Revolutionary Remembrance: Woodenbridge

We are well into the swing of things when it comes to the centenary decade’s focus on World War One, and with that is bound to come some continued discussion of John Redmond. A hundred years ago, he was busy putting the final work into the passing of the Home Rule Bill, facing the reality that it would not be implemented as scheduled, but instead deferred for the duration of the struggle in the continent.

These days, a hundred years ago, saw the Volunteer movement begin its fracture. Redmond did not begin this process singlehanded – members of the militia were already signing up for the British Armed Forces before hand – but he is commonly seen, in popular remembrance, as the driving force behind the movement to turn the National Volunteers into either British soldiers or a direct extension of the British Armed Forces.

A lot of this is based around the Woodenbridge speech, delivered by Redmond on the 20th of September 1914 to a group of the National Volunteers in Wicklow, a speech perceived as the beginning of Redmond’s recruitment drive, and a signal on the inevitable breakup of the Volunteers.

For a speech that is so widely noted as being a defining moment in Redmond’s political career, that inspired this oft shared propaganda image of bobblehead Redmond, it surprises me that so many people are not aware of what the actual speech entailed. Here’s the full text:

Fellow countrymen, it was indeed fortunate chance that enabled me to be present here today. I was motoring past, and I did not know until I arrived here that this gathering of the Volunteers was to take place at Woodenbridge. I could not deny myself the pleasure and honour of waiting to meet you, to meet so many of those whom I have personally known for many long years, and to see them fulfilling a high duty to their country. I have no intention of making a speech. All I desire to say to you is that I congratulate you upon the favourable beginning of the work you have made.

You have only barely made a beginning. You will yet have hard work before you can call yourselves efficient soldiers, and you will have to have in your hand – every man – as efficient weapons as I am glad to see in hands of some, at any rate, of your numbers. Looking back as I naturally do, upon the history of Wicklow I know that you will make efficient soldiers. Efficient soldiers for what?

Wicklow Volunteers, in spite of the peaceful happiness and beauty of the scene in which we stand, remember this country at this moment is in a state of war, and your duty is a twofold Duty. The duty of the manhood of Ireland is twofold. Its duty is, at all costs, to defend the shores of Ireland against foreign invasion. It is a duty more than that of taking care that Irish valour proves itself: on the field of war it has always proved itself in the past. The interests of Ireland – of the whole of Ireland – are at stake in this war. This war is undertaken in the defence of the highest principles of religion and morality and right, and it would be a disgrace for ever to our country and a reproach to her manhood and a denial of the lessons of her history if young Ireland confined their efforts to remaining at home to defend the shores of Ireland from an unlikely invasion, and to shrinking from the duty of proving on the field of battle that gallantry and courage which has distinguished our race all through its history. I say to you therefore, your duty is twofold. I am glad to see such magnificent material for soldiers around me, and I say to you – Go on drilling and make yourself efficient for the Work, and then account yourselves as men, not only for Ireland itself, but wherever the fighting line extends, in defence of right, of freedom and religion in this war. 

It’s only 444 words in length, and would have taken just a couple of minutes to deliver, which might surprise you considering the weight that is normally attached to it. There are a few thoughts when I think about the Woodenbridge speech.

The first is that it was almost certainly a direct response to the passing of the Home Rule bill into law, albeit deferred, which had taken place just two days earlier. Here was a moment of reciprocation from John Redmond, backing the Crown’s fight because Home Rule was non-literal inches from implementation, with only a war so many thought would not last too long was in the way. Redmond must have been thinking Home Rule within a year, not four.

The second, and much more important, is that the Woodenbridge speech was spontaneous in its timing, though not in its content. It was literally John Redmond driving through Wicklow and stumbling into a Volunteer meeting, which he was then given an impromptu opportunity to address, a situation that would explain the short nature of the speech and the slightly clipped aspect of its wording. Knowing that the speech was spontaneous, we might feel a bit more sympathy for Redmond, who presumably had no idea that his words would be taken, a century hence, to be the beginning of the Volunteer split and as his cast iron declaration of support for the World War One cause ever after. That is not to say that the sentiment expressed in the speech was spontaneous of course: Redmond, and others in the IPP, had already publically expressed a support for Irish enlistment to fight Germany before Woodenbridge, I just think it is important to recognise what Woodenbridge was, which was not Redmond’s declarative speech of intent for the Volunteers.

Third, I’m struck by how, even though this speaking opportunity occurred quickly, Redmond is still careful to pick his words in some respects. “British”, “English”, “King”, “Crown” are all words that do not appear, with Redmond treating the Volunteers almost as if they are the army of a sovereign nation that happens to be fighting Germany alongside Britain, and not as part of it. Even here, there is that peculiar brand of nationalism, a vision of what might be, an Irish state with its own armed forces, whose first duty will be to defend its own shores from invasion. He is repeating the talking points with the Allied justifications for the conflict though: the feeling of being “right” to the Central Powers wrong, the defence of freedom and the defence of religious liberty, in relation to the unmentioned Belgium you would presume. Redmond knew his audience, and knew that actually mentioning the name of the army he was advocating they join might not be the best course. He was still a politician.

Lastly, I think it is clear that Redmond was still committed to the Volunteers and what they represented. He wants them to keep drilling, he wants them to arm themselves better, he wants them to maintain their given duty of defending Ireland, something he mentions before any talk of the fight on the continent. He hasn’t suddenly become a British stooge, or an Irish version of Lord Kitchener.

It’s just some things worth thinking about. Redmond, and the Woodenbridge speech, are more complicated than how some would chose to portray them. That complexity is something to be embraced.

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Review: I Am Soldier

I Am Soldier

Trailer

OK, lets give it a go...

OK, lets give it a go…

This popped up in my Netflix queue the other week, a British production with little accompanying detail or great online presence. Noel Clarke, displayed prominently in what little promotion exists, seems to be the main draw, having graduated from his rather whingy Doctor Who days and become one of the more recognisable actors of the British filmmaking establishment, even dabbling in direction when he isn’t popping up in mainstream things like Star Trek Into Darkness. But is this latest, which looks on the surface to be as generic as possible, something that was worth making? Or is it a little bit more than the “British military film” it looks like?

Suffering nightmares about a traumatic incident in his past, Army cook Mickey (Tom Hughes) attempts the selection course of Britain’s Special Air Service, overseen by stern taskmaster Sgt Carter (Noel Clarke). From bad first impressions, through extensive physical challenges and onto the dangerous situations the SAS faces in the field, Mickey strives to become a member of the world’s most elite special service.

Some in-depth discussion of the film, with spoilers, from here on out. For my slightly shorter, non-spoiler review, click here to go to The Write Club.

Films like this, you’ll probably see a half a dozen of them a year coming out of the British scene, male-centric quasi-action movies, based around the military, criminal gangs, prisons or football hooliganism, all trying to capture a little bit of Guy Ritchie only without the brilliant script work or decent cast. You know the type, that frequently bypass cinemas altogether. The best you can generally say about them is that they are an acceptable 90 minutes of entertainment you wouldn’t dream of watching a second time, and that’s essentially what I Am Soldier is.

A basic structure, some basic characters, a basic finale and some nice scenery are what stand out in I Am Soldier, a film that wavers on taking some risks with its plot occasionally, but eventually settles for a comfortable averageness by the time the credits are rolling. The journey of Micky from PTSD suffering cook (shocker: he’s not really a cook) to SAS hard man trips along nicely enough, but features little characterisation or memorable interactions with the other members of the cast. A first act of training seems more of a faux-documentary on how the SAS recruits than anything, just with Noel Clarke’s stern looking face added to the mix.

Stuff like an in-depth look at the SAS “Fan Dance” – a 20 hour trek around the Welsh mountains to test endurance – is interesting, but doesn’t really feel like anything too enthralling, probably because the characters involved – Mickey, his doomed friend and a nameless grunt – are so threadbare, especially at that early point in the film. You don’t know much about them, who they are, why they’re there, or why you should care about their success or failure. So, while these segments of the film provide a look at the extent of which the SAS asks its applicants to test themselves, it is still rather shallow.

The film improves in its second act, an examination of what seems essentially to be SERE training – Survive, Evade, Resist, Extract – in the British Special Forces, as Mickey undergoes a technically fake but brutally realistic simulation of being captured and interrogated by “enemy” forces. It’s actually how the film opens, in medias res, which is one of the better structural decisions the director made.

There’s something remarkably grim and affecting about the reality of torture depicted, which is less about physical abuse in SERE scenarios and more about mental strain, attacks on masculinity and edging the candidate towards the point of breakdown at the right pace. I Am Soldier takes its time with this portion of the film, which is good, because it’s easily the most captivating part of the experience – it’s something you don’t usually see too much of in films of this type, this exact kind of scenario. There was an episode of US TV show The Unit – an underappreciated gem in my opinion – that covered the same territory, and it was similarly interesting there.

Fictionalised documentary, gritty thriller, recruitment film?

Fictionalised documentary, gritty thriller, recruitment film?

Unfortunately, I Am Soldier does lose the run of itself a little bit. Mickey is presented as getting favours from his trainers in a clichéd parachute sequence and from there, we have little time left over for a rushed and pedestrian third act, a generic SAS mission featuring nameless, bog standard foreign bad guys, whom you won’t really care the least bit about, getting shot with bad muzzle flash effects. The best friend dies in bizarre circumstances – trying to take down a suicide bomber hand to hand – and then Mickey and his Sgt have to take care of all the remaining bad guys themselves, seemingly.

Trying to re-enact The Raid seemingly, director Ronnie Thompson tries his luck with some basic unarmed combat cinematography, but the end product just doesn’t really work out, so quick and to the point as it was, with a lack of complexity and all leading to a sudden and deeply unsatisfying conclusion.

I Am Soldier struggles with finding a meaning to the story it is trying to tell, which in the end seems to be a very vague “testing yourself” kind of theme that is remarkably shallow when you get round down to it. I feel like cutting out the third act stuff entirely would have been a better shout, leaving a film entirely about the training to become a member of the SAS, rather than plumping for something with such a slapdash conclusion.

Making just becoming an SAS member the entire point of the exercise would have given Thompson more time to play around with the selection process scenes without recourse to the expected, and he could have used that time to add more characterisation, more dialogue and maybe a bit more of a sense that I Am Soldier had something meaningful to say.

It doesn’t help that the cast is generally not doing great work. Emotional expression is at a minimum, conversations frequently seem stilted or lifeless, and what dialogue exists routinely falls into the category of monologue, usually delivered by Clarke. Neither Hughes nor Clarke can really offer that much, and neither can the limited supporting cast.

That goes especially strong for SRR member Alex Reid who’s barely elaborated upon romantic plot with Mickey is a very disappointing aspect of the production, the kind of thing that consists of some sultry looks and confusing attraction, included just so we can have a shot of her in her underwear (though we do get to see the main characters backside at one point, so at least I Am Soldier is trying to balance it out). Still, those looking for strong, interesting female characters will be left wanting.

I Am Soldier gets some kudos for parts of its visual direction, with the snow capped moors of rural Wales adding a bleakness and grey quality to the films purpose, which was altogether suitable, and the work done during the SERE section, a collection of quick cuts and long drawn out shots that helped place the audience in Mickey’s head suitably. Less good was the constant string of words on the screen, telling rather than showing, giving I Am Soldier a strange feel of being an educational/recruitment film for the SAS. The script, written by the director, is noteworthy only for its lack of notoriety.

I Am Soldier is a 90 minute distraction really, the kind of thing you watch when there is nothing else of value on your plate, or if you just have time to kill. It’s not quite sure what it wants to be: an educational quasi documentary, a gritty action film, an in-depth brothers-in-arms type thing or just some sort of odd recruitment short for the SAS. It needed a tighter focus and less reliance on the most base of structural choices, which insisted on an “action packed” finale when there was no need for one, or a love plot that just seemed pointless.

Those interested in militaria will find nothing they don’t know or haven’t seen before in this, but might find something worth watching in sections (though not the clipped, unsatisfying finale). The story and acting aren’t great and neither is the wordplay, but I Am Soldier mostly delivers on what it professes to offer. Entertaining? In parts. Engaging? Not really. I Am Soldier is just that kind of film, and so can only come with a partial recommendation.

It is what it is. You know what you're getting.

It is what it is. You know what you’re getting.

(All images are copyright of Lionsgate).

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Ireland’s Wars: Strongbow Holds On

So, we’re going back in time a bit. My earlier editions of Ireland’s Wars were more threadbare and looser than the later editions, due to a mixture of numerically inferior sources and my own need to still form a proper approach to the topic, something I think I have achieved a greater hold on in the last year or so. As a result, many of the earliest entries are not as good as they could have been, and cover very large periods of time.

But now I’m going to give things another shot, and I’m going to do so in the evident gap between the “accession” of Richard de Clare – aka “Strongbow” – to the Kingship of Leinster in 1171, and the Battle of the Curragh in 1234.

First, a basic summation of the way things stood in Ireland during 1171. Strongbow had claimed the Leinster crown following the death of Diarmait Mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurrough), but while many historians like to trace the great dominance of this new colony in Ireland from this point, in truth Strongbow and his compatriots were still in a very precarious position. Many of Mac Murchada’s underlings and subordinates had no intention of recognising Strongbow’s dubious claim to the position of power he wanted, still following the native Irish tradition of tanistry succession, backing one of Diarmait’s son, Domhnall, for the position. Few other Irish rulers throughout the country were willing to recognise or tolerate Strongbow’s grab for higher power. And, while it has become traditional to imagine that the death of Diarmait delivered most of Leinster into Strongbow’s hands, the truth was that his holdings were very limited, little more than the towns of Dublin, Wexford and Waterford, with whatever land was around them.

But Strongbow had his advantages. The armed forces he could call upon were small, but of a better quality than the Irish they faced. Those Irish remained as divided and prone to internal division as ever. And, if worst came to worst, Strongbow could also expect (he would have hoped anyway) more support, reinforcements and supply from over the Irish Sea, where many in Wales and beyond were starting to take a much keener interest in Irish affairs than they had before, seeing opportunities for land and power.

One man taken an opposite opinion was Henry II, the King of England, whose begrudging approval had allowed Strongbow’s entire expedition to take place. Now, he saw a rival where he had previously seen just a low ranking noble, and the news of de Clare claiming a crown must have alarmed him. It did not take long for Henry to issue a proclamation barring further resupply and reinforcements to Ireland, and he further ordered his subjects in the country to return home.

Such an edict had the potential to wreck the hard fought for position in Ireland, and Strongbow was desperate to avoid heading home, for the moment anyway. Sending one of his trusted men, Raymond De Gros, back home to plead the colonist’s case to Henry, he remained in Dublin, set on maintaining the position he had fought and politicked hard to gain. He still had some common sense though, and his messages to Henry insisted that the rule of Irish lands under his power would fall to Henry as his liege.

While all of that was being decided, there were still military matters to take care of in Ireland. The first direct threat to Strongbow’s rule came not from the Irish or the English, but from much further afield in the form of a Scandinavian attack. This was led by Ascall mac Ragnaill, called Hasculf in some accounts, a Norse-Gaelic noble who had previously held the Kingship of Dublin before being driven out by Strongbow and Diarmait in 1170. Having retreated to the “northern isles” – probably the Orkney’s – he had assembled a fleet of ships and an army of Norsemen from home and the isles to made a desperate bid to regain his former Kingdom. Some sources make the difficult to believe claim that Ascall had 20’000 men, almost certainly a vast exaggeration. Many have also taken note of a figure fighting for Ascall, “John the Wode” or “John the Mad”, claimed to be high ranking Norse nobility and a fearsome warrior.

The attempt on Dublin was a failure. Ascall landed on the banks of the Liffey successfully and was able to enact a partial blockade of Dublin, focusing on its eastern defences. But the defenders inside the town were not easily cowed, and even absent the talismanic figure of Strongbow – away in the south on other matters – they still resisted the attack strongly. Led by the appointed governor of the town, Miles de Cogan, and along with his brother Richard, they absorbed a fierce Norse attack led by John the Mad, with Miles’ knights holding him off long enough for Richard and a cavalry force to circle behind the enemy from the western gate of Dublin and surprise them. In the fighting that followed, John retreated, and Miles sallied out and attacked the Norse-Gaels, killing thousands (including John), putting the majority to flight and capturing Ascall alive.  Refusing to recant his claim on Dublin, he too was killed. His death could well be seen as a decisive blow against the lingering remains of Norse rule in parts of Ireland, now supplanted by a new invader.

It was a crucial victory for these men, maintaining their control of Dublin and demonstrating, once again, the superior martial capabilities that would soon see them advancing all across Ireland. But having passed this difficult test of their acumen, they were almost immediately faced with another, and greater too. Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (Rory O’Connor), the nominal High King of Ireland and long time enemy of Diarmait, was not ignorant of the potential setbacks he could suffer as a result of this foreign invasion, and was determined to try and snuff it out. It took time to arrange a grand coalition of various Irish nobles and lesser Kings, along with support from the men ruling the various isles of the Irish Sea and beyond, with Ruaidrí wanting to approach Dublin with a combination of assault from both land and sea.

With an alliance that included the likes Tigernán Ua Ruairc (Tiernan O’Rourke) of Briefne and Murchard Ua Cerbaill (Murrogh O’Carroll) of Oriel, Ruaidrí’s army reached a considerable size, and had many boats with which to also use in the planned assault, blocking the mouth of the Liffey so that no aid could come to Dublin from that direction. Soon, this Irish force had set a guard all the Dublin gates, leaving the defenders, now including a returned Strongbow, trapped inside.

Things turned in the Irish direction quickly, with Dublin suffering a lack of food, and its forces unwilling to risk an engagement, apparently being far outnumbered. Strongbow requested negotiations, but they came to nought: an alleged suggestion that he could remain King of Leinster under Ruaidrí’s overlordship was denied.

At some point (the dates for these events are not very clear) Strongbow received word that a compatriot, Robert FitzStephen, was also under siege in a half constructed castle in Wexford. FitzStephen had led the very first incursion into Ireland two years previously, but was now helpless in the face of a local uprising, presumably backed by Ruaidrí.

Despairing of the situation in Dublin, and wanting to save his friend, Strongbow decided that he and his men would attempt an ambitious and dangerous sortie, using most of what force remained to them. The returned Raymond de Gros, Miles de Cogan and Strongbow himself would lead the various battles, followed by an infantry reserve of maybe 600 men.

The result was a spectacular success for them (perhaps too spectacular, though I take most of my info from Irish sources). The besieging Irish were unprepared for the ferocity of the assault, and were not expecting to fight any kind of battle at the time. Before any kind of order could be established, the charging knights had cut through most of the initial ranks of the Irish, and the rest were sent fleeing headlong, including Ruaidrí, who would never quite recover from the ignominy of this defeat, retreating all the way back to his main holdings west of the Shannon. Dublin was saved again, from a numerically superior enemy again, and Norman fighting skill and martial talent proving the difference again.

Strongbow rushed south to try and save FitzStephen, but, delayed by clashes with Irish in Idrone (Carlow), was too late: he had already surrendered, perhaps due to a false report that Dublin had fallen. FitzStephen would remain a prisoner for a while, with many of his attendants were butchered. The men who had taken the castle were unable to stand up to the forces Strongbow brought, setting fire to Wexford and fleeing before he could enact any kind of vengeance.

There was one last threat to Dublin to mention, from the Briefne King, Tigernán Ua Ruairc, who took the opportunity of Strongbow’s absence to launch his own personal attack.  Miles, left in charge of Dublin again, repulsed him, and Tigernán’s son was killed into the bargain. It was the last time Dublin would be seriously threatened for a while.

This sequence of events illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of this colonial position in Ireland vividly enough. Though small in number and in holdings, Strongbow’s forces clearly had superior fighting skill, overturning situations where they were heavily outnumbered time and again. Their cavalry was excellent, and when they had the time to make defensive fortifications, they were difficult to breach. The frequently divided Irish could only attack them piecemeal, and were usually distracted by threats from other Irish Kingdoms anyway. Of course, the isolated nature of their positions also left them vulnerable, as FitzStephen’s situation showed, and any kind of coordinated assault on their territory would prove very difficult to deal with. As it was, Strongbow and his men held on during 1171, a crucial period, as it was at that point that they could have been thrown out of Ireland with greater ease than at any time that followed.

Strongbow, after some brief campaigning to shore up the frontiers of the lands he claimed, was compelled to sail home briefly and offer total submission to Henry, whose plans for an expedition to Ireland were far advanced. A workable deal was eventually made between them: Strongbow retained most of the land in Leinster that he claimed, but gave up Dublin, Wexford and Waterford to the King’s personal authority. Strongbow also regained his family estates in Wales, which had been stripped from him at Henry’s order some time previously.

Before too long, Strongbow would accompany Henry personally, as Ireland played host to the English monarchy for the first time.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

Posted in History, Ireland, Ireland's Wars, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Detail: Iron Man – “Does The Hindenburg Ring Any Bells?” (48.40 – 54.13)

We open on one of the neater moments of Iron Man, a real world tie in to CNBC’s Mad Money, an investment/speculation show that features host Jim Cramer commenting on the world of stocks and bonds in a hyperbolistic and zany fashion, replete with sound effect buttons and manic behaviour. Cramer gives Stark Industries (its stock market acronym apparently being “SIA”) his usual treatment here inside his own studio. According to this interview, Cramer was paid with a Stark Industries baseball cap. I think it’s a great little bit, as it really lays out the gravity of Stark’s decision to move away from military contracts, and the kind of effect such a move will actually have.

Proclaiming on screen as “RAVING MAD”, Cramer is brutal about Stark Industries immediate future, shouting and decrying Stark’s move:

CRAMER:
Stark Industries! I’ve got one recommendation! Ready? Ready? (Pushes sound effect button) ‘Sell, sell, sell’. Abandon ship!” Does the Hindenburg ring any bells!?

We cut to Pepper, who is in Tony’s mansion, watching the TV and looking very troubled by what she is seeing. The shot used here seems deliberately cluttered, with so much crap all over the place, as if to provide a visual representation of Potts’ mind at this moment, trying to deal with the latest in a series of crises. We might also notice she’s in a slightly different outfit to any of the stuff we have seen her in before, a simple black dress, but it remains to be seem whether there is any larger significance to this.

A wider shot shows that Pepper is watching TV on the window of the mansion, a futuristic projection method where you can actually see the ocean in the background. Fancy. Cramer continues his tirade:

CRAMER:
Let me show you the new Stark Industries business plan! (Smashes a cup with a baseball bat). Look, that’s a weapons company that doesn’t make weapons! (Gunshot noises)

Pepper winces at Cramer’s description, probably made worse by the bombastic nature of how he relates his opinion. It really does work quite well as an exposition device though.

A new shot here shows the same table that Pepper is seated at from a different angle, and it looks remarkably less cluttered. Hmm. Pepper’s viewing is interrupted by a call from her boss, made on a very fancy looking tablet computer:

This kind of tech is a good thing to show off, as it exemplifies the kind of person Stark is and the kind of toys that he gets to play with. I mean, look at this thing: picture and picture, automatic transcription, traces location of call, measures volume, has additional contact info ready. I’m only surprised they didn’t take the chance to do more product placement. Oh wait, is that a VTech phone at the top of the shot?

TONY:
Pepper. How big are your hands?

PEPPER:
What?

TONY:
How big are your hands?

PEPPER:
I don’t understand why…

TONY:
Get down here. I need you.

Pepper is clearly mystified about Tony’s request, which certainly does sound quite strange. In the midst of Stark Industries apparent freefall in the stock market, Tony’s focus on the size of Pepper’s hands seems doubly odd.

We’re back in the garage, one of the last places that Tony and Pepper had a proper conversation, with Pepper gaining entry via more fancy technology (though the code to get in being only three digits seems a bit off). Out first glimpse of Tony here shows him shirtless on lying on a gurney, heart monitors beeping and the feel of a hospital coming off of everything. I guess the garage has undergone a bit of a conversion then. We’ll be sticking to this shot for most of the following sequence, and it’s a good one, with plenty of interesting background details without distracting too much from the main focus in the centre.

Tony holds another of the miniaturised Arc reactors, but his gaze is fixed on a clearly apprehensive Pepper, who slowly walks towards Tony, and into focus.

TONY:
Hey. Let’s see them. Show me your hands. Let’s see them.

Pepper puts her hands up, approaching Stark like he has a gun pointed at her. Another shot of Tony from behind Pepper shows a cluttered vista that matches what we saw earlier in this sequence with books, screens and various scientific regalia scattered all around, though the whole place retains a sense of sterility. Behind Tony, our eyes might be drawn to what looks like some kind of robotic arm, which moves very slightly.

TONY:
(Looking at Pepper’s hands) Oh, wow. They are small. Very petite, indeed. I just need your help for a sec.

Pepper is barely listening to Tony though, her gaze fixated on the round bit of metal implanted in Tony’s chest, now lacking the previous glow.

PEPPER:
Oh, my God, is that the thing that’s keeping you alive?

Her tone is a mixture of fascination and horror, seeing something so alien in the place where it is placed.

TONY:
It was. It is now an antique.

Tony’s words come out slow and deliberate, descriptive terms he has long since decided upon. He looks to the new reactor in his hands.

TONY:
This is what will be keeping me alive for the foreseeable future. I’m swapping it up for an upgraded unit, and I just ran into a little speed bump.

Uh oh. Pepper already looked apprehensive about this whole situation, now she starts to get more outwardly worried.

PEPPER:
Speed bump, what does that mean?

TONY:
It’s nothing. It’s’ just a little snag.

Tony twists and then removes the reactor from his chest, the light shining out as he does so. Pepper looks even more horrified at this than before, as Tony hands her the thing that was just inside his chest.

TONY:
There’s an exposed wire under this device. And it’s contacting the socket wall and causing a little bit of a short.

PEPPER:
What do you want me to do?

Tony lays back a bit after removing it, suddenly seeming a bit out of breath and in pain. The removal of the magnet seemingly has had an immediate effect.

TONY:
Put that on the table over there. That is irrelevant.

PEPPER:
Oh my God…

These are tasks that are certainly not in Pepper’s job description. But Tony hasn’t even gotten to the fun part yet.

TONY:
I want you to reach in, and you’re just gonna gently lift the wire out.

Pepper looks aghast at this, and we can’t really blame her.

PEPPER:
Is it safe?

TONY:
Yeah, it should be fine. It’s like Operation. You just don’t let it touch the socket wall or it goes ‘beep’

PEPPER:
What do you mean, ‘Operation’?

TONY:
It’s just a game, never mind.

In truth, this is a comedy scene for the most part. There’s little genuine peril – we all know Tony isn’t dying in this room less than an hour into the film – and this whole bit seems to serve, in character terms, as a way to get Tony and Pepper closer.

TONY:
Just gently lift the wire. Okay? Great.

PEPPER:

You know, I don’t think that I’m qualified to do this.

TONY:
No, you’re fine. You’re the most capable, qualified, trustworthy person I’ve ever met. You’re gonna do great.

Pepper is nervous, yanking her hand away from the tube in Tony’s chest. Tonty responds with a litany of compliments. There’s an obvious sense of Tony just humouring Pepper and babying her through this task, but at the same time there is also a sense of honest in this declaration, that Tony really does think these things about Pepper, tilting his head and with the tone of someone explaining the patently obvious. Has his experience in Afghanistan made him into a more openly affectionate person? It wouldn’t be the greatest leap.

There is still a certain tenseness to the scene as Pepper puts her hand into Tony’s chest. The length she has to go is extreme – in reality, I think her hand should be poking out the back of Tony’s body – but plays up the comedy angle. This is further done by the sound effect of some kind of gunk, making this a gross-out moment as well.

TONY:
Is it too much of a problem to ask? ‘Cause I’m kinda in a jam here…

PEPPER:
Okay, okay.  Oh, there’s pus!

TONY:
It’s not pus. It’s an inorganic plasmic discharge from the device, not from my body.

PEPPER:
It smells!

TONY:
Yeah, it does.

Tony is calm, rational, and comfortable in explaining just what it is Pepper has her hands engulfed in. Pepper, for her part, has a wrinkled, disgusted looking face. It is a bizarre scene, and it’s only going to get weirder (and more obviously comedic).

TONY:
The copper wire. The copper wire, you got it?

PEPPER:
Okay, I got it! I got it!

TONY:
Okay, you got it? Now, don’t let it touch the sides…(It does, Tony cries out in pain for a moment)…when you’re coming out!

PEPPER:
I’m sorry! I’m sorry!

TONY:
That’s what I was trying to tell you before. (Pepper pulls the wire out) Okay, now make sure that when you pull it out, you don’t…(Pepper gives the wire a yank removing the magnet at the end) There’s a magnet at the end of it! [Pepper pulls the magnet out] That was it. You just pulled it out.

PEPPER:
Oh, God!

TONY:
Okay, I was not expecting… Don’t put it back in! Don’t put it back in! The copper wire. The copper wire, you got it?

So, Pepper isn’t so good at operation. Tony keeps the demeanour of a patient teacher throughout all of this, but even his cool has its limits, as his voice starts to tense up even as the machines around him start beeping.

PEPPER:
What’s wrong?

TONY:
Nothing, I’m just going into cardiac arrest ’cause you yanked it out like a trout…

PEPPER:
What? You said it was safe!

The delivery of Tony’s line – a barely restrained annoyance that Pepper didn’t follow his instructions exactly – is perfect, and also serves to remind us of Tony’s attitude towards other people sometimes, and how difficult to can be for geniuses to get others to think on the same level that they do.

TONY:
We gotta hurry. Take this. Take this. [He hands Pepper the new reactor] You gotta switch it out really quick.

PEPPER:
Okay. Okay. (She starts the procedure and then pauses) Tony? It’s’ going to be okay.

TONY:
What? Is it?

PEPPER:
It’s’ gonna be okay. I’m gonna make this okay.

Pepper’s concern, and her belated self assurance is actually kind of adorable, and equally good is Tony’s deadpan reaction. He just wants her to put the reactor in him, fast, and she’s trying to make him feel better unnecessarily. It’s just basic comedy, but it still works.

TONY:
Let’s hope. Okay, you’re gonna attach that to the base plate. Make sure you…(Pepper installs the new reactor, eliciting a brief gasp from Tony)…Was that so hard? That was fun, right?

PEPPER:
Are you okay?

TONY:
Yeah, I feel great. You okay?

At Pepper expression, half horrified, half relieved, as she holds up a hand covered in “plasmic discharge”, Tony just bursts out laughing. He’s still that carefree guy in a lot of ways.

PEPPER:
Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever ask me to do anything like that ever again.

She’s half joking/half serious when she says this, but what it not joking at all is Tony’s reply.

TONY:
I don’t have anyone but you.

The two spend a few moments, and a few cuts, just staring at each other. The smiles and laughter are gone, and the scene is suddenly tense in a different way. We might remember the conversation between Tony and Yinsen back in the cave:

TONY:
Got a family?

YINSEN:
Yes, and I will see them when I leave here. And you, Stark?

TONY:
Nothing… no.

YINSEN:
No? So you’re a man who has everything…and nothing.

Tony seemed genuine disturbed for a moment during that conversation, perhaps thinking about the emptiness of his life back home. He doesn’t have anyone…except Pepper, whose voice he remembered at a desperate moment. She’s his assistant, but we’ve seen already that they are a bit more than that. Friends at the very least, and confidantes of a kind (one way of course). Tony treats Pepper in a way he doesn’t really treat anyone else. Now, Tony is willing to literally put his life in Pepper’s hands and trust her to not screw up, but larger expressions of affection still leave both parties feeling awkward and uncomfortable.

Tony gets up and cleans himself off. Pepper is left holding the older reactor.

PEPPER:
What do you want me to do with this?

TONY:
That? Destroy it. Incinerate it.

Tony is purposeful blunt as he says these words. Pepper is a little surprised.

PEPPER:
You don’t want to keep it?

TONY:
Pepper, I’ve been called many things. ”Nostalgic” is not one of them.

Certainly, we haven’t seen many signs so far that Tony has any kind of sentimental nostalgic quality to him, so I suppose this makes sense. But then again, it kind of doesn’t, and we’ll see why in a second. Tony and Pepper close off their conversation with a repeat of their previous way of addressing each other:

PEPPER:
Will that be all, Mr Stark?

TONY:
That will be all, Miss Potts.

They’re just staring at each other as they say this, with barely a smile on either of their faces. Pepper walks off, holding the reactor with both hands, considering. Tony, after a brief admonition of the robotic arm, watches her go wistfully, tapping the reactor in his cheat like a nervous tick. There’s something there alright, but it will take just a bit longer for it to come out properly.

Those words to the robot arm are notable enough though:

TONY:
Hey, Butterfingers, come here. What’s all this stuff doing on top of my desk? That’s my phone, that’s a picture of me and my dad. (Points to the rest) Right there. In the garbage. All that stuff.

Starting a running joke where Tony is adversarial to the anthropomorphised robotic arm, Tony lectures the device on the cleanliness of his work station. He puts only two things aside when it comes to the cleanup: his phone and the previously seen picture of him and his father working on vehicles when Tony was a child. Didn’t Tony just say that he isn’t known for being nostalgic? It isn’t quite true. Tony has kept this picture for a reason, and continues to give it a great deal of worth.

An establishing shot of an airbase, complete with taxing fighter and another C-130 in the background, follows. We cut inside a hanger, the frame dominated by two aerial vehicles, another F-22 and a Global Hawk drone. Rhodes, now in a plain military uniform, leads what we can easily assume to a be a group of cadets or trainees through the hanger in the lower part of the shot, but the framing is clearly meant, initially at any rate, to draw the eye away from them. The choice of a manned and unmanned aerial vehicle for this is a deliberate one.

RHODES:
The future of air combat. Is it manned or unmanned?

An important topic for the US Air Force. The shot changes to take in Rhodes and his class at a closer length. The overalls indicate an informal atmosphere, but the various decorations and insignia remind us that we are still in a military setting. This is a rare look at Rhodes the teacher, addressing the class of prospective pilots (presumably) like a university lecturer, complete with hand movements and grand pronunciations.

RHODES:
I’ll tell you, in my experience, no unmanned aerial vehicle will ever trump a pilot’s instinct, his insight, that ability to look into a situation beyond the obvious and discern its outcome, or a pilot’s judgment.

It’s the basic argument over the use of unmanned craft, and their perceived negatives. Iron Man is going to be exploring this concept a little bit, as the interruption of Rhodes teachings will make clear:

TONY:
Colonel? Why not a pilot without the plane?

Tony, dressed in a leather jacket that almost makes him look like a fighter pilot from World War Two, emerges to Rhodes’ right. His difference in appearance in comparison to everyone else is, well, stark. He isn’t just a civilian in a military setting, but a very flashy civilian in a military setting. Though, in some ways, he still seems small next to other people, still recovering, at least in some shots.

Tony’s actual words set up the reason why he is here to meet Rhodes, and give a very definite hint for what is to come. Manned or unmanned? Why not eliminate the plane and just keep the man?

RHODES:
Look who fell out of the sky. Mr Tony Stark.

Rhodes introduces his friend like the celebrity he is, and doesn’t seem unduly surprised to see him there despite his words. Tony shakes hands and immediately becomes dominant in the scene.


TONY:
Speaking of manned or unmanned, you gotta get him to tell you about the time he guessed wrong at spring break. Just remember that, spring break, 1987. That lovely lady you woke up with.

RHODES:
Don’t do that!

TONY:
What was his name?

RHODES:
Don’t do that.

TONY:
Was it Ivan?

RHODES:
Don’t do that. They’ll believe it. Don’t do that.

Just friendly banter to set the scene, albeit still friendly banter that is entirely at Rhodes’ expense. Stark still cannot help but be the dominant one in this relationship and it really, really shows sometimes. The class laughs at Stark’s stupid joke/story, as does Rhodes, laughing it off. Still, the atmosphere seems oddly strained, maybe because of Stark’s last public appearance and what it entailed.

RHODES:
I’m surprised.

TONY:
Why?

RHODES:
I swear, I didn’t expect to see you walking around so soon.

TONY:
I’m doing a little better than walking.

RHODES:
Really?

Rhodes is immediately intrigued by Tony’s last words. If he was a dog his ears would have pricked up. He knows Tony well enough that when he says something like “I’m doing a little better than walking” it means he must be working on something.

TONY:
Rhodey, I’m working on something big. I came to talk to you. I want you to be a part of it.

Tony is strangely hesitant here, with some notable pauses between sentences, as if he himself is unsure whether he should be approaching Rhodes with this. We’ll learn a bit more about why Tony isn’t full of trust in the next entry.


RHODES:
You’re about to make a whole lot of people around here real happy, ’cause that little stunt at the press conference, that was a doozy.

Rhodes is all smiles now, delighted to see Tony, apparently, come back to his senses. He obviously expects some kind of military project, and scornfully mentions Stark’s performance at the press conference. We should remember the look on Rhodes’ face at that conference, which was bordering on disgust.

TONY:
This… is not for the military.. I’m not… It’s different.

He’s hesitant again for this bit of dialogue, but seemingly has no interest in maintaining the illusion that everything is back to normal in the world of Tony Stark.

Rhodes’ expression turns to appalled, and the conversation immediately has a very nasty undertone to it. He can’t contemplate that Tony is turning his back on the military.

RHODES:
What? You’re a humanitarian now or something?

Rhodes is actually angry, which might be a bit of a surprise, but makes sense. He’s career military, fairly high ranking in the air force, has risked his life to find Tony in the desert. Now Tony is blowing the military off in a very casual manner, and here is Stark himself asking Rhodes for help to work on new projects. Stark’s actions must seem very insulting to a man like Rhodes at this moment in time. Moreover, Rhodes has borne the brunt of some of Stark’s cruel jesting at times during this film, so this sudden volte-face in his personality must seem even more surprising.

TONY:
I need you to listen to me.

RHODES:
No. What you need is time to get your mind right. I’m serious.

Tony is almost pleading with his words, but Rhodes, for a change, interrupts him and adopts a condescending tone, clearly thinking that Tony has still not recovered, mentally, from his ordeal in Afghanistan. He isn’t interested in whatever Tony is working on, and the implication is that he believes Stark’s newfound pacifism to be a temporary thing.

This annoys Tony, who puts on an obviously fake smile and then visibly seems to suppress a scowl, choking down whatever angry words he has in his throat. The conversation, on his part is over. The old Tony might have had a biting retort, but not the modern Stark. Maybe he is just hurt and stunned that Rhodes is blowing him off so quickly, but actions do have consequences.

RHODES:
It’s nice seeing you, Tony.

Rhodes is already walking away as he says this. Tony will be alone as he moves forward, lacking the support of even the man he considers one of his closest friends.

TONY:
Thanks.

He says the words like a whisper, terse and annoyed. Whatever the “something big” is, Tony is going to be doing it solo.

For The Film

This brief sequence is a sort of transition period, before we get into the real fun and games of constructing the new suit. Two key relationships involving Tony Stark have to be reintroduced and defined for the rest of the film. In the first, his closeness and reliance on Pepper is elaborated upon, with Stark giving serious hints that his feelings for her go beyond the professional. Secondly, his friendship with Rhodes takes a turn for the antagonistic, with their respective world views no longer meshing as well as they did before. In a larger sense, Stark has been left alone to continue his great work, surrounded by people who claim to care about him, but whom he does not trust enough to actually make them a part of the project he is about embark upon.

Characterisation

Pepper Potts

She remains in a very concerned state, with both Tony and the fate of his company. She is surprised by the depth of trust Tony has with her, but is understandably horrified by the exact task that her boss has in mind for her in this sequence. Still, there is an obvious depth of feeling there, though she is clearly a bit shocked to be presented with the reality of it so obviously.

Tony Stark

Stark has plans, and has the means to carry them out. He involves Pepper in his minor surgery, showing a large degree of trust in her, before the expression of some deeper feelings that leave both him and her a bit uncomfortable. A lack of sentiment sees him throw the old reactor away, but there are still signs that he retains some nostalgia. With Rhodes, he tries to open up and involve his friend in some of his grander schemes, but is hurt and angered by the rapid refusal and dismissive attitude.

James Rhodes

“Rhodey” is initially happy to see Tony and his advanced recovery, and visibly delighted and intrigued when he mentions a new project. But he quickly becomes angry, dismissive and hostile when Tony maintains his new stance on the military, curt and flippant as the two part, seemingly on bad terms.

Next time, Tony begins constructing the Mark II.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: The Unknown Known

The Unknown Known

Trailer

Why is this man smiling? Errol Morris tries to answer that question.

Why is this man smiling? Errol Morris tries to answer that question.

Errol Morris’ The Fog Of War is a great investigative documentary, the kind that offers a new or unique perspective on already known about events. It was lightning in a bottle, and deservedly won an Oscar with its unflinching examination of the beliefs and actions of Robert McNamera. In his latest documentary effort, Morris attempts to recapture the feel and effect of The Fog Of War, but with a very different subject.

In my college years, I first read Tom Ricks’ brilliant Fiasco: The American Military Adventure In Iraq. It outlines, in excruciating detail, the litany of mistakes, failures of intelligence, and general incompetence that lead up to the Iraq War. I was struck by how much Ricks didn’t ever actually have to say, usually just leaving the figures involved to speak for themselves, with widescale quoting of the public record to demonstrate, simply and effectively, the tidal wave of irrational and flawed thinking that permeated the Bush administration at the time. At the heart of all of that, one of the lynchpins in the disaster that was the decision to attack Iraq, was one Donald Henry Rumsfeld.

Donald Rumsfeld is a two time US Secretary of Defence, intimately involved in the decisions to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq under the Presidency of George W. Bush. Using his many memos – dubbed “snowflakes” by the people who had to deal with the sheer volume of them– as a focus point, Morris questions Rumsfeld on numerous topics: his role under three administrations, the War on Terror, torture as an interrogation technique and what justifications he can offer for some of the most unsavoury parts of his political career.

Whereas The Fog Of War was more of a lecture delivered by the main focus, comprised of various lessons, The Unknown Known is more like an exercise in dodging and wriggling: Morris puts Rumsfeld under the spotlight and tries to get him to open up about the more noted aspects of his life and career, and Rumsfeld does everything that he can to avoid the point of the entire exercise. To an extent, this makes The Unknown Known a very unsatisfying experience, one that you might well question the worth of.

Those who seek out this film in a bid to get new insights into the Iraq War or the declarations on torture will be left disappointed, as the interviewee spends the better part of two hours refusing to allow anything but the most superficial glimpse into the most infamous things associated with him, towing the party line consistently. You don’t really get a feel for Rumsfeld’s motivations at any point and you can almost feel the frustration of the filmmaker by the time we head towards the conclusion.

What you do get is a lesson in self justification, delusion and a certain banality of evil. Rumsfeld seems to revel in creating confusion and fog around his actions – the very title of this piece comes from one of his most obtuse lectures on the shaky nature of intelligence, essentially saying that sometimes you don’t have as much of a grasp on a topic as you think you have – and almost encourages the practise of imagining the way things might be over contemplating hard fact.

Rumsfeld seems more willing to talk about things far in the past than anything in the last years of his career. His service under Nixon and Ford provides some interesting anecdotes but nothing of real substance: while it is interesting to hear about Nixon’s readiness to sack Rumsfeld when he was getting too politically popular, it doesn’t really seem to add anything to the matter at hand, other than to make the audience understand the potentially poisonous political atmosphere of the White House. Even when talking about his wife, Rumsfeld is cagey, admitting only that he didn’t really want to get married when he did, only doing so because he didn’t want his wife to marry anyone else. Such thinking – taking risks in the hope that everything will turn out alright – permeates much of what else The Unknown Known discusses.

The tracking of Rumsfeld’s career is quick, with the focus never getting into the true nitty gritty of various appointments, offering the most bland kind of summations, such as his faux intellectual description of Middle Eastern politics as a swamp, or briefly confirming he wasn’t too far away from being a President of the United States in the 1980s, something he doesn’t seem unduly regretful over.

Rumsfeld is more than happy to talk about his past, but not so much on the present.

Rumsfeld is more than happy to talk about his past, but not so much on the present.

That last is an odd little outlying point to bring up, something that again doesn’t really add anything to the matter at hand, and I suspect was included just to make a good trailer moment. Essentially, Rumsfeld could have been Ronald Reagan’s VP pick when he got elected, and from there he could probably have taken the place of George H. W. Bush in history. There are no recriminations, no anger, just a fleeting consideration on Rumsfeld’s face as he, (probably) imagines what might have been. But this is a guy who has made an enormous habit over not spending too much time dwelling on the past, so I suppose I should not be surprised.

When it comes to the last 15 or so years, we see a picture painted of a man who was delighted with practical celebrity, one of the main architects of post 9/11 America, who saw that act as his generations Pearl Harbour, and as a chance to make the United States the main player on the international stage – as if its position as such was threatened before the planes crashed into the WTC – once more. An evocative section outlines Rumsfeld’s opinions on the fall of Saigon, and how the reputation of the United States as the world’s great power preoccupied much of his thinking. Perhaps his time would have been better spent thinking more about the correct use of that power.

But even Morris’ calculated use of archive footage to undermine Rumsfeld’s own defences isn’t enough to get any great revelations or introspection from the man, who is quick with the deflecting quip or distracting aside. There are moments in watching The Unknown Known when you almost feel like you’re playing L.A. Noire, and what to start mashing the “Lie” button repeatedly. I suppose the film has some worth is being that 90+ minute reel of what a person looks like when they don’t really want to talk about a certain topic, not really, and put the fullest amount of their energy into making sure nothing of substance is really said.

Rumsfeld claims assassination of political leaders is immoral and wrong, then quickly dismisses the Dora Farms strike as an acceptable “act of war” – another that came down to bad intelligence. He insists the American people knew full well that Saddam Hussein was not involved in the 9/11 attacks, and then dismisses poll evidence that suggests otherwise (and presumably ignores his own remarks, as Secretary of Defence, on the topic back in 2002). He insists that prisoners should be treated well, and then does his utmost to excuse, deflect, distract and dodge when it comes to his own role in the stripping of Geneva Convention rights from prisoners, the escalating use of physical tactics in “interrogations” and the continued existence of places like Camp X-Ray. Always and ever, there is a recognisable and frustrating use of weasel words and a firm refusal to accept the fullest amount of responsibility.

And then, on the biggest topic of all, The Unknown Known is, in my eyes, a failure of investigation. When it comes to why America invaded Iraq at all, Rumsfeld is brief and as deflecting as ever, pointing to the intelligence he had and rehashing the same old soundbytes that he has for the last 15 years. Depictions of the failure in Tora Bora, the disintegration of order in Iraq (remember that “democracy is messy” line?) and the rise of insurgencies the US unexpectedly had to fight all flash by very fast, with Morris preferring to spend time on the threats of resignation Rumsfeld used when he turned unpopular, and the eventual carrying out of that eventuality, though there isn’t too much on the mass accusations of incompetence Rumsfeld was targeted with by high ranking military officers. It’s easy to imagine Rumsfeld lack of opening up being the reason, the former Secretary of Defence refusing to contemplate for too long even meetings with injured soldiers.

At no point in The Unknown Known does Donald Rumsfeld satisfactorily answer the key question on Iraq: Why were we there? Perhaps I might criticise Morris for failing to nail him as hard as he could on particular point, but I suppose that might be a bit unfair: when the subject is so unwilling to actually talk, asking questions becomes a chore. Rumsfeld sticks to the established line, of faulty intelligence and “unknown knowns”, and never gives much of a hint that he feels, any real way, responsible for much of what happened in the Spring of 2003.

The Unknown Known matches Morris’ established visual style. Rumsfeld is placed dead centre, the camera staring straight into his face, as if the director wants us to have the best seat possible to stare into the focus’ soul. Such an approach has its advantages, allowing us to really get an understanding of what the human face goes through as it ponders another round of question dodging. Mixed in with that is Morris’ continued use of archival footage, Rumsfeld’s “snowflakes”, metaphorical imagery and time-lapse photography. Some is subtle and effective, some is blunt and forceful, and there is a definite sense that Morris is simply reusing many of the things he used in The Fog of War. You might also guess that Morris is a bit of a House of Cards fan, loving the repeated shots of a time-lapsed Washington D.C mixed in with Danny Elfman’s choir-backed score. Echoing strains of his work in gothic productions like Sleep Hollow or the Batman series (especially Batman Returns), Elfman’s score is haunting and ominous, maybe a little too much, considering this was a documentary, not a horror film.

Some of Rumsfeld’s parting words, when asked why he is even bothering to partake in Morris’ documentary, are essentially that he doesn’t know himself, a moment equalled by one that preceded it as Rumsfeld struggles to even understand some of his own statements read back to him. Those moments sort of sum up the underwhelming nature of film, which is ultimately a bit of a disappointment, lacking a central point or pivotal moment in the inspection of Donald Rumsfeld. I came out of it with a better feel for the kind of person that Rumsfeld is (“snake-like” springs to mind, but without much extra knowledge of his career and the decisions that defined it. I feel as if Morris was unable to get the kind of answers that would satisfy, and was left trying to pull together enough of a basic glimpse of this man to fill the running time.

You could compare The Unknown Known to The Armstrong Lie, since they both cover a single subject in detail, a subject perceived rather negatively for their past actions. But I certainly preferred The Armstrong Lie more, maybe because Alex Gibney made a tighter production, with his narrative and personal history of changing perception of Lance Armstrong making things a bit more focused and intriguing, not to mention a greater amount of digging into the psyche and motivations of the titular cyclist. I feel as if this did not occur to anywhere near the same extent with Donald Rumsfeld in The Unknown Known, where the titular politician was given to much of a grand stage to dominate proceedings.

There are no apologies, no admittance of wrongdoing and no kind of journey for Rumsfeld to go on. There is just him wriggling out of any accusation and them smiling and laughing about it, with a leering grin this is as unsettling as it is, when you think about the responsibility that Rumsfeld had in the run-up to the catastrophe that was Iraq, reprehensible (the films very tagline is “Why is this man smiling?”). For all those reasons, I cannot really bring myself to recommend The Unknown Known, a film that may only infuriate when it doesn’t just simply fail to land.

Somewhat underwhelming.

Somewhat underwhelming.

(All images are copyright of RADiUS-TWC, I Wonder Pictures, NFP Marketing and Distribution and VPRO).

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Ireland’s Wars: A Summary Of The Eleven Year Wars

My coverage of the wars of the mid-16th century has come to an end, but I still want to bookend things with a post similar to this one, before I move on to anything else.

Before I get into anything though, I’d like to briefly talk names. What we have here is a conflict that generally lasted between October 1641 and April 1653. The fighting changed drastically throughout this time period, in terms of factions and combatants. Generally speaking, the period is split between two conflicts: The Irish Confederate Wars from 1641 to 1649, and then the Cromwellian Conquest, with the end of the Confederation and the arrival of Cromwell – essentially around the Battle of Rathmines – as the divider. For the conflict as a whole, the “Eleven Years War” is often used.

I think that, while there were many changes throughout the fighting, it was still a period of continuous warfare with similarities in opposing sides. But you cannot dub the entire conflict the “Irish Confederate Wars” or the “Cromwellian Conquest”. Therefore, if I can be so bold, I have decided to go with my own, slightly tweaked, moniker: The “Eleven Year Wars”. Two conflicts, over the course of eleven years (and a few months, but let’s not quibble) that were still deeply connected.

So let’s forge ahead. Out of necessity, I’ll have to limit myself here for every heading, lest this whole post become far too long, so just a few entries per heading. First, some talk on factions.

Factions

-Royalists

Those forces, headed by James Butler, the Earl of Ormond, who fought on behalf of Charles I and later his son. They benefited from the political experience and diplomatic acumen of their leader, which was able to neuter the Confederate threat for much of the war and later subsume it, as well as their favourable military position for much of the war. But they had a paucity of competent subordinates to Ormond, and an inability to make good on the late alliance with the rebel Irish in the face of determined military resistance.

-Parliamentarians

Those forces, with varying political beliefs, who backed the Parliament in the Civil Wars and fought under (for a time) Inchiquin, Michael Jones, Cromwell and Ireton. Positives include the professionalism and ability of their armed forces, especially in the latter half of the wars, and the dedication in maintaining a small but powerful holding in Ireland before that point. Negatives would include a mostly counter-productive COIN campaign in the final years of the war, along with a tendency for some of its commanders – like Inchiquin – to be less than wholehearted in their support.

-Confederates (“Nuncioists”)

Those forces, the hardcore Catholics, who backed the Papal Nuncio Rinuccini in the Confederation, particularly the Ulster Army of Owen Roe O’Neill. Their strength came from their religious and political determination, and the fighting quality of O’Neill and his men, which landed a death blow on the Covenanters at Benburb. But weaknesses told, as this faction was small and wasted its period of ascendency in the Confederation, fading away in the aftermath of 1646.

-Confederates (“Ormondists”)

Those forces, the moderates, who favoured compromise and alliance with James Butler’s Royalists in the Confederation, particularly the Leinster Army of Thomas Preston. They worked their way into a position of control over the Confederation twice over, and had some useful military commanders. But they lacked true battlefield success, and lost most of their authority in the amalgamation with the Royalists.

-Covenanters

Those forces, under Robert Monro, who occupied large parts of Ulster from Scotland in the early part of the war. Spirited fighters, they had much presence and power in those early years, but faltered when the tests came, disintegrating slowly as differences in their political make-up came to the fore.

Commanders

Only the most important, and in alphabetical order:

-Roger Boyle, the Lord Broghill

His role in securing the coast of Cork without much bloodshed is an underappreciated moment in the Cromwellian campaigns, as it allowed extra weeks of military manoeuvre by Cromwell and a decent position for the following years campaigns. While sidelined to a degree afterwards during the Wars, Broghill still played his part in strangling the Royalists, and would then play Kingmaker in 1660.

-Ulick Burke, the Earl of Clanricarde

Hesitant at the start of the war and then varying shades of mediocre in the later stages, Burke is notable mostly for overseeing the final defeat of the Royalist cause in Ireland. With a melancholy disposition and a tendency for the conservative, he was a poor choice to succeed Ormond.

- James Butler, the Earl of Ormond

Wielded his considerable political and negotiation skills well in the first years of the war, ensuring the survival of the Royalist faction without resort to much military activity. But he was weak whenever faced with the Parliamentarian foe, whether it was his surrender of Dublin in 1647 or his stuttered and stumbling leadership after Cromwell’s arrival.

-Charles Coote

One of the big winners of the wars, helping to decide the fighting in Ulster and laying claim to the destruction of the famed Ulster Army. Coote matched his ruthlessness with genuine military ability, and his rise throughout the period, from unimportant subordinate to ennobled Earl of Montrath, is evidence of that.

-Oliver Cromwell

Determined, skilled, brutal: Cromwell blew the Royalist faction to pieces during his brief time in Ireland with a succession of rapid sieges and infamous slaughters, not least the one he came of worse in at Clonmel. With his leadership and the power of the New Model Army, the Parliamentarians put the Royalists on the road to an all but inevitable defeat, creating a bitter legacy in Ireland that would long outlast him.

-John Hewson

A faithful and useful subordinate, Hewson’s forces were the lynchpin in many Parliamentarian plans in the closing stages of the war, and his COIN operation were at the forefront of the Parliamentarian response to the Tory threat in south Leinster.

-Henry Ireton

Always struggling to fill the boots of his father-in-law, Ireton can be criticised for his lack of verve and imagination when drawing up plans, falling miserably to cross the Shannon at the first time of asking after getting easily distracted by other matters. But taking Limerick, while it took a great deal of time, was a notable success, that Ireton did not live long to celebrate.

-Michael Jones

Vital to the Parliamentarians for no other reason than his leadership critically weakening the Royalists via the victory at Dungan’s Hill, before securing the Parliamentarians position with his victory at Rathmines. His premature death on campaign has resulted, perhaps, in his under appreciation as a player for the Roundhead cause.

-Alasdair McColla

One of the key leaders of Montrose’s remarkable journey across Scotland, utilising some of the most hardened Irish fighters available to do so. McColla is, perhaps, more notable for his reputation than his tangible successes, but that reputation was worth a lot in some battles.

-Heber McMahon

The hapless Bishop of Clogher was a compromise choice to lead the Ulster Army after the death of Owen Roe, and it really showed.

-George Monck

Helped to wipe out the last of the really dangerous Covenanter faction in Ulster during his time Ireland, later deflecting the threat of Owen Roe O’Neill for a crucial time, an act he was little rewarded for. But his daring and ingenuity in Ireland should have been a sign of things to come.

-Robert Monro

A tough commander who was able to secure a large part of Ulster with relative ease, but then failed to really make good on any of it in the larger war. The defeat at Benburb was a terrible blow, and his fall from grace was inevitable in the aftermath.

-Murrogh O’Brien, the Earl of Inchiquin

“The burner” certainly made his impact in Munster, whether he was fighting for Charles or the Parliament. He successfully held the south coast of Cork in the face of repeated attacks from numerous sources, and his own offensive campaigns are legendary for their brutality – and effectiveness. However, he seemed to lose much of his martial prowess following his final change of sides, and was an ineffective and diminished figure under the Royalist flag during the post-Rathmines phase.

-Hugh Dubh O’Neill

Came into the war in a larger way late, but one of the only Royalists who could claim to have given Cromwell as good as he got. His defence of both Clonmel and Limerick were decent efforts, but came at times when the lack of support was a fatal disadvantage.

-Owen Roe O’Neill

The great giant of the Confederation, in truth Owen Roe’s achievements are out of proportion to his popular image. Benburb was an amazing success, but came on the heel of years of defeat and inactivity. Afterwards, he was unable to make much of the victory, caught up in the intrigues and strife of the Confederate faction. His absence from the main stage in the last period of his life was a regrettable loss for the Royalist/Confederates.

-Phelim O’Neill

Could claim to have started the war, and been one of its last victims. Phelim was decent at organisation, working under others and conjuring resistance, but in actual command his record is far more spotty. He faded from view after the arrival of Owen Roe, his valiant enough defence of Charlemont notwithstanding.

-Thomas Preston

Could never really prove the truth of his reputation, except in small moments. Skilled with carrying out and combating sieges, his high point was the taking of Duncannon in 1645, a masterful job. But it cannot eclipse the terrible low of Dungan’s Hill, or his feuding with Owen Roe which so damaged the Confederate ability to fight.

-Giovanni Rinuccini

Going far outside of his mandate, Rincuccini, with the backing of Owen Roe, essentially ruled much of Ireland for a short time in 1646, thanks to his role in making Benburb a possibility..Uncompromising and fanatically devoted to his own cause, his political manoeuvrings and sectarian motivations played their part in weakening the Confederation to a bad degree, before he was obliged to leave the country.

-Robert Stewart

Created the Laggan Army, which prevented all of Ulster from falling into either Confederate or Covenanter hands in the early part of the war, before his role became much more reduced. He had the chance to have a much larger role, but save the 1649 Siege of Londonderry, he had little impact on the rest of the war.

-Theobald Taafe

A political choice to lead the Munster Army during a crucial period, Taafe proved completely unable to live up to the responsibilities of the task set before him. Badly shown up repeatedly by Inchiquin, his defeat at Knocknanuss was as bad as or worse than that of Dungan’s Hill.

-James Touchet, the Earl of Castlehaven

With a greater publicity machine than martial skill, Castlehaven can claim to be at the heart of some notable Confederate successes, not least his campaigns in Cork, but also played his hand in some notable failures. Dubious allegiances and an unwillingness to acknowledge his own flaws put a dampener on any of the positives he might have enjoyed.

Phases

-Phase One: Uncoordinated Violence (October 1641 –  early 1642)

From the first seizures of Phelim O’Neill’s plot to the start of 1641, this was a phase of sectarian massacre and the first few halting moves at something slightly more organised, like the attempt to take Drogheda. But the war remained a messy uncoordinated thing regardless. Also includes the “Battles” of Julianstown and Swords.

-Phase Two: Factionalisation (Early 1642 – October 1642)

In this period we see the factions of the time come into clearer focus, in terms of both identity and territory held: the Royalists, the Confederation of Kilkenny and the Scottish Covenanters. It is a period marked by repeated Confederate defeats even as they consolidated control over much of the country. Includes the Battles of Kilrush, Glenmaquin and Liscarroll and one of the first notable Confederate successes with the 1642 Siege of Limerick.

-Phase Three: Royalist/Confederate War (October 1642 – September 1643)

The really proper section of the war where fighting between Confederate and Royalist forces was hottest. Again marked by repeated Confederate failures, but also a general solidification of their position. Includes the Battles of New Ross, Clones, Portlester, Fermoy Ford and the Siege of Galway.

-Phase Four: Low Boil (September 1643 – October 1645)

A period of cessation between Confederate and Royalist, and growing power/solidification of Covenanters and Parliamentarian. Little large scale combat in most respects. Includes the failed Ulster Expedition, the Munster “Reduction” Campaign of Castlehaven, the Sieges of Youghal and Duncannon as well as the Irish involvement in Scottish campaigns.

-Phase Five: The Confederates Ascendant (October 1645 – Mid 1647)

After the arrival of Rinuccini, the Confederation, now dominated by the more hard-line Catholics, enjoys a slew of successes, most notably Benburb, until the failure to take Dublin in November of 1646 and the subsequent weakening of the “ Nuncioists” position. Also includes Rinuccini’s Coup, the First Ormonde Peace and the Sieges of Roscommon and Bunratty.

-Phase Six: Parliamentarian Rise (Mid 1647 to early 1648)

A period of Roundhead recovery and increasing dominance, marked most notably by the victories of Dungan’s Hill and Knocknanuss. Also includes the Sack of Cashel and Ormonde’s surrender of Dublin to Michael Jones.

-Phase Seven: Five Factions (Early 1648 – Early 1649)

Marks the appearance, at one time, of five separate armed factions in Ireland – Royalists, Parliamentarians, Covenanters, Confederate Nuncioists and Confederate Ormondists – and the jockeying for position and power between them. Includes the “Confederate Strife”, the downfall of the Covenanter faction and the Second Ormond Peace.

-Phase Eight: Royalist Dominance (Early 1649 – August 1649)

The newly reinvigorated Royalist faction advances in several areas, most notably around Dublin, before the decisive defeat at Rathmines. The Parliamentarians hang on. Also includes the 1649 Siege of Londonderry and the Royalist Summer Offensive.

-Phase Nine: Cromwell’s Campaigns (August 1649 – May 1650)

Cromwell and the New Model Army’s arrival devastates the Royalist position through a succession of quick and brutal sieges and assaults. Includes the Sieges of Drogheda, Wexford, New Ross, Duncannon, Carrick-on-Suir, Waterford, Kilkenny and Clonmel, as well as the Battle of Arklow, the conquest of Ulster, Crowell’s Winter Offensive and the death of Owen Roe O’Neill.

-Phase Ten: The Long Defeat (May 1650 – May 1652)

The reduced Royalist faction faced a drawn out lessening of their power and territory at the hands of several Parliamentarian commanders, most notably Henry Ireton, until the final collapse of their ability to resist conventionally. Includes the Battles of Scarrifholis, Tecroghan, Meelick Island and Knocknaclashy, the Sieges of Waterford, Charlesmont, Athlone, Limerick and Galway, Ireton’s first and second offensive against the Shannon defensive line and the Bishops Coup.

-Phase Eleven: The Tory War (May 1652 – April 1653)

Following the end of the conventional war, the bands of irregular “Tory” fighters continue to hold out and inflict damage on the Parliamentarian occupier before being overwhelmed. Includes the campaigns of Dungun and Scurlock and the final surrenders.

-Phase Twelve: Scattered Resistance (April 1653 – 1660)

Under the Protectorate, smaller elements continue to resist the rule of Parliament in Ireland, but without lasting success or serious aspirations of victory, until the downfall of the Roundhead cause. Includes the Restoration Coups.

The Crucial Moments

-Kilrush

A seemingly minor combat in the middle of Kildare in a very early part of the conflict, but I think that Kilrush is more important than it might initially appear. The result set the tone for much of the years to come: a numerically inferior Royalist army not only beat a rebel Irish force that was blocking its line of retreat to Dublin, but beat them very badly. Butler proved his command capability, and the future Confederates had to deal with yet another defeat when it really mattered. A different result could have changed much, not least in the direct danger to Ormond or subsequent danger to an undefended, or lesser defended, Dublin. Events like Kilrush defined the limitations of the Confederation side, and played its part in that factions lack of momentum before the cessation came into effect.

-Youghal

Castlehaven was one of the few Confederate commanders to actually achieve some tangible results early in the war, even if those results were vastly exaggerated in their scope and effect. His reduction of Parliamentarian control in Cork and other parts of Munster was a spectacular success, that pushed Inchiquin back to a small strip of land on the southern coast. But the failure to take Youghal – or to even make the fullest effort to try and take it – set back much of what had been gained in the campaign, giving Inchiquin some breathing room and ensuring that the Confederate designs in the area would never reach completion. Imagine how the Confederates or Royalists might have got on if they had been able to pinch out this area of Parliamentarian control then and there. Years later, when Cromwell was able to take Youghal and other towns on the coast without much fighting, some former Confederates were probably cursing their bad luck.

-Dublin

Having given the Covenanters a blow they would never really recover from at Benburb, and having then gone on to take over the Confederation in a coup, the loose alliance of Owen Roe O’Neill, Giovanni Rinuccini and Thomas Preston had their best opportunity of the war to put the Royalists to the sword. The campaign to take Dublin had some serious strategic possibilities, not least the securing of Ireland’s biggest urban area and most of the east coast. Who knows where the Confederates could have gone from there, with Butler defeated and the hard-line Catholics of the Confederation riding a wave of victories. The failed campaign around Dublin illustrated vividly the repeating flaws of the Confederation, namely the never ending personal animosity among its higher ups.

-Rathmines

The Royalist resurgence of 1649 seemed, at moments, to be an irresistible movement, that could seriously turn the tide of the larger war in the British Isles. The subsuming of the Confederation and the taking of Drogheda were examples of the kinds of things Ormond and his allies were able to achieve. But it all came to nought outside Dublin, when Ormond’s unprepared army was sent fleeing by the daring and decisiveness of Michael Jones, whose actions that day might well have saved the capital from imminent capture, and ensured the safe arrival of Oliver Cromwell’s immense forces. The Royalists would never recover, Rathmines serving as their own high water mark.

-Meelick Island

A very personal choice. On its own, the battle at Meelick does not seem to have had too much of an effect, but if one looks closer they might see the possibilities. If the Connacht forces that were annihilated there had been able to resist the attack that destroyed them, and make their way home, it would have been another few thousand troops for the defence of the Shannon line in the attacks to come, more men to garrison Limerick or Athlone, more men for Henry Ireton to have to try and deal with. The existence of those men could have made a difference, even if it was to make the war last another year. Time can change much: the continued survival of the Royalist faction could have led to decisive foreign intervention, or any number of possible reprieves. The Parliamentarian victory there was one of the larger blows the Royalists suffered in the last phases of the struggle.

Final Thoughts

Reading back over the Eleven Year Wars, I am again struck by the immensity and complexity of this struggle. One only has to look at its beginnings and ends to see the vastness of political and factional change that took place in Ireland during that time:  In 1641, a group of Catholic noblemen seized some forts and castles to try and force Charles I to make good on promises of religious toleration and reform. In 1653, Tory bands allied to the doomed Royalist cause of Charles’ son were surrendering to the rampant armies of the English Parliament.  In the meantime, there were changes of allegiance, new forces brought in and old ones defeated, political solutions, decried cessations, foreign interventions, battles, sieges, raids and a tide of bloodshed that has never since been matched. The death toll of this period is a truly stunning one, the scale of which is genuinely hard to comprehend when looking upon it from our comfortable seats over 300 years in the future. One in five people on the island of Ireland, more than likely, died in the course of this period of fighting.

The political aspect of the entire struggle is also captivating. It is hard to believe that there were 17th century Republicans fighting in Ireland during this war, and noteworthy also that the nationalist narrative of the struggle paints their faction – of which they were of a dubious percentage – as the bad guys. There was a genuine Irish government, with representatives and a loose but functioning administration, controlling the vast majority of the island for a time, an achievement that is cruelly under looked in Irish history in favour of subsequent republican insurrections that did not get anywhere near the same level of government. There was an attempt, repeated ones actually, to form a working coalition between Protestant and Catholic for the cause of greater Irish freedom, something that has rarely been done since on the same scale.

In terms of actual military matters, the Eleven Year Wars are the largest in Ireland up to that point, easily, in terms of number of troops employed, battles fought and sieges conducted. But they also mark the entry of Ireland into a newer age of warfare. Having dallied and hesitantly put one foot onto the Gunpowder Era during the Nine Years War, Ireland dove headfirst into it in the Eleven Year Wars, with all factions and armies fielding the continental standard of musketeers, pikemen and artillery, albeit with drastically varied levels of actual quality and material support. Modern siege techniques met modern fortifications in places like Duncannon, while in others the old walls and crumbling defences of places like Drogheda and Kilkenny were swept away. The naval elements of warfare proved crucial for the first time in centuries, in places like Youghal and Galway, while the old Irish reliable of wood-kerne tactics soon proved that they still had a place in the modern military world. Large scale conventional battles were fought with more regularity than in any other conflict, with the losses to match.

And then there is just the sheer wealth of personality to explore throughout this period, enough to leave any historian, casual or experienced, fully sated. The brave and the cowardly, the politically motivated and the mercenary, the ruthless and the merciful, the experienced and the amateur, the believers and the cynics, the capable and the incapable, the schemers and the naive, the self promoting and the self defeating: the Eleven Year Wars offer all of these in abundance, a cavalcade of figures, some of whom have become true giants of their age, others who perhaps should be better remembered. There is always something captivating in studying the men and women of such eras, and trying to understand why they did the things that they did, where their higher motivation came from and whether or not they considered themselves a success. Where they won, where they compromised, where they lost. Within the bounds of Irish military history, the Eleven Year Wars offers the largest amount of potential exploration in this field than ever came before it.

Lastly, I am simply struck by the effect of the Eleven Year Wars. English control over Ireland was solidified by the Nine Years War, this is true, but it was the Eleven Year Wars, specifically the Cromwellian Conquest, which really made firm the continuing dynamic between either side of the Irish Sea ever after. The Irish landowning and noble classes were swept away into the unprofitable soil of the west, disenfranchised and reduced in status to an extent far beyond even the treatment they were receiving pre-1641. They and the larger Catholic population, oppressed politically and increasingly denied what little freedom of conscience remained to them, were inevitably locked on further violent confrontation with the English administration. They would still back, in military terms, the position of the monarch as their leader, and would until the end of the 17th century at the very least. But the scale of loss in the Eleven Year Wars, combined with the repression of both Parliament and Charles II – not one to row back too hard on the land issue in Ireland, as we will see in time – certainly hardened the general antagonism between the majority in Ireland and the overlords in England. The attempt to seal the Anglicisation of Ireland in the aftermath of the Wars would not succeed.

The Protestant Ascendency would rule, the Catholic Church would be oppressed, but the resentment, commitment and memory of the Irish Catholic underclass would not be removed from the equation. They had gotten a taste of temporary self-government, one built around their culture and (largely) their religion. They had been on the receiving end of two many devastation campaigns, the latest leaving vast parts of the country an underpopulated wreck. They would rise and rebel again. And again and again and again and again. The United Irishmen, Fenians and IRA can trace some of their origins as far back as 1641, in a way that they just can’t to 1594. The rights of Irish nobles as the main issue of Anglo-Irish relations was largely superseded by the rights of Irish Catholics in the interim between those two wars (albeit with Catholic nobles at the head of the movement), and definitively so in the aftermath.

And in the creation of this inevitability, Cromwell and others played their indelible part. And it would only be a few decades before the issue would have to be resolved with arms once more.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Revolutionary Remembrance: Patrick Costelloe, Royal Munster Fusiliers (Part Two)

Next up, a very small “DESCRIPTIVE RETURN” form for a member of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. It simply lists a few basic details about Costelloe – service number, name, length of service, character (“good”) etc. The document is listed as being from “Mooltan”, which is a city (now “Multan”) in modern day Pakistan, which matches the previous notes on Indian garrison service. It is dated to 1904, and a second copy of this document is also included in the records, for whatever reason.

There follows a document entitled “Proceedings On Transfer to THE 1ST CLASS ARMY RESERVE” with a stamp, made in Cork, dated to the 10th of November 1910 – this would be the date of “reupping” I believe and not the date of the original filling out. Costelloe’s cause of transfer is “On the expiration of his period of army service”. His conduct was apparently cause for some praise: “Exemplary, clean, sturdy, intelligent”, or it might have been the standard waffle. When asked what “trade of employment desired” outside of army life, Costelloe has reiterated the basic “Labourer”.

The next section is a bit more illegible. Costelloe has two “G.O(?) Badges”, and then medal details of which are listed after. One, perhaps the King’s African Medal of earlier, is listed “with clasps”, given in “Cape Colony”. There is at least one other medal, probably just a campaign medal, but the details are unclear.

This section continues onto another page. Costelloe’s “Musketry Classification” is “M.M”. I’ll admit to not knowing what this stands for, perhaps “Marksman”? He has never been employed on staff or regimental duties. His commanding officer, again fairly unclear, signs on the 15th of December 1906. Costelloe then acknowledges he has been paid with his signature, with a medical officer confirming Costelloe is still fit for service afterward, two things dated to the 16th of January 1907.

The next page is a bit more interesting, consisting of a description of Costelloe upon his transfer. He is 26 years old (and 1 Month), which fits his previous enlistment at 18. He is 5 foot, 4 ¾ inches, which is actually a slight gain on the height listed when he first joined up. His chest (34 ½), and waist (33 ¾) measurements are listed (they haven’t changed much) and then helmet and boot sizes. His “Complexion” is described as “fresh”, his eyes “grey” (they were previously brown). His hair is “auburn” (once “Reddish Brown”). His desire to be a Labourer is reaffirmed. His “Intended Place of Residence” is to be 26 Quarry Road, Thomondgate, Limerick. Under descriptive marks, a “Scar On Right Eyebrow” is listed, but no origin of this injury is recorded. Costelloe’s term of service is listed as eight years and 19 days, before his commanding officer signs off on things for the last time, all of this taking place in Gosport, a town in the south of England.

Next, two copies of a Marksmanship test that Costelloe took on the 30th of September 1906. Most is incomprehensible to me, but it seems like Costelloe was a good enough shot. His marks for the “J.D test” is 100 and he is classed as “Marksman”.

Next up is a “Regimental Defaulter Sheet”, essentially a piece of documentation listing offences committed by the person concerned during his service. There’s really only three things to be concerned about, two of them being Costelloe’s enlistment and discharge dates. The other is the aforementioned “Falling out of line” issue from early in the First World War.

Next is a “Court Martial Sheet”, similarly empty, seemingly containing just a signature of a commanding officer.

Things are getting fairly routine and repeated now. Next are more forms related Costelloe joining the reserves in 1907 in Gosport, more declarations, more sign offs by medical examiners, more reasons for the transfer.

Edit: As an eagle eyed commenter has pointed out, the discrepancies in the following forms indicate a clerical mix-up, and are most likely those of a different Patrick Costello(e).

The next sheet is more interesting, being discharge papers from 1916. Costelloe, now officially with the 5th Battalion of the Fusiliers it seems, was stationed in the Curragh, County Kildare. In the description, there is a bizarre and obvious error, as Costelloe, who must have been at least 35 in 1915, is listed as being “19 years 8 months”. I can’t really explain this odd discrepancy. He’s also dropped a bit of a height, now 5 foot 2 inches. His eyes have now gone back to brown when previously declared grey, and his hair is just plain brown now. His intended occupation is now “Mill Labourer” though what work they might have had for a man with only one leg is in question. A new address, in Market Alley, Ellen Street is also listed. The scar above his eyebrow has been forgotten under “Descriptive Marks”, replaced by “Two scars right knee”. Costelloe is discharged “in consequence of his services being no longer required”. His character is still “good” but with no additional comments.

The forms continue with information we have already seen on service location and medals, though it is odd to see “Campaigns, Medals and Decorations” mention Costelloe’s stationing at home between his evacuation from France and his eventual discharge. I guess these forms have a very specific focus. Costelloe is discharged on the 15th of April 1916: just over a week before the Easter Rising.

Finally, there are just some forms related to campaign decorations, for 1914.

This is essentially all that I have on my great grandfather, with details on his life after his army service sketchy to non-existent from within my family. I know nothing of his personality, his politics or his temperament. The forms offer just a simple glimpse into his life and the experiences he had – two wars, an horrific injury, a wife, a family and simple prospects for employment after it was all finished. He is not so untypical of many men of his generation I suppose. You might also say that, considering the near constant fighting that the 2nd Battalion of the RMF was exposed to during the war, with appalling casualty rates, he might actually have been lucky to have gotten out of the fighting when he did.

This is Patrick Costelloe, likely a veteran of the Etreux rearguard action, a Royal Munster Fusilier who sacrificed a great deal for the cause. Forms like these give us a tangible connection to those times, and help to personalise the impersonal. For that reason, they are a crucial part of any remembrance.

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