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22 June 2006 Edition

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Reviews: Barry McElduff on The Wind that Shakes the Barley and a book by Spanish Civil War veteran Bob Doyle

Powerful portrayal of rebel Cork

I am reminded that Sean O'Casey's plays in the early part of the last century provoked riots in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. When Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley goes on general release, there could easily be turmoil and unrest in the likes of Cork and Kerry. It was perhaps in these counties that the 'war of brothers' was most terrible of all.

I have a strong personal interest in County Cork. It is not called the 'rebel county' for nothing. Fair play to them. I attended Mass once in a rural part of West Cork just hours before addressing the Annual Kilmichael Commemoration. I was pleasantly surprised when those leaving Mass sang Wrap the Green Flag around me Boys. Is it any wonder that the Rebel County responded the way it did.

Ken Loach's film is very powerful. I was both angry and sad at the scenes and the factual storyline. A strange historical accident meant that a private showing was put on for me and Ian Paisley Jr, of all people. Ian Og. To speak the truth, Ian is hardly the issue but I would be mildly curious as to what he thought. What he really thought.

The film scenery was excellent. You could see that even the terrain and landscape suited the occasional ambush and early guerrilla army tactics. The first part of the film conveys the sense of sheer terror which the British Black and Tans set out to instil throughout Cork. They were good at their bullying and their brutality, at burning people's houses and at butchering people. That is where it is easy to be angry.

The ordinary people fought back and played hurling in between. Even that was banned, according to the film, in the name of a Public Gathering. The second part of the film contains a number of déjà vu moments. There is probably a technical word for this artistic skill in terms of film making but all I know is that the historical irony and tragedy of Free-Staters oppressing Republicans is nearly too much to take. The story of the two brothers, Teddy and Damien O'Donovan can only be described as upsetting. Teddy, the Rebel leader, commanding Damien's loyalty and support in unimaginably difficult circumstances and then betraying him for limited 'independence' in a Twenty-Six County context. A powerful theme in this film.

Ken Loach might be accused by some of taking sides. I am not sure about that. I know that I am on the side of Damien O'Donovan in this film and I salute all the Damien O'Donovans of generations past. One could silently weep for Damien whose promising medical career never got started, whose love for Sinead dominates the storyline of this film too. In terms of character development, the tragic relationship of Damien and Sinead is a very strong undercurrent throughout the film. Sinead, whose hair was cut by the Tans and Sinead who offered Damien her St Christopher medal. Sinead who ferried supplies and carried messages to the Rebels. The Sineads of Ireland are the heroines too.

The great debate about social politics taking primacy over the national question, and the reverse argument is there throughout this film. The fear of merely replacing the Flag of England with a Green Flag and only the accents of those in power changing.

And when news first came through with the details of the Treaty, one could sense the shock and anger and the sense of betrayal. The resolve to keep up the fight. When I think now of The Wind that Shakes the Barley, I will think of the lost lives of many Republicans that I knew personally in County Tyrone. Of course, there has been suffering on all sides but I make no apology for honouring the Rebels of Cork and the Rebels of the North who have fought for an Irish Republic. This film touches too on some of the terrible things done in the name of the Republic which has yet to be achieved.

This film helps us to understand that the ultimate cause of our problems in Ireland emanate from Britain's occupation of our country and their ability to divide Irish people in Ulster as well as Munster. A man from Sierra Leon once told me on a train from New York to Philadelphia, "If you pass a pond and you see two fish fighting in the pond, you know that the British have been there beforehand." Unfortunately, Ireland is still living with this truth and it can only be helpful that Ken Loach has taken time to analyse some of this in the form of his powerful film.

I would not be surprised if this film reawakens some sleeping dogs in the likes of Cork and Kerry.


Accessible story of political activist and fighter


Brigadista. An Irishman's fight against fascism

By Bob Doyle.

Notes and additional text by Harry Owens. Published by Currach Press. Price €14.99

If you want to read a book about an Irishman's experience while fighting against Franco in Spain then Bob Doyle's book would be the wrong book. Why? Because Brigadista is so much more. Simply put, this is a book about the slums of Dublin, the IRA in the 1930s, Republican Congress, the burning of Connolly House by a clergy-led mob, the trials and tribulations of Bob as he tries and fails to reach the republican forces in Spain, his experiences of the war against fascism followed by his imprisonment by a far from magnanimous victor.

But it is post-Civil War Spain where Bob Doyle's story really starts to amaze. Not content with playing his part, Doyle dedicated the last 70 years to fighting against injustice wherever he found it. His exploits returning to Spain after the war and continuing to fight against the Franco regime show his understated bravery. Doyle worked tirelessly as a Union rep in the print trade, negotiated with the press baron Maxwell, sold An Phoblacht in London in the 1980s and took part in street protests against racism, in support of miners, ferry workers, dockers and steel workers.

The book, written in Doyle's easy style is both touching and funny and leaves the reader wanting to know more of the events he recalls. In the latter half of the book, his story is taken up by Harry Owen who relates how Doyle and his fellow comrades began to get the recognition for there sacrifices in latter years. As well as Owen's account, two chapters are by Bob Doyle's sons giving a personal account of their father. This book is one of the most interesting, accessible and enjoyable books I have read this year. Buy a copy now and read the life of a true political activist.


An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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