I’ve just seen Ken Loach’s “The Wind that shakes the Barley”. Extraordinary! Never has a movie had such an impact on me.
The subject is the Irish revolt of 1920-1922, and the Civil War that followed. It is shot in my home turf of County Cork, and the action revolves around two brothers who fight together to get the Brits out, but who then in the bitter passions of the ensuing civil war become brother-against-brother enemies.
It is a raw and violent film about a raw and violent time in Ireland’s recent history –a history that is too little understood, too little explored, too little resolved. If you reflect on the fact that our Vietnam War is still an unresolved argument that is still polarizing us, you will get a sense of what I mean.
My family was strongly connected to the Civil War. My mother –who hailed from Mitchelstown, Co. Cork– was a cousin of the famous Liam Lynch, who was the head of the IRA “Irregular” anti-Treaty forces in the south of Ireland. Liam is like one of the brothers in the movie, the “Damien” character, and like Damien, he was killed by a bullet from a pro-Treaty gun on a hillside. “My God, I’m hit,” said a surprised Liam. His last words –spoken just a few hours later– were: “This is all a pity. This should never have happened.”
My mother was married 6 years later, in 1929. I was born in 1937. In all my years growing up as boy in Cobh, Co. Cork, neither of my parents spoke of “The Troubles” or the Civil War. The Twenties and the Thirties were a mystery to me –they were a mystery to most people my age.
Of course, I have read a great deal since about that time. But it took Ken Loach’s movie to hit me over the head with the reality of what the Irish Civil War was all about, and why my parents –or anybody else, for that matter– never mentioned it.
There are so many important issues and questions that arise out of it, and that now affect our whole world. We are aware –searingly aware– that we have not acquired the wisdom that is supposed to raise us above these passions, and these one-sided indulgences. And because we have not learned from history, we seem condemned to relive it –endlessly. We are more dedicated to the conflict than we are to the resolution.
The Irish Civil War. Vietnam. Iraq. And next?
As a proverb from my “Collection of Arabic Proverbs” has it, “Their beards have grown white and yet wisdom has not come to them.”
I have only scratched the surface of all the issues raised by this outstanding film. I will go into them more in the next few days –and of course would be interested to discuss any of them with you, whether or not you have seen the movie.