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1 June 2006 Edition

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Reviews: An Phoblacht looks at Ken Loach's new film and a book about the IRA 1920-1922

The most powerful film I've seen

Film Review

The wind that shakes the barley

Directed by Ken Loach

Release date June 24

Ken Loach's new contribution to 'Irish' cinema received the highest accolade for a film, the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival last Sunday. It was justly deserved.

In The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Loach tackles the Tan War and the Civil War warts and all, no holds barred. The brutality, the viciousness of those wars is there for all to see, for all to take sides. In a faithful portrayal of life in rural Cork during those momentous years, Loach manages to get across the heartache, the pain, the comradeship, the betrayals, the loyalty, the sacrifices that ordinary men and women made for the cause of Irish freedom, then and obviously since.

This is about the mothers, sisters, brothers, friends and comrades, the ordinary men and women who lived with the consequences of their decision to challenge the might of the British Empire in the "hope this Ireland we are fighting for is worth it", and how they dreamed that it wasn't just a fight for a green flag replacing the Butcher's Apron.

The stark brutality of the British war machine in Ireland is vividly captured- the torture, gratuitous violence and vindictiveness of previously demobbed English soldiers who had survived the Somme but who had been brutalised by the experience, let down by their government on their return from the front, and many who were just plain depraved.

The cast, through their great performances, brought to life many of the aspects of the revolution of that period that are forgotten in most other retellings of the era, which almost exclusively concentrate on the military aspect of the war.

The Dáil Courts, the courageous stance of rail workers refusing to transport British soldiers or their munitions across the country, the land seizures and conflicts, the role of the ascendancy landlords, the confusing world of the informer, the intensity of the reprisals are all part of the patchwork of this powerful film.

It is a film that some will not like. Fine Gael Senator and anti-republican mouthpiece Brian Hayes watched the special showing at the same time as myself. He was not impressed. It didn't show the politics of the time, he said later. Obviously he watched a different film to me. His discomfort with the film and its accurate portrayal of war and revolution in Ireland in the 1920s should be endorsement enough for republicans to go see it when it hits the cinemas here.

This is a film, not a documentary, but it will cause a welcome, honest debate on what happened in that era will explain a lot about today's society North and South.

The film explains quite well how the money, the Church and the reactionaries lined up together with the support of the British to defeat the Republic in 1922.

For republicans, nationalists, unionists, West Brits, students of Irish history, those interested in conflict, those interested in a good, action-packed movie this is a must see film. It highlights how ordinary men were shaped into soldiers by extraordinary circumstances, how republicans enjoyed the electoral and tacit support of the community. The storyline weaves the history of the time around the lives of young men and women in a County Cork village and how the events of the time moulded them, in particular two brothers who end up at opposing ends of guns during the Civil War.

It movingly portrays the sadness and hurt of war and it doesn't shy away from showing the cruel deeds which war necessitated on the republican side. It is an honest and impressive piece of work from a director who is regarded as controversial because he depicts events from a different angle- that of the underdog. Enjoy!


Both sides in Treaty dispute failed IRA in the North

Book Review

The Northern IRA and the Early Years of Partition 1920-1922

By Robert Lynch, Irish Academic Press, ISBN 0-7165-3377-4. Price €27.50 (paper back)

It has always been a source of quiet amazement that many solid comrades from the Six Counties who were politicised into republicanism after the Northern uprising in 1969 did not have a handle on what happened to the IRA, inside the Six Counties, when the Orange State was formed. Those comrades, mainly from Belfast, all had a handle on the 1940s period but got hazy on the specifics of the IRA between the Truce and the Civil war in the South. Lynch's book is an excellent response to anyone, republican or otherwise who wants to address his or her lack of understanding about this crucial historical period.

The author is the "Senior Government of Ireland Research scholar" at Hertford College, University of Oxford. That sentence probably conveys better than I can the style in which the book is written. It is written by an academic, largely for academics. What this period of the North's history needs is something along the lines of Eamonn McCann's War and an Irish Town.

However this book, for those not prepared to put up with the ponderous prose of academia, will reward with gems of knowledge and a grounded insight into the workings of the IRA at that time.

The book's main strength, in my opinion, is looking at the failure of attempts by the two sides in the Treaty dispute in the South to field a unified IRA in the North to protect northern nationalists.

He is correct to argue that the tales of the War of Independence have tended to airbrush out the actions of the Northern IRA during that period of our history.

Lynch is also very well sourced on how the outbreak of Civil war spelt the end for the Northern IRA as a fighting force capable of defending nationalist communities let alone take on the Northern State.

The defeat of the Northern IRA and the abandoning of northern nationalists by the new Free State, which was loyal to the British Crown, left unfinished business on the island and the pathogens of an uprising by a generation not born in 1922.

Many of those who took part in the recent war would deepen their understanding of the deep historical roots that caused the '69 uprising by looking at this book.

Lynch is clearly a master of his brief and his work deserves a wide audience. However, I suspect this subject awaits a more accessible treatment.


An Phoblacht Magazine


  • Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
  • This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
  • Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
  • Other articles include, ‘Ceist teanga in Éirinn Aontaithe’, ‘Getting to a new Ireland’ and ‘Ireland 1918-22: The people’s revolution’.

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