September 1913

Resolute Hero

Image © Manfred Wassman, alias BerlinSight

And what, God help us, could they save?

Romantic Ireland`s dead and gone.

It`s with O`Leary in the grave. W.B. Yeats September 1913

Ireland 100 years ago was deep in nationalist ferment drawing Britain towards civil war. The Liberals led by Asquith, reinforced by a substantial Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster. Home Rule was the quid pro quo at the heart of this arrangement, its implementation achievable after the introduction of the Parliament Act 1911. The Loyalists in the North led by the formidable Dublin Barrister, Edward Carson, who on September 28, 1912 was the first to sign the Solemn League and Covenant. Carson was eventually followed by half a million others, many famously signing the petition in their own blood. This bizarre manifestation of loyalty to the Crown was sanctioned by the Conservative Party leader Andrew Bonar Law. The British establishment played the Orange card and the danger of granting unequivocal opposition to Home Rule evident when the UVF began gun running in April 1914. In the South the Volunteers (formed in November 1913) would begin (with less success) to get hold of arms, preparing to defend with physical force the execution of a British government mandate. Read more of this post

The Wind That Shakes The Barley…Directed by Ken Loach.

Image © Terence wiki

Nora Connolly

I first saw this movie in 2006 and recall people leaving the cinema in tears. A powerful film directed by a master of the craft, Ken Loach. The last fifteen minutes deeply moving, as Teddy O’Donovan (Padraic Delaney) fails to persuade his brother and former brother-in-arms Damien (Cillian Murphy) to join the ranks of the pro-Treaty forces and give up his anti-Treaty comrades. Teddy O`Donovan orders Damien`s execution, granting the condemned man time to write a letter to Sinead (Orla Fitzgerald). In the early hours Damien meets his death, Teddy O`Donovan dressed in his Free State uniform, commands the firing squad to kill his brother. A scene of betrayal realistically portrayed. We then see Teddy go to Sinead with the letter; Sinead breaks down (a beautiful performance by Fitzgerald) and orders O`Donovan off her land. Sinead becomes a metaphor for Ireland, the Cathleen ni Houlihan of the film (TWTSTB has more in common with O`Casey than Yeats). It deserved its critical acclaim but as a piece of history it`s flawed. Read more of this post

Robert Kee: History of Ireland Episode 4 FAMINE

Nora Connolly 

Image© illustrated London News, December 22, 1849

 It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry…

Robert Kee focuses on the emotive issue of the Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1849. Explaining why the population in the West and South West depended on this food for nutrition, outlining the organisation of land and tenancy arrangement`s. Other crops abundantly produced sold to pay rent, encapsulated by the following contemporaneous observation reported in Hansard, `not a bit of bread have I eaten since I was born, nor a bit of butter. We sell all the corn and the butter to give to the landlords [for rent] yet I have the largest farm in the district and am as well off as any man in the county`. The population which increased to eight million was linked to the peculiar organisation of land tenure in Ireland, `land was divided into smaller and smaller plots – the number of those depending on the potato grew larger and larger`. In Kee`s written history he demonstrates an in-depth understanding of issues i.e. the impact on agriculture post Napoleonic Wars such an analysis not always possible in a fifty minute television overview. Read more of this post

Robert Kee – A Television History of Ireland – Episode 3 `Two Nations 1700-1845`

Nora Connolly 

© Image The Library of Congress photostream

Tis the most distressful country that ever yet was seen (John McCormack)

In a broad sweep Kee examines Irish nationalist development up to the Act of Union (1801) the episode concludes with the famine. The two nations described are identifiable by religious affiliation, the largest Catholic and by virtue of the Penal Laws a discriminated group. While religious observance for Catholics was difficult, it was grudgingly accepted by the authorities (though in reduced circumstances). The quid pro quo at the heart of this tacit arrangement was recognition that Catholic civil rights were completely curtailed. Catholics were not permitted to hold political office, disqualified from voting and as episode three illustrates, severe limitations were imposed on land ownership including the transfer of land through inheritance. The Presbyterian Protestant dissenter`s in the North (not identified as a separate group by Kee), were also penalised, e.g. the requirement of paying tithes to the Anglican Church. These grievances would be a unifying factor, in the formation of an embryonic Irish Republican movement. Read more of this post

Robert Kee: History of Ireland` – No Surrender` (Episode 2)

Nora Connolly 

copyright Kyz`s photostream

In episode two Robert Kee adroitly negotiates his way through a myriad of propaganda while separating myth from reality. This episode explains why modern Ireland became such a troubled and polarised nation. He does not pull his punches; atrocities are graphically outlined, making for uncomfortable viewing. Kee begins with the `Flight of the Earls` September 1607, when Hugh O`Neill and his entourage went into self imposed exile. O`Neill the last Gaelic/Catholic leader in Ireland, had after his rebellion with England, lost all authority in his own country. We are reminded that O`Neill was made an Earl by the English Crown, an example of what eminent Irish historian RF Foster calls “the Janus-face of Ireland”. When O`Neill departs, the enormous area of land under his possession in Ulster (hitherto the most Gaelic/Catholic region) was grabbed and forfeited to the English Crown. Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh colonised or planted with largely Scottish settlers. Plantations had occurred in other parts of Ireland but this was the most successful because of its geographical proximity to Britain. Read more of this post

Robert Kee: `Ireland A Television History`: Episode 1 `A Nation Once Again`

Nora Connolly 

Celtic Cross

copyright amanderson2sphotostream

And Ireland, long a province be

A NATION ONCE AGAIN. 

This song was written by Thomas Davis, one of the founders in 1842 of the nationalist periodical, `The Nation` and appeared in his paper alongside similar verse described by Robert Kee in `The Green Flag` as “trite but often of stirring quality”. In this programme he explains the song served as the unofficial national anthem of Ireland. While pointing out the melody depicts an unrealistic version of nationhood which is also inconsistent with what the nation of Ireland had been and what it became. Further, how he asks could Ireland become `A Nation Once Again`, when a significant minority oppose the very idea?

Commentators seeking to analyse Irish Nationalism dispassionately, such as Robert Kee, can find themselves subject to criticism based on the unfounded notion that they are taking sides – a problem familiar to all historians. But the issue is more potent when it concerns Irish History/Nationalism. The resurgence of interest in Robert Kee following his death has lead to a rise in viewers to his television history on Youtube. Some of the comments give a flavour of the problem, as Kee is criticised on the one hand for producing an overly sympathetic portrayal of the Irish, while on the other hand criticised for being hostile to the Irish. Both assertions are ridiculous, the programme rightly received wide-spread acclaim when broadcast.  Kee`s `The Green Flag` contains an inscription, from AG Richey,”to appreciate the history of this or any other country it is necessary to sympathise with all of the parties”. Kee`s television history achieves this but his sympathy does not inhibit him from looking at Irish nationalism with a critical analytical eye. His inquisitorial approach allows for a balanced appraisal, while outlining the adversarial history of this most distressful country and the part played by Britain.   Read more of this post

Robert Kee: A Tribute

Nora Connolly 

Copyright Ireland

Copyright NASA Goddard photostream

Robert Kee the brilliant journalist, historian and campaigner for justice has sadly died aged 93. Kee the quintessential British liberal was also an establishment figure who along with others became involved in the setting up of TV–am in the early 1980s. Robert Kee was friends with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s and the Dowager wrote a glowing testimony of Kee in her memories. Which highlighted Kee`s outstanding intelligence and communication skills. She mentioned Kee`s work with Panorama pointing out that the BBC was lucky to find someone of his calibre. Those viewing any broadcasts by Kee would have to agree with this assessment. Robert Kee spent a long time in Ireland and was a regular visitor to the Devonshire`s Irish estate, Lismore Castle. He rubbed shoulders with the aristocracy but he was no establishment toady and did not allow his grand association`s to debase an overwhelming desire to strive for truth and justice, as his publication `Trial and Error` illustrates. A book which helped bring the disgraceful miscarriage of justice concerning the `Guilford Four` and `Maguire Seven` to public prominence. The book also unddoubtly helped to right judicial wrongs and for this reason alone Robert Kee should be warmly remembered today by all striving for fairness and justice.

Robert Kee also wrote an important biography of Charles Stewart Parnell the `Laurel and the Ivy` but Kee had a vast hinterland to draw upon, he was a war hero a bomber pilot for the RAF, who was shot down over occupied Europe. He become a prisoner of war a role he occupied stoically writing about his experience in his critically acclaimed `A Crowd is not Company`Read more of this post

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