The Irish War of Independence and subsequent Civil War pitted working people against each other in a fight to the death. The winner was Capital and the losers families and communities rent asunder over whether the Capitalists who exploited them spoke with an English accent or not.
This was summed up by Scottish Socialist turned revolutionary fighter James Connolly, “If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.” Nevertheless he joined in with the ill fated Easter Rising of 1916.
The foundation of the Republic was met with indifference by the Irish people until, ironically Connolly himself was sentenced to death by the British and had to be shot in a chair due to injuries sustained in battle on the streets of his adopted city, Dublin.
That is the thesis of Ken Loach’s masterpiece, “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” which is being shown this week on FilmFour (available on Freeview and Sky Channel 315)
The response of the UK media to Loach’s film at the time it was released is instructive.
“Ken Loach 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,” said the ever rational Simon Heffer in the Telegraph.
The Sun: “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.
This film is Ken Loach’s masterpiece, a big call to make considering his 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 pygmies 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 decades later 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.
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.
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 Hezbollah.
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 vehemently 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. This threat was issued by Winston Spencer Churchill no less.
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 TimeFilms
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 act as people, not Irish and British, for the good of all via a planned Socialist economy. We must no longer be prisoners of our history. Enough is enough.