Sunday 25 August 2019

Eoghan Harris: ''Love Island' is better than the loveless Ireland of the past'

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

To my mind, Love Island on Virgin Media is a morally healthier programme than The Brigade on RTE.

Nothing human being alien to me, I need no excuse for watching two episodes of Love Island to find out why the finger-wagging at Maura Higgins

Back in the late 1960s, when Breandan O hEithir and myself were travelling the country for the Feach programme, women like Garda Majella Moynihan were still being crushed by Church and State.

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Accordingly we cherished the few fearless Irish country women we met, especially those who could handle big city types.

That is why I found Maura Higgins from Ballymahon, Co Longford, a pure joy. From the first seconds of her confidently strutting arrival, she controlled the dynamics of the show, not with sex but with words.

From the start, Maura showed she was the mistress of erotic euphemisms, promising everything but delivering gullible guys to a dead end. Here are her opening remarks on the watching men to an awed English Essex Girl.

Maura: "Jesus the tings I would do to him."

Essex Girl: "Rilly? Loike wot?"

Maura: "I'd scream his name."

Love Island marks a healthier Ireland in a time when the persecution of Majella Monynihan and the murder of Lyra McKee remind us forcibly of the two main curses of modern Irish history - Roman Catholic sexual pathology and nationalist necrophilia.

Looking back, how can anyone honestly say that we were entitled to put pressure on Northern Protestants to join a country ruled by two such cruel ideologies?

Now I make no great claims for Love Island. Two episodes to establish that Maura Higgins was an admirable free spirit were about all I could take.

But even one episode of The Brigade was enough to establish that this was a show that should never have been commissioned.

RTE is the national, not the nationalist, broadcaster. So how did the submission for The Brigade survive elementary editorial scrutiny?

Consider the premise. The programme takes 12 young, modern West Cork men, fits them out in flat caps and 303 rifles and basically trains them to butcher the Brits, as Tom Barry did at Kilmichael.

Reviewing the result, Peter Crawley in The Irish Times summed up the worries of many who watched it with disbelief.

"At a time when men on this island are again being recruited to paramilitary organisations, where grievances are stoked by sentimental appeals to the past, and firearms are in fatal supply, it isn't hard to find a tingle of discomfort within this play-acting."

As a programme it was poor, but I'm not alone in believing the Recurring IRA could abuse it as propaganda.

When I say The Brigade was poor, I mean the production values were so shoddy it should not have been transmitted, never mind commissioned.

Mostly we watched young men in cloth caps wandering around fields with rifles in their hands, looking like extras from the Old Time Music Hall.

It did not even get the nostalgia angle right. The old sepia photos of the period were more evocative.

But the programme's possible misuse as propaganda was far more worrying. Here UCC has serious questions to answer.

Dr Gabriel Doherty of UCC's History department made an appearance, and is cited as historical adviser.

But there was scant sign of using his expertise when it came to balance, the basis of all good history. Let me cite three areas of concern.

First, Tom Barry is lionised. "If Tom Barry isn't a hero, there's something wrong," as one of the young participants put it.

They were not told that Tom Barry used to fire shots into the Cork Freemason hall when the tribal mood took him.

Or that Tom Barry is the commander whose brigade area was notorious for the killing (or murder, as I call it) of innocent Protestant civilians as "spies".

Or that, as late as 1938, Tom Barry was involved in the murder of Admiral Somerville of Castletownshend for the "crime" of providing references for local lads to join the Royal Navy.

The second major imbalance was when a group of students from Essex University were given a tour linked to misdeeds of the Essex Regiment.

Like Irish students watching at home, they were told about the soldiers' crimes, but the IRA's atrocities were never once featured in the film.

Major Arthur Percival, commander of the Essex and responsible for its policy of reprisal burnings, was described as a "thundering scut", which he was.

But there was no balancing mention that Tom Barry and the West Cork IRA also carried out a campaign of arson.

In fact, as soon as British reprisals stopped, the IRA began a barbaric campaign of burning down beautiful big houses, the kind of mindless cultural vandalism forcibly forbidden by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

The Essex students were also brought to Crois na Leanbh, where four Volunteers were shot dead in February 1921.

This, we were told, ''galvanised'' the locals - and presumably the local Volunteers.

But for balance the shamed Essex students should have been told that in 1921 the Essex soldiers were equally ''galvanised'' by the killing of five of their comrades at Toureen, in 1920, a year earlier.

Likewise, wouldn't Kilmichael have also ''galvanised'' the Auxiliaries?

In fact, as my father told me, the burning of Cork was a reprisal of rage by British troops angered by what they saw as a brutal massacre at Kilmichael, where Tom Barry rejected Auxiliary surrenders, a connection not sufficiently emphasised made by local historians.

Finally, no mention was made of Tom Barry's campaign of terror against alleged Protestant "spies" and the creation of a sectarian climate which led to the Dunmanway killings of April 1922.

Predictably, the film did everything to pull in the currently fashionable contribution of nationalist women to the cause.

However, it seems they were confined to doing the cooking, running messages and treating the wounded.

In my view, it is important to ask if Dr Doherty, as historical adviser, raised the compulsory contribution made by Protestant women to the feeding of IRA columns.

As Canon Salter told me on the programme An Tost Fada, men on the run effectively commandeered the houses of Protestant families, often for months on end, literally eating them out of house and home.

The programme could also have consulted local historian Cal Hyland of Rosscarbery whose lecture to last year's West Cork History Festival painted a dark picture of IRA intimidation of women.

The IRA's petty persecutions ranged from pulling pictures of the king off the wall to threatening lone Protestant women woken at dead of night.

Serious history has to be fair to both sides. But The Brigade was remorselessly one-sided. RTE and UCC should be ashamed to have had any hand, act or part in this travesty of the truth about the War of Independence in West Cork.

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