Sunday 17 November 2019

Gallipoli's Irish heroes finally get their due

Gallipoli: Ireland's Forgotten Heroes, RTE One
* Jane The Virgin, E4

RTE journalist David Davin-Power had a personal interest in the documentary; his grandfather was among the Irish at Gallipoli
RTE journalist David Davin-Power had a personal interest in the documentary; his grandfather was among the Irish at Gallipoli
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

When I was growing up in Crumlin in the early '80s, there was an elderly man known as 'Mad Larry' by kids and their parents alike. It wasn't an affectionate nickname.

No, Mad Larry - as we were told by disapproving adults - was guilty of a particularly heinous crime - he "fought for the Brits" and had come back from World War II with a screamingly obvious case of extreme PTSD.

Nobody ever knew just what this poor, damaged man had seen and gone through, because he was a pariah to some in the area. He lived with his mother and when she died he stayed indoors, and whatever private psychological hell he was forced to relive was broken only by the sound of banging on his windows and kicks to his door.

Yes, some of the local kids - or "those little bastards" as my father referred to them - realised that he had shell shock and they laughed as he screamed in his sitting room whenever there was a loud noise.

Oh, what fun they must have had, terrorising a man who had obviously seen and endured more than his psyche could bear. The little shits who tormented Larry didn't lick that attitude off the stones and while they weren't encouraged, exactly, by their parents, they were intuitive enough to know that if they were going to make any neighbour's life a misery, he was a convenient target - alone, friendless and actually despised by some in the locality.

I must have gone 20 years or more without thinking of that man, until a Remembrance Sunday some time ago when memories of him came flooding back, alongside a previously dormant sense of shame and guilt that even though I had never engaged in any of the psychological warfare against this veteran, I didn't say or do anything to stop it, either.

The last few years have seen a marked improvement in how people look on Irish veterans of both world wars and after enduring what David Davin-Power referred to as "a century of suppressed memories", we seem to be finally maturing, even if it is only in increments.

The Irish who fought in the Great War have certainly begun to receive long overdue recognition, helped in no small part by Kevin Myers' masterful Ireland's Great War, which beautifully puts names and faces on those who had been previously redacted from our national dialogue.

Davin Power's Gallipoli: Ireland's Forgotten Heroes is a worthy addition to the - slowly - growing body of work about Irish involvement in that conflagration.

Even by the deranged profligacy of that war, Gallipoli was a spectacularly dense waste of life that still haunts Australia and New Zealand, yet despite the loss of 3,000 Irish troops has never been given due recognition in this country.

A tribute, of sorts, to his own grandfather, Jim Power, Davin-Power's beautifully produced programme shone a light on young men such as the 'Dublin Pals', who went to fight and die together on a rocky peninsula which saw them repeatedly hurled against the Turkish machine guns like the waves which lapped at the shore a few yards behind them.

As the descendants of the young men who went on what they referred to as a 'great adventure', spoke of their ancestors, a common thread emerged - Ireland, we were told, 'only had room for one group of heroes' and so those who had fought bravely were supplanted in the minds of the people by the terrorists of 1916 who committed, in the words of the late George Byrne: "Ireland's 9/11."

Mercifully, despite the fact that the presenter was obviously most concerned with his grandfather's story (Jim would later be killed during the Blitz), he refrained from any of the usual tears and histrionics associated with programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are.

Instead, this was simple but superb documentary-making - the stories of the men who died, and those who returned to a lifetime of silence, psychological issues and alcoholism were what counted, not the feelings of the presenter. If there was one quibble it would be the absence of the aforementioned Myers, who has done more than any other individual to keep the memory of these men alive.

That minor point aside, it was an important documentary and, crucially, it also reminded us of the exhibition currently running in Collins Barracks called 'Pals - The Irish At Gallipoli.'

We can't do anything about the scandalous treatment these men received when they returned home, but there's no reason not to visit that exhibition before it finishes on April 30.

For those of you who remain in blissful ignorance of the South American telenovella, here's a crash course - they are cheap, often filmed in one take, feature deranged storylines, innocent young maidens, scheming older women and dashing, brooding, swarthy men. So, a bit like Fair City.

Ugly Betty was an adaptation of a Colombian telenovella and the latest Anglicisation of this very Latin phenomenon has just rocked up on E4.

Jane The Virgin comes with high hopes and after watching the first episode I can see why. Or, to be more precise, I think I can see why, because Jane The Virgin is almost incomprehensibly jammed with ludicrous sub-plots and is filmed in that garish day-glo lighting so beloved of the original South American shows.

So what's it all about?

Ok, deep breath - the eponymous virgin is understandably shocked to discover that she has been accidentally artificially inseminated by her gynaecologist - sure, haven't we all? - and well... it all gets very weird and frenetic and oddly joyful as a succession of characters, each more outlandish than the last, parade across the screen

Perhaps a character from one of Jane's hallucinations summed it up best when they told her: "I know exactly how you feel. When I found out the deepest, truest love of my life was really my half-sister born as a result of my father's secret double life, I was devastated".

So maybe it's not much like Fair City, after all.

Irish Independent

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