Wednesday 22 October 2014

Connolly is set for a heroic makeover on silver screen

Kevin Myers

Published 23/11/2007 | 00:00

WITH the sinking heart of a schoolboy who sees his drunken mother flirting with a Cardinal-Archbishop, I hear that a biopic is being made about James Connolly. The beauty of this project is that the film is to be made in Gdansk, where the fall of Connolly's beloved Marxism began. This is rather like filming the biography of the founder of the flat earth society on the moon.

I am presuming here, but actually, it is quite easy to presume accurately when it comes to films about Ireland; in these the Irish have always to be victims of heartless and ignoble British oppressors, long since stereotyped within virtually all film-makers' imaginations, while the Irish resistance fighters are invariably portrayed as noble, upright heroes.

Now, I know what happens whenever I touch on this topic: I am showered with foam-flecked emanations of disbelieving hatred.

So: Phlegm nice and ready? Good. Let us begin, and we start with a Dublin Metropolitan Police raid, just one month before the Rising, on Connolly's little shop beside Liberty Hall, which itself had secretly been turned into an arsenal and arms-factory for James Connolly's Irish Citizens Army.

When a DMP man started looking through some documents, Connolly drew a pistol and said: "Drop those or I'll drop you." The unarmed officer obligingly put the papers down and explained he was looking for outlawed publications. When Connolly asked him for his warrant, he replied that he didn't have one.

Connolly then ordered the DMP contingent out, and they left. Later, an Inspector Bannon arrived with four men and a warrant, which Connolly made him read out aloud.

Connolly said the warrant applied to the shop, but not to Liberty Hall where the illegal publications had now joined the secret arsenal of guns, so the DMP men again left.

Now, you know the reality of unarmed, law-abiding Catholic policemen acting strictly according to the law when confronted by a Marxist gunman is the last thing that a film-maker would want to show. No, no: in the film, Connolly will almost certainly be arrested and tortured by a gang of cruel English secret service-men. Indeed, he might even be portrayed as a pacifist, as if he had never uttered these words in 1915: " ... Ireland may yet set the torch to a European conflagration that will not burn out until the last throne and the last capitalist bond and debenture will be shrivelled on the funeral pyre of the last warlord." In other words, Connolly was a war-mongering totalitarian-in-waiting, an Irish Lenin: unsurprisingly, therefore, the Kaiser supported them both. And in return, the leaders of the 1916 Rising acclaimed the butchers of Belgium as "gallant allies".

However, the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union was already tired of Connolly's capers. Ten days before the Rising, it evicted him and his Irish Citizen Army from Liberty Hall, to which he undertook never to return.

All in all, mere confirmation of his unpopularity. After all, he had twice failed to be elected to Dublin Corporation for the Wood Quay Ward.

And how decent a man was he? His paternal urges were so slight that he even allowed his 15-year-old son to join the Rising, and as an officer, no less. This is cultish, Moonie-like conduct.

Labour did not back Connolly's unmandated use of the Citizens' Army in the Rising during which, incidentally, he even ordered his men to shoot looters.

Very socialist indeed: but of course, Connolly's intention was not actually for the Rising to improve the conditions of the poor (unless that includes putting them out of their misery by killing them) but to start a European-wide upheaval of the kind that would soon bring ruin and anarchy to Russia.

And you've probably never heard any of the foregoing, largely because neither Irish national nor Labour myths admit of such uncomfortable truths. But all this will probably make no difference to the forthcoming film.

Cut to the character playing Connolly: Mel Gibson, perhaps, brooding sorrowfully, poor peasants toiling on English-owned farms. Then we'll see Irishmen being imprisoned for their beliefs by English judges, (though the majority of judges were Irish Catholics). Come the Rising, and we'll see Connolly, aka Gibson, after delivering some rousing Braveheart-type speech about frrrreedom, leading his gallant volunteers against cowardly, brutish English soldiery (though, like the police, all the "British" troops in Dublin in April 1916 were in fact Irish). Then, strapped to his chair, we'll see him going bravely to his death (as indeed he did).

But oh, if only Inspector Bannon had arrested and charged James Connolly with firearms offences when he had the chance. To be sure, it would have made uninteresting history, and a bad film: but not, I bet, as bad as the biopic ahead -- shot, of course, in Poland, the country which finally began to kill the evil cause of communism that Connolly had so murderously espoused.

riga.kevin@gmail.com

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