An Phoblacht 2 - 2022 small

5 March 1998 Edition

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Television: Breaking the chains

by Sean O Donaile

The Farm; Angola, USA (Channel 4, Sunday)
The Patriot's Fate; Not Quite Philadelphia - 1798 (BBC 1, Wednesday)
Learning about life on the inside may be nothing new to republicans, but the award winning documentary The Farm; Angola, USA, deserves to be highlighted for the sole reason that it portrayed in a shocking light the inhuman conditions of prison life in the home of the so-called Free World.

Angola prison takes its name from the thousands of Angolans forcibly taken from their homeland at the height of the slave trade and transported to Louisiana to pick cotton.

Nothing much has changed in the meantime; Angola prison is but a ``prison plantation'', where the inmates are forced to work in the same fields as their ancestors, receiving wages of between 5 and 20 cents an hour.

The inmates at this maximum security prison are 85% black and the guards 100% white.

This is the Deep South where blacks are still second class citizens and there isn't much sign of a ``risen people'' in this institution.

Everybody on this farm starts out with a hoe and if they live long enough they might eventually progress to the prison tractor.

In Louisiana life is life and 85% of the inmates die in the prison.

Eugene ``the Bishop'' has been incarcerated since 1959 for murder and colleague Wainshau Hope has served 25 years, with no sign of a release date, for injuring a police officer.

Parole review is a sham and if you thought the film The Shawshank Redemption was innacurate you're mistaken.

There is no sign of Saoirse and lobbying for prisoner release seems to be non existent.

George Crawford is a frightened 22 year old who claims to have been framed on a murder charge and his mother claims `if you've no money you get a bum deal''.

Court transcripts are a necessity but unfortunately cost $3,000 which makes an appeal for George unlikely.

Visiting conditions are somewhat similar to the now closed Crumlin road gaol and after ten or twenty years visitors from the outside are a rarity.

For once drugs were not highlighted and religion seems to be the drug for many, with Eugene ``the Bishop'' leading packed Pentecostal services.

Wainshau suvives by running first aid classes and dreaming of a parole date.

Miscarriages of justice seem quite common and Vincent Simmons', incarcerated since 1977 on a charge of aggravated rape, claims innoncence. Crucial evidence which was witheld at the original trial is dismissed by the Parole Review after a twenty second conversation, during which time they ``advise'' each other ``not to write too much.. and let's get this thing over with''.

After only one hour of TV one can see that many of these men should be released and the only purpose of continued incarceration is to appease the right wing ``eye for an eye'' mentality.

And you thought the Brits were bad.

``Not Quite Philadelphia'' was the second of a BBC two part documentary, ``The Patriot's Fate'', presented by the bearded Brian Keenan.

One or two pubs in Wexford are currently serving ``Cream of `98'' cheesecake, but this documentary took the more worthwhile exercise of trying to reveal some of the hidden truths.

The Protestants of the North have been ``largely ignorant of the truth'' due to ``a deliberate policy of forgetting'' and one journalist claims that ``we are now only entering a process of rememorisation''.

Events like the massacre of 100 Protestants at Scullabogue in Wexford ``became the only event'' and Protestants shied away from the legacy of Munroe and McCracken.

The celebrations of 1898 and beyond were ``given a heavy Catholic tinge, distorting the secular and pluralist message''.

In fact the Catholic church at the time of the rising played its usual role, excommunicating all the rebels and blackening the names of rebel priests.

Historian Alistair Smyth takes us through the rising in Antrim, where McCracken led the capture of Templepatrick and attack on Antrim town, where advance warning led to a garrison victory.

Presbyterian layfolk and ministers were active in North Down as in Antrim and two of these men of the cloth led the attack on Portaferry and Newtownards.

Henry Munroe led the rebels at the Battle of Ballynahinch and beyond but following the slaughter of over 500 of his men, he was himself captured and hanged in his home town of Lisburn.

Following these events there was a huge attempt to recreate a Protestant consensus and misinform Protestants in order to drive through a sectarian wedge.

Another ``sidelined'' non-Catholic, Bagenal Harvey, played a pivotal role in Wexford where Wexford Town and Enniscorthy were captured, but following an all-out battle on Vinegar Hill the rebels were defeated and huge retributions followed.

This was the beginning of the abandonment of open confrontation by Republicans in favour of guerrilla warfare.

Tone and the French arrived too late and his death is still disputed. I recall being denied 100% in a Primary School test for refusing to say that Tone had inflicted his own death.

Keenan sees Tone as the central ``progressive thinker who put his life on the line', while possessing a large ego, comparing himself to Alexander the Great.

The defeat, death and departure of the rebels had a hugely negative impact on our country, haemhorraging us of progressive activists and opening the way for sectarian politics, promoted by O' Connell and his ilk, which would have deeply nauseated the United Irishmen.

Further informative events can be accessed by tuning into Fiontain O Suilleabháin, Aengus O Snodaigh and other historians, through An Phoblacht, Dublin `98 and beyond - tune in!

Finally Teilifis na Gaeilge's excellent series on life in Cuil Aodha is coming to an end and a new series of historical documentaries ``Seoda Eireann'' is recommended.

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