion sustained me through my Degree and inspired me in my own teaching.
Only 5% of people my age went to University, a scandal by any measure and we succeeded in an elitist, Public School dominated era despite, not because of the system but in a weird way it made me feel very privileged and aware of the opportunity given to me.
Then, if you were at Uni, it was a cause of comment (and piss taking) and did set you apart. (Ooo, get you Mr. Big Shot!). But I truly knew how lucky I had been to be given this chance by my superb teachers in my North Hull school, Marist College which surprisingly had a great record of getting lads into University, five to Oxbridge in the ten years from 1976-86.
I like to pontificate on most matters, but on the Irish War of Independence I can claim some justification having pored for hours over texts and statements collected by the Institute for Peace Studies at Magee College, Derry which, courtesy of Connolly were deposited in our Uni Library making it one of the world’s best sources of original testament.
This film is Ken Loach’s masterpiece, a big call to make considering the Great Man’s body of work, but it is because it draws together all of Loach’s themes into a fantastic tale of politics, history, human motivation, philosophical issues, the old realism v idealism debate, and above all his insight into humanity and morality.
What makes a hero? You decide as there is no lecturing in Ken’s films. He and Paul Laverty tell the story, and you dear viewer can make up your own mind. Unlike the intellectual pigmies in the right wing press who have to have it spelt out to them how to think, what to believe.
Who is the hero in this film? Teddy, the hardline Republican who decides compromise is the way forward, or Damien, the callow academic politicised and galvanised by events? I don’t know… yet, if ever. So much to consider.
Here are the facts and Loach manages to get them across in the story without the lazy use of a narrator, or a character delivering a monologue which is obviously there to address the audience.
In 1917 the US entered the Great War and one of President Wilson’s 14 Points as a pre condition for intervention was that every people in Europe should have “the right to self determination”. And having seen Parliament pass the Irish Home Rule Act in 1914, despite fierce Unionist opposition, the 50,000 men who had fought for Britain in the trenches, plus those back at home, fully expected to see this implemented on the cessation of hostilities.
The 1916 Easter Rising, roundly condemned by all except the hardliners in Sinn Fein, had, however, thrown a giant spanner in the works as the British brutally martyred the rebels, thus pushing moderate opinion into the arms of the radicals. (Ring any bells?) and creating this stupid Irish myth of the “Blood Sacrifice” which was peddled by the truly evil Fascist cohorts of Adams and McGinness. Anyone’s blood but theirs. The pathetic attempt to justify the 1969-94 War based on the events of the Independence struggle defy rational belief.
The events of 1916 culminated in the execution of Scottish Trade Union Leader James Connolly, who had to be strapped into a chair due to having two broken legs and such perceived inhumanity raised hackles.
In the 1918 Election, Sinn Fein won a massive democratic mandate for Independence and the subsequent Dail Eireann which was convened ratified this stance, guaranteeing a Secular State and heightened local powers for councils in Ulster.
Every Local Council outside Ulster, and Trade Union recognised Dail Eireann and the Proclamation of Independence and within Ulster of the 53 Rural Councils 34 fell to Nationalists, meaning that moderate Protestant opinion had polarised against Carson.
Thus the Irish Nation had democratically decided that the British must leave, a stance that Blair supports if the fledgling Iraqi Parliament were to vote this way.
Legally and morally the British had no right to continue their illegal Occupation of a now sovereign Nation and an Army was raised to secure Liberation. The IRA was charged by Dail Eireann with removing the British, by force if required.
Thus we enter one of the most horrific period of history on these Isles as a bitter War Of Independence ensues with the most degrading of atrocities committed on both sides, a fact that Loach acknowledges and in one case almost excuses, “These lads have seen and survived the horrors of the Somme and now are faced with a bunch of Corner Boys. How the fuck do you EXPECT them to react?” Too true. It explains a lot.
Remember the British react because they are Occupiers, not because they are British and the slaughter and mass punishments that took place at Thurles, Cork, Upperchurch and Galway where the British shot or bayoneted their unarmed inhabitants is not denied by even the revisionist Niall Ferguson (David Irving with media skills, but just as stupid and wrong).
Nor does any historian deny that they fired into crowds or threw grenades or beat people up in the streets or set fire to homes and businesses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Bantry, Kilmallock, Balbriggan, Miltown Malbay, Lahinch, Ennistymon, Trim and other towns. Nor can the fact that the constabulary tortured and killed some of its prisoners across Ireland be seriously disputed. I sat and read the accounts often needing a break to clear my head and to remind myself that there was NO CONNECTION morally or legally with what was going on around me in the North of the Eighties.
But during the Independence War all this was Judicial Murder and sanctioned from the top.
A Divisional Commissioner in Munster (Colonel G.B. Smyth) told his men “You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent people may be shot but that cannot be helped … The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no soldier or policeman will get in trouble for shooting any man.”
But neither are the terrible actions, often unjustifiable, of the IRA in dealing with informers, ne’er do wells and people who wouldn’t toe the line, shirked. Kangaroo Courts using spurious authority from the Dail were not uncommon in settling old scores.
By 1921 the British decided to do what all Occupiers do and negotiate with the so called Insurgents. Israel did exactly that by negotiating prisoner exchanges with Hizbollah and the US and Britain will do the same in Iraq. Inevitable.
Now comes the tragedy which has played out in Ireland ever since. Partition and the foundation of the Priest Ridden, Land Lord dominated so called Free State.
James Connolly said; “If you raise the Tri colour above Dublin Castle tomorrow but it is not allied to Social Justice, equality and toleration, then you will be ruled by the same masters, just with a different accent”.
Just look at the 1938 Constitution and it’s cementing of the position of the Catholic Church’s influence, especially in Education and Health and you will see how the Scot was 100% right.
In 1950 De Valera’s Health Minister Dr.Noel Browne tried to introduce a Bill to give free health care to all women and children up to 16 based on the British NHS ideal.
The Catholic Church vehermently opposed the measure.
They opposed the Act primarily because they thought it might lead to the supply of birth control and abortion.
This was never the intention of the act, only to ensure safe, clean pregnancy and childbirth, and healthy babies and children, free from diseases such as measles.
But a ‘moral panic’ ensued, whereby it was suggested that these things would not only be available, but FORCED onto women against their will. The press hounded Browne on behalf of the Bishops, who were presented as the saviours of Irish womanhood from a dangerous communist tendency.
Eventually, Browne resigned as Health Minister.
In the Sixties Charles J. Haughey and his criminal toadies epitomise what Ireland had become. Priest ridden, misogynistic, anti worker and anathema to moderate Protestantism in the North, so much to overcome one wonders if true reconciliation can ever occur.
The British bear sole responsibility for Partition and the future polarisation on the island as Michael Collins,Chief Sinn Fein Negotiator and later the fall guy, was threatened with the equivalent of Shock and Awe, the Mother of all slaughters if he didn’t sign.
No help would come from the US as it had entered a period of Splendid Isolation, putting events in Europe off the agenda, even later in 1940 when Britain stood alone, still keeping out.
Sign he did and the Civil War followed, just too searing for words.
Every issue is dealt with by Loach and he deserves every credit for it, my only complaint was the contrived ending. Yes, we get the fact Civil War divides families.
A truly magnificent, even handed effort with a tremendous cast and crew allied to A1 photography and music put this in my Top Ten of All Time.
What do we take from this? Learn, acknowledge, don’t denounce, seek to heal, move on, and take pride in who you are.
We must as Irish and British, no longer be prisoners of our history. Enough is enough.
I cant believe the news today
Oh, I cant close my eyes and make it go away
How long must we sing this song?
But I won’t heed the battle call
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won?
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart
We can be as one
Sources are; Guardian Unlimited, Beresford-Ellis “History of the Irish Working Class”. Bowyer Bell “The Irish Troubles”. Tim Pat Cogan “The IRA”. Et al.