Ireland’s Wars: The Clonbanin Ambush And New Structures

The War of Independence saw its fiercest battlegrounds in Munster, and the situation in that province proved deadly most other days during 1921. In early March another major ambush, the latest in a long line of major ambushes, took place in West Cork, not too far from the border with Kerry, in an operation that, like that at Dromkeen, involved men from different brigade areas. One of the targets was a high-ranking member of the British military and, by the end of that day, the war would have one of its highest ranking casualties.

The man who would lead this operation was Sean Moylan. Born in Kilmallock, Moylan came from a strong republican background, and was involved in the likes of the Gaelic League and the GAA from an early age. Having trained as a carpenter, Moylan moved to the north of Cork to set up his own business there, and it was there that he joined the nascent Irish Volunteers. In the re-organisation that occurred after the Easter Rising, Moylan was able to rise up the ranks fairly quickly, coming to lead the 2nd battalion of the Cork No.2 Brigade, and that units’ flying column. An active and charismatic officer, Moylan was involved in numerous ambushes and other operations throughout the course of the war, activities that brought him to the attentions of higher ups in good and bad ways: good insofar as men recognised him as a pro-active commander, bad in that he often chafed under the apparent necessities of being part of a modern army, like written reports and respecting the chain of command. Moylan recognised that the IRA emphasis on brigades could be self-defeating at times, when units refused to help those that were trying to enact an ambush just behind a somewhat arbitrary line on the map, and such thinking was surely an influence on what occurred that day in March 1921.

The war in West Cork, and by extension East Kerry, was at a pivotal stage. Crown Forces had flooded parts of the area, and there was now less in the way of raids and more in the way of cordoning off large tracts of lands for sweeps, a tactic that will, shortly enough, form the basis for one of the most famous engagement of the war. Such moves from the military and police made it increasingly dangerous for the IRA to assemble in large groups. Arrests, and deaths, of IRA Volunteers were on the up, to the point that many individual units were badly effected from loss of efficient leadership. Even while efforts were made to create new columns for active operations, the IRA had been forced to adapt to the current circumstances, and introduced new tactics of their own, like the sniping of Crown Force posts at night, not so much for its benefits in terms of enemy casualties caused, but for the demoralising effect it could have on those same Crown Forces.

But the primary aim was still to create something more high-profile, and to do that there needed to be cross-cooperation. Moylan records that he was approached about a joint operation by Con O’Leary, an adjutant in Kerry’s No 2. Brigade, in late February. It was the painfully (for the Crown Forces anyway) familiar story: a regular convoy route of RIC carrying supplies and pay to other places, that had become a bit too used to the same route, in this case the road between Killarney and Rathmore. Moylan brought men to the appointed place, and a joint force of Cork and Kerry Volunteers waited in ambush for several days, but to no effect: whether the Crown Forces had been warned off or had simply chosen another route, nobody came by, and the Volunteers received intelligence that their position had been rumbled. Then Moylan picked up on the news that General Peter Strictland, the then military governor of Minster, has been performing an inspection tour of the area.

Moylan, who had come a long way out of his own brigade area and had plenty of men to spare, was not prepared to disperse his unit without a fight, and had a good idea of what route such an inspection may travel. He sent scouts back over the border into Cork to find a good ambush position on the road west of Banteer, and sent messages to other local IRA units to provide men if possible. The ambush position that ended up being chosen was that at Clonbanin, and however he came by the information, it was chosen out of the belief that General Strictland’s party would be using the road imminently. The force gathered comprised men from several columns and brigade areas, not all of them adequately armed, but there was a fair supply of homemade mines.

The ambush position was a lengthy enough one, with Moylan splitting the men he had between several different positions, and on either side of the road. It was a long, even stretch, but the IRA were able to utilise several positions of cover provided by nearby farmhouses. Mines were laid with the intention of destroying the leading vehicles and thus trapping the rest of the expected convoy.

At 10AM on the morning of the 5th March, three lorries of Crown Forces approached from the west, but knowing it was not the intended target, Moylan let them go without revealing his position (another account states that the officer whose shot would signal the start of the ambush suffered from a malfunctioning rifle, and that the mines failed to go off). Several hours later the actual target appeared, a full military convoy consisting of several lorries, armoured cars and other vehicles, spaced out considerably.

At first, things went wrong, to the point that the ambush may have been a lame duck before it started. The mine meant to disable to leading lorry failed to explode, instead only giving Moylan, who pressed the detonator, a nasty electric shock. But the IRA rescued the situation when rifle fire opened up all along the line. The leading lorry and then the armoured car came to a screeching halt before turning into the ditches of the road, their occupants dived for cover, and an extended firefight broke out all along the line.

Moylan blames the lack of arms and ammunition for his men as the reason why the engagement dragged on for some time to no result, at least relative to the Crown Forces, who had military regulars in their party, along with Lewis and Maxim Guns. Those machine guns gave the British a decided advantage despite being hemmed in on the road, and the IRA were unable to turn in the flanks of the enemy, taking their lives into their hands anytime that they approached the road. But the British were similarly pinned down, and unable to drive their enemy back so as to allow a withdrawal, despite some attempts.

The result was a stalemate of sorts, and here the British did have one advantage: the IRA could not stay in place forever. As darkness began to fall Moylan knew that he had to withdraw. Reinforcements for the Crown Forces arrived late; allegedly a lorry coming from Newmarket over-turned on the road, while Kanturk soldiers had to be “with difficulty” retrieved from local pubs to come to the convoy’s rescue. Moylan got his men to withdraw in good order under the cover of night before the chance came for them to be encircled, despite some hairy moments when British regulars were initially mistaken for friendly Volunteers.

It was not until the following day that the casualties of the engagement became clear. The IRA had somehow gotten out of the affair without taking any, which was extraordinary enough that we might take the claim with a small grain of salt. But the British had not be so fortunate. A general had indeed been killed but, to the unhappiness of Moylan, it was not General Strictland. Instead the General was a Brigadier named Hanway Robert Cumming, a veteran of the Boer and First World War, who was commanding an infantry brigade in Kerry (he is sometimes identified as a Colonel, with the General rank possibly a war-time elevation). He appears to have been killed early enough in the engagement, as soon as he got out of his car after the initial volley of fire. He constitutes one of the highest ranking casualties of the conflict from the British side.

The other casualties are harder to determine. As we have discussed before, it was not uncommon for the IRA to claim larger casualties than had actually occurred, as a means of covering themselves when an ambush did not go entirely to plan. Clonbanin could be described in such terms, with Moylan lamenting that if he had only 20 well-armed marksmen that they could have wiped out the entire convoy. Numbers as high as 13 have been claimed in terms of British dead, but a more likely number, including Cumming, was four, with the other three constituting a Lt Maligny of the Service Corps and Privates Walker and Turner of the East Lancashire regiment.

The ambush was a mixed bag. Some have grandiosely stated that it was the worst setback that the Crown Forces suffered during the war, which I can only consider hyperbole. Yes, they had taken more casualties than the enemy, and had been unable to drive their attackers off, despite greater firepower. Yes, they had essentially driven without adequate care into an ambush zone. But despite being surrounded and fired upon from all sides, they had been able to avoid being over-run and defeated, in a situation which could easily have turned into something more like Kilmichael. They had been able to attempt some flanking attacks, and had utilised their heavier arms to hold back the enemy effectively. They had prevented the destruction of their vehicles and the capture of their arms. But for the late arrival of reinforcements, they may well have been able to inflict a heavy repulse to the IRA.

Of course, we cannot diminish the success of the IRA at the same time. They had successfully ambushed an enemy convoy carrying a VIP, a VIP they had been able to kill. Despite limited ammunition they were able to engage effectively in a firefight over the course of several hours, and then arrange a successful withdrawal in the darkness. They had gotten out of the ambush with no casualties, and inflicted several of their own. The lack of arms and ammunition taken from the site was a bad loss, but the IRA acquitted themselves well at Clonbanin.

The ambush was clear evidence of what a number of badly stretched brigades could achieve if they worked together, and may well have been an influence on a substantial re-organisation of the IRA unit structure that went into effect from April. This was characterised by the creation of larger divisions, 16 in total, that grouped several brigade areas together.

In the north, these were the 1st Northern, which consisted of the Donegal Brigades; the 2nd Northern which consisted of the Derry and Tyrone Brigades; 3rd Northern which consisted of the Antrim (including Belfast) and North Down Brigades; 4th Northern which consisted of Armagh, South Down and North Louth; and the 5th Northern which consisted of Monaghan and East Cavan.

In the midlands and west, these were 1st Midlands consisting of Fermanagh, South Leitrim, West Cavan, Longford and Athlone; the 1st Western consisting of South Galway, and Clare; the 2nd Western consisting of South Mayo, North and Mid Galway and South Roscommon; the 3rd Western consisting of Sligo, East Mayo and North Roscommon; and the 4th Western consisting of North and West Mayo, and Connemara.

In the east, there was the 1st Eastern consisting of Meath, Mullingar, South Louth and Fingal; the 2nd Eastern, consisting solely of Dublin; and the 3rd Eastern, consisting of Carlow and Wexford.

In the south, these was the 1st Southern consisting of the Cork, Kerry, Waterford and West Limerick Brigades; the 2nd Southern consisting of East Limerick, Mid and South Tipperary and Kilkenny; and lastly the 3rd Southern, consisting of Offaly, Laois and North Tipperary.

The divisions, aside from giving the IRA a more professional sheen through its replication of more formal army structures, were also designed to allow for more inter-brigade co-operation and an ability of localised regions to better prolong the war in the event that GHQ was neutralised by the enemy. In the end, the war did not really last long enough for the divisions to play a major role, and they were practically ignored as worthwhile institutions in many areas. Many of them were only set-up properly during the truce period. They would however, play a somewhat more important role in the lead-up to, and early days of, the Irish Civil War.

So, the war was continuing apace in the countryside, but it was also continuing in the capital. In the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the Dublin-based conflict was ratcheted up to new heights of intensity, and it is there to study that intensity, that we go next.

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NFB Watches Wrestling #14: MLW Fusion #49 (17/03/19)

Onto my Youtube reservoir or wrestling shows again, and time to give Major League Wrestling some love. It’s St Patrick’s Day 2019 (filmed 02/03) and we’re in the Cicero Stadium of Cicero, Illinois for episode #49 of MLW Fusion! The main event tonight: the Hart Dynasty defends the MLW Tag Team Titles against MJF and Richard Holliday.

While familiar with MLW I’ve never been crazy into it either, so looking forward to giving it a proper go here. After MLW’s version of “Now, Then, Forever”, we get a video package playing up the recently debuted Contra Unit, which included a top-of-the-cage splash spot and beating people up with railway spikes in the ring. Bloody stuff. Are the Contra Unit some kind of Nicaragua reference? They include Simon Gotch, whom I loved in his all-too-brief NXT/WWE run.

Main titles and here we are. Your commentators tonight are Rich Bocchini, “Southern Psycopath” Mance Warner for the first match and wrestling’s answer to Joe Brolly Jim Cornette, still a bit aways from being fired from MLW for blatantly racist announcing (not to mention the accusations of sexual abuse that surfaced more recently). Cornette welcomes Warner to the desk as a guest for the first match.

Puma King vs El Hijo de LA Park w/Salina de la Renta

As a brief video package outlines, Warner and LA Park Sr had an altercation backstage recently after he spilled beer on Salina, so I’m guessing he gets involved. I’ve seen a bit of Puma King in Lucha Underground, so looking forward to this, even if his outfit looks more like Cats than lucha. Lengthy entrances while Cornette blathers on about things from 30 years ago. Cornette says something crazy/stupid every 20 seconds, so it’ll be hard to try and keep up.

Super fast-paced knockdown/kip-up chains to start. King nails a rana that sends Park to the outside, and King follows up with a plancha. Cornette talking about some Mexican restaurant, gives directions. Off to a great start. Back in, Salina distracts Puma to break up his momentum, and Park with his own rana to the outside, then a big tope. Park with a chair, and a shot to the back. I guess this is NO-DQ, because no bell, referee just jaws at him a little. Back in Park sets King up in the corner with a chair between the legs, and slams it with another to a big pop. Warner faces Park Sr next week in a Death Match, and looks nervous seeing the brutality.

Back outside Park starts whipping King with a camera cable, and Cornette wonders if the ref would do anything if Park whipped out an AK-47. Awkward rope-assisted enziguri counter from Puma King switches things up. Spinning backbreaker becomes a spinning slam, so King just does the spot again. Weird feel to this now with the botches. King gets some more chairs, and repeats the “between-the-legs” spot on Park. “What’s good for the goose, is bad for the wiener” says Cornette, and good lord he is annoying.

Park hits a Destroyer – “Code Red” variation – but only for two. King counters the next move into a falling powerbomb for two. King to the second rope, but Park nails him in the back with a chair. King in the Tree of Woe, Park to the top, but King counters into a rana to the mat. King back to the top, “Puma” chants, but Park intercepts. Big Spanish Fly off the top, but only two. Always a cool spot. Puma going for something, Salina trips him, Park in to hit an inverted tombstone. Hijo to the outside to spit at Warner, who spits back. Warner nails him with Cornette’s tennis racket. Back in, King with a facebreaker from the top, into a crucifix pin for the win in around nine.

Winner: Puma King, and this is a bit of an upset.

Verdict: Had some janky moments, but nothing dangerous. Perfectly acceptable lucha/garbage wrestling.

Backstage MJF and Holliday impersonate the Hart Dynasty, with Friedman advising Holliday to “look way more dead inside and less charismatic” as Smith. The Hart Dynasty, in a rapid series of promos filmed in random places warn “the Dynasty” of incoming Canadian Destroyers while going for a swim at the local pool. This whole bit was so weirdly edited, it’s hard to know what to make of it.

Another recap of Contra Unit’s opening weeks in MLW as we saw at the top of the show leads into the next match of this event. An ad for Battle Riot, MLW’s Royal Rumble rip-off, and we’re with Tom Lawlor, the MLW Champ who got beat down by Contra Unit two weeks ago. He considers himself cleared to wrestle, and he’s coming after whatever member of the Contra Unit he can find after they tried to end his career. They’re a worldwide organisation, so they should get ready “to watch the world burn”. I’d watch it.

Contra Unit (Jacob Fatu and Josef Samael) vs Chico Adams and Vertigo Rivera

The Unit rush the ring to beatdown the enhancement talent. Samael throwing Adams around, Fatu in for a huge Samoan Drop, Samael back-in with the railroad spike, starts cutting up Adams and the ref has seen enough in less than a minute and a half.

Winners (by DQ): The Jobbers, and they should savour a W.

Verdict: Non-match

Fatu nails a few huge-air moonsaults on Adams in the aftermath, very impressive. Beatdown, and Samael sends a fireball at Rivera, haven’t seen that spot in years. Cornette is outraged: “Contra, and they are contrary”. OK then. The heels stare down the crowd while medics see to the jobbers. As Adams is taken off in a  stretcher, Fatu nails another moonsault for a comical level of brutality. Samael throws a water bottle into the crowd, which is the signal for the crowd to start raining rubbish into the ring. Cornette calls this ” the stupidest thing I’ve seen someone in a wrestling ring do” and hard to tell if a shoot or not. Crowd a bit too hyped-up alright, taunting an audience in this manner is always a dicey affair.

We get thrown to another ad for Battle Riot, this one narrated by Matt Striker. LA Park (Sr) will be there, as will Sami Callihan, Ray Fenix, Ken Kerbis (“Israel’s top ranked wrestler!”), Low Ki and more. Think a Royal Rumble with more weapons and worse pacing.

LA Park and Salina backstage. LA Park is going to win the Battle Riot, and he’s going to give you all a lot to talk about. Meanwhile the crowd has calmed down a tad, and the main event is coming up.

A Jimmy Havoc promo next, as “England’s most dangerous man” is coming back to MLW. Jimmy sure does get around. Back in the arena, replayed footage of Contra Unit’s beatdown, and they will be back to speak out next week, along with the Warner/Park death match.

Onto the main event. MJF has been feuding with Teddy Hart for a bit, and this match is a continuation of that.

The Hart Foundation (Teddy Hart and Davey Boy Smith Jr) (c) w/Brian Pillman Jr vs the Dynasty (Maxwell Jacob Friedman and Richard Holliday) (MLW Tag Team Championship)

The Dynasty’s music is so ridiculously good, this Game Boy-synth villainy tune. MJF on the mike to start because of course he is. Running down the non-English speakers in the crowd. Talks to the ground and addresses Stu Hart, nice. Says Stu has left his legacy in the hands of an idiot, and it now means jack squat. The Dynasty is better than you, and you know it. MJF has always been great on the mike, but I often find his in-ring work doesn’t match up. Teddy Hart is also the MLW Middleweight Champion here, and has his ribs bandaged up from a previous MJF assault.

Some pre-bell pushing and shoving, like this is a boxing match or something. MJF out to shove Pillman a bit, and the match still hasn’t started, seems to be taking a very long time. MJF taking a powder some more, back in and out again, and repeat, and this is just tiresome now. Eventually Hart just brains MJF and sends him out, and it’s really Holliday and Hart to start.

Smith in with a sweet double-underhook suplex for two, then a delayed vertical suplex for two. Holliday getting messed around, Smith adding a body slam, then a springboard moonsault from Hart, good spot. MJF gets a blind tag and ambushes Hart. Working over the ribs, ref distraction for a beatdown in the ring and outside, Smith and Pillman getting involved, and now people are getting spit at. Some face work there, but gets the crowd more into it at least.

Holliday working Hart over back in the ring. Holliday locks in a Sharpshooter, but Davey Boy in to break it up. While the ref is distracted by that MJF hits the “Super Piledriver” or “Heat Seeking Piledriver” depending on which commentator you trust more, but only two after a delayed count. Abdominal Stretch from Friedman with some assistance from Holliday. Hart eventually fighting back, enziguri to Holliday, then a Canadian Destroyer to MJF, and both men down.

Hot tag to Smith, after Hart “throws up” (according to Cornette), who cleans house. German Suplex to Holliday, who is then cannonballed into MJF. Double Chickenwing Suplex on Friedman for two. Smith with a sit-out powerbomb, but Holliday breaks it up just in time, nearly a botched spot for sure. Holliday dumped out, Smith and Hart setting up for the Canadian Destroyer off the top, but suddenly Alex Hammerstone is in the ring, and nails Smith with a chair shot to the back. The ref calls it around ten minutes.

Winners (by DQ) (and still MLW Tag Team Champions): The Hart Dynasty (Teddy Hart and Davey Boy Smith Jr)

Verdict: Mostly fine tag ruined by the non-finish.

Chair shots to Pillman too, and now the heels are beating down the faces. “Bullshit” chants from an unhappy crowd. Cornette declares that MJF “is like a dyslexic masseuse, he rubs you the wrong way”. Amazing that this guy lasted as long as he did. The heels pose in the ring as that brilliant theme music plays again, and there’s that at least.

Best Match: The Park/King opener was the only one of the three with a finish, so I’ll go with that.

Best Wrestler: Slim pickings here with no one standing out hugely, but I guess Smith pulled off some sweet suplexes.

Worst Match: The tag squash was all well and good, but you only have 53 minutes to play around with guys.

Worst Wrestler: As I said, MJF is dynamite (ha!) on the mike, but in the ring he is really nothing special.

Overall Verdict: It was fine. This show over-did things with the heel beatdowns and dedicated a bit too much time in a limited hour to non-wrestling. Other than that it was fine, with the actual wrestling on display decent enough. But it has that one key Achilles heel at that time, and that’s the moron on commentary, grabbing the spotlight with his stupidity even five seconds. MLW is better off without him. Pass.

To view more entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

Posted in Reviews, TV/Movies, Wrestling | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Review – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga, #AnneFrank: Parallel Stories, Black Is King

Oof, that’s a bulky title. Three shorter reviews today as I get a bit of a logjam out of the way.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga

Trailer

esctsofs1

If only the whole film was like this.

Lars (Will Ferrell) dreams of competing for his native Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest with his best friend/musical partner Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), but is handicapped by the uninterested denizens of his home town, his dismissive father (Pierce Brosnan) and a certain lack of musical excellence. When a bizarre set of circumstances gives “Fire Saga” a path to their dreams, Lars and Sigrit enter the world of Eurovision, but find their musical talent, friendship, and nascent romance, challenged by the glitz, glamour and the attentions of a would be Russian Lothario (Dan Stevens).

When the first trailer for this came out, I was all-in: an absolutely ridiculous music video, featuring Will Ferrell as some kind of Icelandic superhero named “Volcano Man”, was all I needed to see. It seemed to me like Fire Saga had the potential to be a rip-roaring fulfillment of the Eurovision’s eminent mockability, and probably all the better for being a well-intentioned one. Alas, it was not to be.

I’d say that the biggest problem you have is the fact that this film is made with plenty of ESC backing, and not just financial: various presenters and past winners make appearances, and a huge mid-second act set-piece is essentially an advertisement for the contest and its participants, so there are plenty of indications that Fire Saga was facing an impossible task from the get-go. The Song Contest has so much potential for spoofery it’s actually somewhat galling that what we get from this is a very milquetoast approach to the contest itself, wrapped up in a fairly forgettable rom-com plot.

I bet that this was meant to be much more biting to begin with, maybe something in a proper mockumentary style, but so much has been reined in tone wise, while the film is all over the place in terms of pacing. An incredible 123 minute running time makes huge parts of Fire Saga a really unpalatable slog, and one must wonder just why it wasn’t pared down to the truly necessary, for a more enjoyable 90 or so minutes. Or, to put it another way, if your comedy film is two hours long, it better be amazingly funny. Fire Saga is not.

Which is not to say that the film is not occasionally funny, it’s just that the humour is almost entirely divorced from the contest. It’s mostly found in the Icelandic coastal town, where Lars ponders why his father waited until they were in front of his mother’s grave to tell him he is being kicked out of the house, or how Sigrit spends more time than is really OK visiting a nearby fairy village, or the locals’ insane need to hear the same rubbish love song at the local pub over and over again. When things are taken to an Anchorman-esque extreme – Fire Saga get into the contest when the party where all the better Icelandic contestants are celebrating explodes in a grisly manner, and later their semi-final performance is a hamster-wheel centric disaster – it’s actually all the better. But those are brief moments, that next to the played-far-too-serious self-doubt and romance sub-plots actually feel rather bizarre, like the left-overs from a very different first draft.

This kind of thing is Ferrell’s bread-and-butter, and he’s well-used to the man-child personal of Lars (that being said, when was Ferrell’s last flat-out hit, not counting the Lego Movie? The Other Guys maybe?) and McAdams is similarly fine, but neither is going to be able to say that this should go into the top tier of their filmography, laden as they are with having to act in an atrocious accent. Some of the supporting cast is quite good though, like Dan Steven’s Russian favourite who decides to seduce Sigrit for sport (and is most definitely not secretly gay, no sir) or Mikael Persbrandt as the Icelandic TV mogul who really doesn’t want Iceland to win the contest. Brosnan is a bit of a strange choice for the father I will admit, part of a sub-plot that, again, feels like it belongs in a different movie.

Fire Saga had high targets to hit, and largely fails to get close to any of them. It’s astonishing to think that the nearly 25-year-old “A Song For Europe” episode of Father Ted remains the best send-up of the Eurovision Song Contest ever made, and it did a much better job in only 20 or so minutes. Fire Saga has six times that, but lets itself down through mediocre scripting, a lack of punch in its approach to the titular competition, a bit too much of an odour of product placement and in the manner in which it seems to be several different kind of comedies at once, and excelling in none of them really. A few scenes here-and-there land quite well, but that does not a good movie make. Eurovision did not make it to 2020, and this film does not fill the void. Not recommended.

#AnneFrank: Parallel Stories

Trailer

#afps1

Mirren is the best part of a somewhat scattered production.

Anne Frank spent the last few years of her life hiding in a secret annex of an Amsterdam home from Nazi oppressors, before being found and sent to her death in a concentration camp. During that time, she kept a diary that has become one of the most profound insights into life underground, that resonates as strongly today as it did when it was first published. In this documentary, we explore Frank’s life through the narration of her diary by Helen Mirren, and look at several, parallel, experiences of the same horrors from throughout Europe.

Recent years have shown that the life and death of Anne Frank remain disturbingly relevant, with modern political discourse in Europe and the rest of the world increasingly dominated by the return and legitmisation of far-right elements. Such elements are the reason that Anne Frank and so many others perished during the Second World War, and why so many left those years with deep-seeded mental and physical trauma. Parallel Stories does a good job of both bringing Frank’s words recorded during those dark, underground years to life, and of providing some of the survivors of Nazi atrocity the chance to speak about their experiences. They are five women of roughly similar age to Frank when they were arrested, and the stories of what they experienced in the camps, from the inhumanity of their captors to the homo homini lupus nature of survival, will never fail to move something inside of you.

Helen Mirren might seem like an odd choice to narrate some of Frank’s diary entries, seeing as how she is an 75-year-old woman reading the words of young teenage girl, but the contents of that diary always lent themselves to dramatic reading. For that, there are few better suited than Mirren, who brings a life and emotion to Frank’s thoughts on her family, the self-consciousness of teenage experience, her first kiss (this part especially is a major part of the film’s replication) and that heart-breaking final entry, where she waxes lyrical on the duality of her being. You could stand to hear a bit more in terms of Mirren’s recitation, which takes place in the re-created remains of where Frank wrote those words, suitably shot in a duality of light and shadow.

Beyond that, the documentary poses the absolutely fascinating question regards the inheritability of such trauma, through the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those same survivors. Aside from the difficult upbringing some of them may have had in dealing with parents whose attitudes and mental health were shaped by concentration camps, there is also the enormity of having to square away your own existence with one of the greatest tragedies in human history. How did my ancestors survive? Does this survival and my subsequent existence make me special in some way? Do I have an imperative to act and to feel in a certain way because of this? In this, Parallel Stories documents a kind of psychological pressure that descendants of camp survivors must sometimes feel. One great-grandson tattoos his great-grandmothers camp ID number onto his arm out of an inability to do anything else.

If that is one of the main reasons to recommend Parallel Stories, then there are other things that lean the other way. At times the project can feel a tad scattershot, jumping pellmell around the key events and thoughts of Anne Frank, between the survivors, between their children and grandchildren and consistently back to one particular grandchild who re-traces the journey of some of the Nazi’s victims as a sort of framing device. That framing device does the film little in the way of favours in my estimation. I think I prefer seeing such people talk through their feelings and emotions in terms of the very weighty subject matter, as opposed to silently hashtagging pictures they take at the remains of camps. If I may be allowed to sound like an old fogey for a moment, it seems like a cynical way to attract younger viewers to the film, without the substance that such subject matter demands.

Those looking for an introduction to the life and times of Anne Frank, to the horrors of the Holocaust and to the reasons why the memory of such an event needs to be kept today, could do a lot worse than check out Parallel Stories. But I do feel that is as much as Parallel Stories can claim to be. The examination of inherited survivors guilt is undoubtedly interesting, but the film has so much of a wide focus that this discussion is not given enough time really, and its approach to everything else is, as necessitated by the limited running time, a bit shallow. It’s a well-intentioned piece that tries a few fresh ideas, but it’s ability to land with an audience is a bit compromised by its varies approach. Partly recommended.

Black Is King

Trailer

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104% perfect

Based loosely on the plot of The Lion King, this visual album from Beyonce Knowles-Carter explores the story of a young king cast out of his Kingdom, who is forced to survive, then thrive, in a harsh and unforgiving world, before returning to reclaim his throne. With the support of a plethora of POC artists, Beyonce showcases a story based around pride in racial identity and an adoration of African culture.

Beyonce sure does know how to come up with something different. The last time we were talking about her from a film perspective it was for Homecoming, the quasi documentary/concert film distributed by Netflix, that pushed the boundaries of what you would expect from such a genre. Now we have something entirely different, yet carrying much of the same flair, the same intensity, and the same inventiveness, yet all while being largely derivative of a pre-existing story.

Essentially a long-form music video for Beyonce’s album The Gift, released around the time of the live-action Lion King that Beyonce was part of the cast for, Black Is King is a love-letter to Africa, African culture, and black men and women everywhere. Yes, there is a “plot” and yes it is essentially that of The Lion King, albeit you kind of need this pointed out to you by the occasional insert of dialogue from Jon Favreau’s film (Beyonce lines fit, Seth Rogen’s not so much). So we have a young prince born to inherit a great kingdom (“Bigger”). He grows up in a family of power (“Find Your Way Back”). He has his family and his birthright stolen from him by an evil figure, after which he is cast out into the wilderness (“Don’t Jealous Me”). He loses himself in hedonistic pleasure for a time, but is eventually reminded of his responsibilities (“Nile/Mood 4 Eva”). He finds love himself (“Brown Skin Girl”), and then the inspiration to return to his stolen home (“Keys To The Kingdom”). With the help of allies, he defeats the usurper (“My Power”), and reclaims his rightful place in the Circle of Life (“Spirit”). I hope I have gotten all of those song placements right, and I did leave out a few.

That story is only a skeletal structure though, a very base narrative to give things a bit more of a flow. The real point of Black Is King is right there in the title, an exhortation for black people to remember their past and their culture, and to take up the mantle of a sort of quasi-royalty, expressed here as a sort of ingrained self-confidence, acceptance of responsibility and rejection of dilution of power by outside forces. It’s every bit a positive message based on building the self up through your own will and the support of others, without tearing other people down.

It’s easy to forget it when you are so focused on the pageantry displayed for every individual song. I won’t belabour the point because I couldn’t do it justice, so I will only say that Black Is King is a vivid spectacle of colour, a sumptuous banquet of African locations, African dress and African dancing, that a lesser star could have turned into a confusing and off-putting mess of rapid cuts and needless costume changes, but which Beyond turns into gold from frame one to credits. One must admire the dedication employed here, in cutaways that last mere seconds but, in the clothing and in the surrounds, might have taken days to set-up and film. And probably did.

You can tell in all of that the serious amount of care that went into this film, a under-appreciated aspect of artistry that is obvious both when present and very obvious when not. Inspired by her work on The Lion King, and angered by the plight of Solomon Linda, whose tune was used, without credit, in The Lion King, she set out to make this, and clearly spent a great deal of time on every facet. Aside from her voice and her presence, Knowles-Carter also co-directed sections, so her stamp is all over Black Is King.

And of course the music is rather good too. While this blend of RNB, hip-hop, rap and and afrobeats is not typically to my taste, I can still appreciate good lyrics, good melodies and good refrains. Of course, Beyonce has a wealth of talent to work with: Jay Z, Kelly Rowland and Pharrell Williams are among many contributors both in terms of on-screen appearance and in-track performance, while black artists as diverse as Naomi Campbell and Lupita N’yongo also show up here and there, big names that often constitute little more than an extended cameo, but who add a gravitas to the proceedings. “Mood 4 Eva”, featuring the entire Knowles-Carter family in a set-piece that is like a satirical spin on capitalist excess with an African flavour, is probably the stand-out, both for its music (featuring Lion King alum Childish Gambino) and the visual presentation.

It’s a fairly extraordinary movie then, one that I found myself enjoying a lot more than I expected to. But of course, you will generally enjoy something from outside of your wheelhouse if it is made with precision, respect and obvious affection towards the subject matter. Black Is King is all of those things and more, an intoxicating deep dive into a world people with my background and upbringing could never really know. In what we might call a new wave of POC-cinema that has found a foothold in the Hollywood scene, this one rates pretty highly. Recommended.

(All images are copyright of Netflix and Disney +).

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Ireland’s Wars: Clonfin And Dromkeen

Having spent some time looking at some of the elements of the War of Independence that may not have brought great credit to the IRA, we turn back to some of their more notable successes. The war intensified as more regular British troops, Auxiliaries and Black and Tans were sent into the country, and as parts of the IRA became more proficient, and daring, in attacking them. The war had now moved fairly decisively from the conflict where it was characterised by attacks on police barracks, and was more and more characterised entirely as an ambush conflict when the two sides did come into contact with each other. This was to the IRA’s advantage in many ways and in early February, over the course of roughly 24 hours, two separate ambushes took place that showed that point once again.

The first takes us back to Longford, and to the IRA units under the command of Sean Mac Eoin. He had not been quiet since the events surrounding the Battle of Ballinalee. There had been visits to Dublin to co-ordinate with Collins and GHQ, smaller ambushes, the creation of mines, house burnings, near-arrests and entanglements with the republican court system. The North Longford IRA remained one of the active parts of the republican movement outside of Dublin and Munster, and much of that was driven by Mac Eoin’s energy and personal charisma.

In late January he discovered that the RIC in the area had made themselves vulnerable through repetition, in the form of a regularly scheduled patrol of two lorries, that traveled from Granard to Longford with about 20 men, many of them Black and Tans. Mac Eoin found a suitable position to enact an ambush at a place called Clonfin, roughly half-way between Granard and Ballinalee. It was hilly ground with the remains of an old fort on a height, where Mac Eoin placed himself and one of his sections, with another to the right and the third across the road. Mac Eoin’s plan called for one of those aforementioned homemade mines to be used to completely destroy the leading lorry, as the firepower of the assembled IRA was poured exclusively on the second lorry.

The IRA were in place early on the morning of the 2nd February, and spent the time placing the mine in a hole in the road, and concealing the detonating wire. Then, they waited. Hours came and went, and the IRA stayed in the position probably only on the word of Cumann na mBan scouts, who insisted that the Crown Forces had left Granard. Around 3PM, they appeared. The first lorry crossed over the mine, and the man in charge hit the detonator, “timing his action beautifully” according to Mac Eoin. There was always a danger that the mines would fail to explode for whatever reason, in which case the ambush would probably never be started. This time, the mine did explode. The driver of the first lorry was either wounded to the point of being incapacitated, or outright killed, in this moment, and the lorry came to a stop. The road blocked, the second lorry had to also come to a stop, and the IRA were quickly opening fire.

Mac Eoin had been hoping for coup de main where the Crown Forces would be compelled to surrender quickly, but was disappointed. Those men capable of doing do were quickly out of the first lorry and firing at their attackers, utilising a Lewis Gun for extra firepower. The second lorry had been able to come to a more natural stop, and some of its inhabitants were able to find basic cover from which they could try and more adequately defend themselves. Mac Eoin’s account claims that this unexpected resistance was on account of the majority of the enemy being Auxiliaries instead of just RIC or the less disciplined Black and Tans.

The firefight lasted for roughly a half hour. The nature of how it ended is a bit disputed, but it appears that the Crown Forces had enough when their commander, a Worthington Craven, was fatally wounded, and agreed to surrender afterwards. Mac Eoin’s account would seem to indicate that some men may have been shot down after they put up their hands, but more precise details are not available. In the aftermath, Mac Eoin claims that he was at pains to provide for the many wounded on the British side, after they had been thoroughly disarmed. Four of the convoy lay dead. The IRA took no casualties.

The IRA took a while at the scene, gathering arms, setting the lorries alight and, if Mac Eoin is to be believed, treating the wounded and getting into debates on the nature of the war with Craven before he died. Unfortunately this delay almost cost the IRA everything. One Auxie had been able to flee the scene of the ambush, though wounded, and call for assistance. As Mac Eoin was preparing to wrap up at Clonfin, several lorry loads of reinforcements were spotted approaching. In danger of being encircled and snatching defeat from the jaw of victory, Mac Eoin rapidly organised a withdrawal, that necessitated another firefight, this time to hold the Crown Forces long enough for the Volunteers to escape to the north.

British forces flooded the area in the aftermath, and in the usual reprisals at least one local, a 70-year-old farmer who may have been too deaf to hear a call to halt, was killed. One of the homes burnt belonged to one of the Clonfin ambushers, a Peter Finnegan, who had left a rifle with his name carved into the butt behind at the ambush site.

It was another ambush success for the IRA, though Mac Eoin had nearly turned it into a disaster. The ambush site had been well chosen, the mine had worked and, even though the firing lasted longer than Mac Eoin had anticipated, the Crown Forces were eventually subdued. A large haul of guns and ammunition were taken, and more casualties inflicted on the enemy. Mac Eoin’s alleged treatment of the defeated Auxies added to his legend and proved a useful propaganda story, though some would criticise the Longford commander for being so focused on aiding his enemies that he almost allowed his unit to be trapped by British reinforcements.

Mac Eoin would remain at large for a time, and engaged in a few smaller operations, but his luck ran out a month after Confin, when he was spotted and arrested at Mullingar train station. A very popular and admired figure in the IRA, his capture hit the midlands hard and after he was sentenced to death by the British – despite members of the Auxiliaries at Clonfin vouching for his good character – Michel Collins would go as far as to organise a raid of Mountjoy Prison to an attempt to rescue him. The raid, that saw six Volunteers using British uniforms and a stolen British vehicle to gain access to the prison, was unsuccessful as Mac Eoin had been moved to a different part of the prison, and the Volunteers retreated after a brief firefight. In the end Mac Eoin was reprieved by the declaration of a truce in the summer, and would soon after be released. By then he had been elected a TD, and was poised to play a more significant role in national affairs.

The larger side of a guerrilla conflict, the side that is ambushed as opposed to performing the ambushing, succeeds or fails largely on the back of how it reacts to those ambushes. If you can learn from such experiences, and apply that learning quickly, you can ensure that your forces are not taking unnecessary losses and forcing the enemy to continually find ways to adapt. As we have already seen, and will surely see again, the British during the War of Independence were often slow to apply the lessons of the IRA’s ambush war. Only 24 hours after Clonfin, an even worse result occurred in an ambush in Limerick.

The place this time was Dromkeen (or Drumkeen), around ten km’s south-east of Limerick City. This was a combined operation of the East and Mid-Limerick Brigades, with roughly 45 men engaged under Donnacha O’Hannigan, the O/C of the East Limerick flying column. The combination was largely on the back of several recent raids of the Crown Forces, that had captured IRA arms dumps: the only way the Limerick IRA could now effectively undertake ambushes was for multiple brigades to be involved. O’Hannigan had received intelligence very similar to that received by Mac Eoin, that a regular convoy of two lorries, populated by Black and Tans, was making trips on the road between Pallasgreen and Caherconlish. O’Hannigan selected an ambush spot at a point where the road bent, then split, and divided his forces so they were either side of the road, with one of four sections behind the stone wall of a graveyard. Using horse carts they blocked the forks of the road, then waited. In the afternoon, the Crown Forces arrived as expected.

O’Hannigan claims the Black and Tans were offered the chance to surrender before fire was opened, but who knows if such things are true. It was the second lorry that was fired on first, by the sections further to the left flank. The driver of the first lorry, hearing the shots behind, appears to have sped up to escape the area and, in combination with failing to see the roadblock on the road to Pallas owing to the bend in the road, too late swerved onto the other road, where he hit a wall and then the other cart at speed, before coming to a stop.

In the resulting firefight, the IRA quickly accounted for the remaining Crown Forces. O’Hannigan’s account indicates that those in the first lorry were neutralised easily enough – possibly some of them were killed when thrown from their lorry after the crash, though other accounts note a grenade successfully thrown into the lorry – and the occupants of the second lorry had only so much they could do, under fire from both sides of the road and a third section back the way they had come. A couple of the Crown Forces, including a District Inspector in civilian clothes, were able to escape the scene of the ambush. The rest were not so lucky, with the majority killed there and others mortally wounded. The overall RIC casualties were 11 dead. The IRA took one casualty, a Volunteer with a bullet wound to the hand.

There are elements of controversy to the aftermath, that ring very similar to the alleged events of Kilmichael. Maurice Meade, a Volunteer who had once been recruited into Roger Casement’s Irish Brigade, claims that a Black and Tan continued firing from under a lorry after the general fighting had ceased, and that when he was eventually compelled to surrender Meade shot him dead for his conduct. Then, two other surviving Tans were assembled, a rapid court-martial took place, and O’Hannigan ordered them both shot, an order that Meade happily complied with. O’Hannigan makes no mention of such things in his account, but these events are backed up by others, who claim the executions were mandated by a GHQ order to kill all Black and Tans captured in arms. Numerous Volunteers had been killed in Limerick in the last number of months, so even without GHQ orders there was ample motivation for the IRA to show little mercy to their enemy, for revenge and to make a definitive statement that the IRA in Limerick were not defeated. The usual reprisals happened in the aftermath, with farms and homes nearby burned.

The Dromkeen Ambush, possibly the second biggest of the war in terms of Crown Forces casualties incurred, was a spectacular success for the IRA, and yet another example of RIC inability to adapt to guerrilla war. They had failed to adequately randomise their convoy routes, the two lorries had traveled too close together and their occupants were unable to properly defend themselves when they came under attack. The IRA had carefully scouted the area, gathered intelligence on the enemy, set-up their positions and insured that local civilians could not interfere. Their prize was the stand-out engagement of the War of Independence in Limerick.

In conjunction with the events of Clonfin the previous day, and three other, smaller, ambushes in Dublin and Cork, 19 members of the Crown Forces were killed in little over a day. Such numbers showcased that, for all of the Crown Forces numerical dominance in certain areas, and the claims of commanders that the tide was turning, they were still as liable as ever to be the victims of ambush and assassination. The aftermath of the two ambushes were radically different though, with Mac Eoin’s chivalric streak on full display in his treatment of the wounded, while O’Hannigan appears to have presided over a drumhead court-martial and summary execution. It should be remembered that, as covered in the previous entry, the British had little compunction about executing captured rebels, albeit with a more substantial legal proceeding, and few in the IRA had much patience for the “laws of war”. The mercy shown at Confin appears to be almost entirely down to the opinions and actions of Mac Eoin though, as has been said before, it was not unusual for the IRA to release the survivors of ambushes after the fact.

We move next to another ambush, in a part of the country we have not been to in a while. That part is the border of Kerry and Cork, where the local IRA were eager to enact an attack that could match the achievements of their colleagues in the rest of Munster, as the War of Independence continued to escalate.

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

NFB Watches Wrestling #13: USWA Challenge Wrestling (06/05/1991)

The RNG has landed on a bit of a deep dive into the balkanisation and reformation of wrestling promotions in the 90’s here. It’s the 6th May 1991 (filmed on the 3rd) and we’re in the Sportatorium of Dallas, Texas for USWA Challenge Wrestling! Your main event tonight, a non-title tag team chain match featuring Danny Davis and Bill Dundee vs the Texas Hangmen.

This is officially listed as an episode of the “Global Wrestling Federation” on the Network, but is actually a show of the United States Wrestling Association. The USWA was a combination of the Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling of Dallas and the Lawlor’s Continental Wrestling Association of Memphis joining forces for a bit to try and compete on a larger, more national, level. The union didn’t last long, with separate USWA shows running for a while, until a new entity, GWF, came along and bought out the USWA name and library, eventually replacing it in Dallas in the Spring of 1992. Somewhere along the line the WWE bought out the GWF library, and hence also got access to the USWA. The main reason why a random selection of USWA shows has been thrown up on the Network is probably because it was an early haunt of the then “Stunning” Steve Austin.

Michael St John is your introduction to Challenge Wrestling, and runs down the card. It is a bunch of names you won’t recognise until we get to a planned “Tennessee Street Fight” to feature Steve Austin, Jeff Jarrett, Dr Tom Prichard and Robert Fuller. After a brief commercial break we’re straight into our first contest

Terry Garvin and Gary Young vs Eric Embry and the Boogeyman

We’re in a small but moderately loud arena, which features only up-close camera work. The presentation starts with the commentators mid-sentence, rambling about how “the Boogeyman don’t look right”. It’s St John and “Superstar” Bill Dundee on the mikes, though Dundee vanishes after the first match. Oh, and no, it’s not Martin Wright with the worms, thankfully, it’s some guy in a full body suit and a hockey mask. Him and Young to start, Young with a hip-toss, drop-kick, and Boogeyman begs off. Embry in, and this is part of some feud he’s having with Young according to the commentators. Garvin in for some basic locks and wrenches, “working that arm like it’s a well and he’s pumping water”. Nice. Young in but eats a knee from Embry.

Garvin beating down Embry with turnbuckle punches, things breakdown with everyone in and suddenly Embry has Garvin pinned with the assistance of the ropes in around three and a half.

Winners: Eric Embry and the Boogeyman. We want worms!

Verdict: Hard to settle into this one, with a real OUTTANOWHERE finish.

There’s a chaotic mess in the aftermath as various random wrestlers and managers, and some of the luchadors, brawl, and the heels get the upper-hand with some nunchucks. Not a scrap of context for large parts of this, so it’s ECW-esque random insanity. Honestly the crowd doesn’t seem to mind too much as we go to commercial. Back from the break and the wrestlers are in the ring for the next match.

El Grande Pistolero vs Terry Daniels

No idea who these two are. Great bit on commentary before we start where they talk about a USWA Southern Heavyweight match that has taken place between Jeff Jarrett and Eric Emrby, that was so brutal, “we can’t even show you two seconds of it on TV”. Way to taunt the audience Michael. Daniels on top early with a body slam, but these guys are mostly just circling each other. Pistolero very obviously grabs the bell-ringer and puts it in his trunks, but after a surprisingly lengthy amount of time the ref finds him out.

Daniels sends Pistolero out and he jaws with the crowd for a bit. Back in Daniels hits him with a drop-kick, and Pistolero complains that his mask was being pulled. This is a pretty whiny brand of heel, huh? Headbutts from the luchador gives him some offence. Snap mare as St John again goes on about the title match they can’t show us, and they aren’t even advertising this as a PPV thing, so I don’t know why they’re going on about it. In the ring Pistolero goes for perhaps a Samoan Drop of some kind but Daniels lands out of it, but very awkwardly, bad spot. Daniels with a small package and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in around three and a half.

Winner: Terry Daniels, whom I assume is some kind of up-and-coming face.

Verdict: Hard to concentrate on a fairly nothing contest when St John kept taunting me with “a once in a lifetime match” we’ll never see.

Back from a break St John introduces a recording of what we’re all here to really see.

Jeff Jarrett and Robert Fuller vs Steve Austin and Dr Tom Prichard (Tennessee Street Fight)

We join this one in-progress. What is a Tennessee Street Fight? I’m not sure, but everyone is in jeans if that helps. Jarrett is beating up Prichard, then in comes Fuller. Awkward suplex for one, then an armdrag. Clawing across the face from Prichard, before Fuller takes control again, sending a reeling Prichard into the wrong corner where Jarrett socks him.

Austin breaks up a count. Lots of right-hands and basic offence here, with the Jarrett/Fuller team on-top. I’m assuming they are the heels? Prichard certainly acting like a face-in-peril. Austin gets the tag and starts beating up “the golden boy” Jarrett, and you do hear some nasty stories about Jarrett at this time along those lines. Fuller in and starts wailing on Austin with his belt. Austin and Prichard take a powder on the outside because this is just too fast-paced. Back in, Prichard with a very awkward Scoop Slam to Jarrett, then more wailing with the belt. Crowd very into this, for what it is worth, chanting for Jeff, so I guess he’s a face?

Jarrett now the face-in-peril, so we’re maintaining the tag rules despite St John insisting “there are no rules”. Austin beating up Jarrett for a bit, again it’s just right hands and kicks, with some rest-holds thrown in for the hell of it. Jarrett eventually gets a nice Irish Whip sequence and floors Austin with a crossbody, but Prichard distracts the ref so no count. Fighting on the outside now, chains and tables are being produced, but nothing actually being used. Back in the ring, Prichard nails Jarrett with the chain, so shows what I know.

Prichard takes his boot off and nails Jarrett with it. Things break-down again for a bit, and Austin is stamping on Jarrett’s head. Spinning clothesline from Austin, but Fuller breaks up the count. Small package from Jarrett but Fuller breaks it up. Things have gotten dangerously close to being entertaining here, so time for a rest-hold. JJ eventually powers out of it, and one of the problems with this one is that the camera perspective is always in-close but they keep switching cameras, so you frequently get disorientated and are confused when it appears that Jarrett just hit his own tag partner. Lengthy Bear Hug spot on Jarrett from Austin. Eventually “Jeffrey” Jarrett dodges a corner splash, then back body-drops Prichard. Hot-tag to Fuller who clears house. Everyone brawling on the outside no, with Prichard thrown into the barricade.

Austin has a metal briefcase from somewhere, but accidentally nails Prichard with it. Fuller grabs it and floors Austin. The faces beating down Austin back in the ring, Prichard nailed with the case one more time, then Jarrett nails Austin with it from the second rope. Both men cover, and that’s it in around ten minutes or so.

Winners: Jeff “My Dad gave me this job” Jarrett and Robert Fuller

Verdict: Had its moments, but too reliant on beatdown wrestling and some lame weapon shots.

Straight into out next contest when we come back.

Mascara del Fuego vs El Grande Coloso

No idea who these two are. I assume the guy in black trunks is the heel. This is Dallas-based, so this is to try and appeal to a Mexican community, right? St John says he should have brushed up on his Spanish, but also thinks the idea of “an Italian boy speaking Spanish” is insane. OK then. Some fast-paced stuff to start, out of all kilter to what we’ve seen earlier, lots of arm drags and even a rana. Coloso drop-kicked out, with del Fuego leaping around. Back in, Coloso taken off his feet, another rana, del Fuego goes for a third but countered into a powerbomb, and that’ll be it in around two minutes or so.

Winner: El Grande Coloso, which seems like they’ve said the same thing twice when you think about it.

Verdict: It was going great before they ended it so quickly.

After a break we are right into our main event.

“Superstar” Bill Dundee and “Nightmare” Danny Davis vs The Texas Hangmen (Psycho and Killer) (Chain Match) (non-title)

You read that right, this is somehow a tag team chain match, so all four guys are chained together. The Hangmen, an indistinguishable luchador duo, are the USWA Tag Champs, but this is non-title. This Danny Davis, not to be mixed-up with the crooked ref from the early 90’s in WWF, is the guy who would go on to found OVW.

Dundee and Davis on top early, and I guess this must be a tornado tag. No context for why this match is happening in this manner. Basic striking, kicks and choking. St John not too interested, talking more about matches next week, and again that seemingly amazing match that they aren’t allowed to show, and from the way he talks it finally dawns that they want people to actually come and watch the shows in person, hence the teasing.

The Hangmen take a powder, so the match is suddenly a tug-of-war. Brawling on the outside, choking with the chains, and everyone back into the ring eventually. Really awkward spot where the Hangmen are collectively Irish Whipped and back body-dropped, trying not to trip up on the chains. Faces (?) in control as we go to a break.

Back and looks like more brawling, and this time it’s the Hangmen performing the awkward stereo Irish Whips. Impossible to tell which of the Hangmen is which, and St John isn’t going to try, referring to them as “one of the Hangmen” and “the other Hangman” respectively. Davis tries to unmask a Hangman, and I thought that was meant to be a heel move, but the crowd is cheering, so what do I know? Lots of slow brawling offence from both teams, lots of chain choking. After a lengthy stereo choke by the Hangmen, Dundee kicks out of a pin attempt at two.

Faces rallying back, one of the Hangmen hits the other with the chain by accident, and a very awkward second-rope spear/crossbody/forearm from Dundee is enough to get the pin in around eight minutes.

Winners: Bill Dundee, Danny Davis and those who think chain matches should not be logically restricted to two men.

Verdict: Slow, boring tag match with a dumb gimmick.

Dundee immediately out of the ring for a promo on his opponent next week, the Boogeyman. USWA feels the need to bleep the word “ass”, but a decent promo otherwise. After the break St John gives a brief plug to the whole organisation, and says good bye. Way too slow repeat of the finish from the main event, and that’s it.

Best Match: I guess the Tennessee Street Fight? You could tell they knew they had something special on their hands with Austin and Jarrett.

Best Wrestler: He might only have gotten two minutes, and lost, but Mascarada del Fuego actually busted out a good few moves when so many others on this show were happy to brawl.

Worst Match: The main event was a snorefest where the flavourless participants were left struggling to make anything out of a stupid gimmick.

Worst Wrestler: Pick one of the Hangmen. Aside from being indistinguishable they were dull as sin.

Overall Verdict: Not to hard to see that USWA was spinning its wheels before the GWF took over completely. This was an awkward presentation of a bunch of humdrum matches and performers, but at least it helped give us Austin (and Jarrett, if I’m feeling generous). Still, there isn’t anything really important to see here. Avoid.

To view more entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: And We Go Green

And We Go Green

Trailer

awgg2

Vroom, vroom

I would classify myself as at least a sort of fair-weather casual motorsport fan. I know more than the average person about the ins-and-outs of Le Mans, NASCAR or Moto GP, but Formula 1 always used to be my main port of call. I remember vividly enough an apogee of interest in the late 90’s, a time of stand-out personalities and some great racing. And similarly, I remember the doldrums of my interest in the 00’s, inspired by the drab dominance of once Michael Schumacher. Fast forward a decade and a half and the situation is much the same, only the dominant bore is Lewis Hamilton and the top echelon of motorsport is more entertaining in its accompanying Netflix show than in its actual sport.

I can’t remember when exactly I first heard of the all-electric equivalent but I gave Formula E a try at the start of the 5th season in 2019 and was pretty instantly hooked. Here was a motorsport championship that was different, competitive, open to new ideas and carrying a ramshackle charm in its lay-outs its presentations, its commentators, a real seat-of-your-pants affair, that came up with entertaining races week in, week out. That 5th season blew Lewis Hamilton’s latest stroll to another world title, that says far more about the rest of that division than his own skill, out of the water. All before you get to the environmental element of course. And then Formula E decided to get into the world of film. Would And We Go Green be a worthy summation/depiction of what is destined to be the only game in town when it comes to motorsport? Or is it just another forgettable propaganda piece?

Global warming, an ever-increasing market for electric cars and emissions scandals are events that all help to propel along the formation of the world’s first single-seater world motor-racing championship purely for electric vehicles: Formula E. In this documentary, using the 4th season of the championship as a basis, directors Fischer Stevens and Malcolm Venville follow the story of Formula E through the people who organised it, the journalists who follow it and most importantly the drivers who make it what it is, and what it may yet be.

Fears that And We Go Green will be a propaganda piece are deflected rather astutely in its opening, depicting the the first weekend of the 4th season. As the cars line up in Hing Kong, the fans breath is hushed and the competition’s owners smile from the sidelines, we get one red light, two red lights…and then everything stops. The third, fourth and fifth lights don’t appear, and Jack Nicholls has a wait a bit to give the titular indication that the race has started. The drivers wait, the fans are confused and Formula E Chairman Alejandro Agag starts cursing at the people operating the start lights, who are baffled at the technical error. This is Formula E: the cutting edge of electric motorsport, and the wild west in terms of getting things right. The race does get going eventually.

What follows is a bit of an uneven documentary, one that has to try and balance a general history/analysis of Formula E with a more traditional narrative in its examination of the 4th season. The first part is accomplished well enough, and has some striking moments, not least an early glimpse of Agag proclaiming that the creation of Formula E was for business reasons first, then environmental reasons after, as he puffs away on a large cigar. A former MEP, son-in-law of a Spanish Prime Minister (whose witnesses to his wedding included Juan Carlos I, Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi), part-owner of an English football club, Agag is a fascinating figure, and we don’t really get to see enough of him. Some of the other talking heads make the point that Formula E needs a politically experienced hob nobber at the top, and Agag is certainly that: a man who can get things done, whether it is convincing various places all over the world to open their cities up for Formula E, or arranging photo ops where Pope Benedict blesses one of the cars.

But there is still  a bit too much telling and not showing regards Agag’s conversational skill: interesting is seeing him explain the way they have gone about trying to improve battery life to the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio, or outlining a physical assault he received from some slightly crazy-sounding fossil fuel advocate, but these moments are few and far between. Other interviewees give the film some great perspectives, not least Hazel Southwell, a freelance motorsport journalist whose gender marks her out in the male dominated world of professional racing, and who gives some personal background on many of the drivers and other personalities that litter the world of Formula E. There’s various celebrities, parents and commentators as well, but And We Go Green doesn’t really do a whole load with them.

Instead, the film gives the lions share of its running time to the story of the season battle, and here a key flaw is imminently identifiable. There are five drivers that get to be the primary talking heads: Jean-Eric Vergne, Andre Lotterer, Sam Bird, Lucas di Grassi and Nelson Piquet Jr. As the season progresses Vergne and Bird, the chief rivals for the championship, become the main focus, and the other three are left behind, having initially seemed to be quite important to the story being told. Lotterer’s efforts to match up to his DS Tcheetah teammate, Piquet Jr’s continuing efforts to find redemption after “Crashgate” and di Grassi’s obvious disdain for Piquet Jr for the same, they all seem to get dropped.

It seems clear to me that the creators of this documentary began the filming process thinking di Grassi and Piquet Jr would be the big story of the season, then pivoted to Vergne and Bird when things changed, and this aspect of the documentary thus has an uneven feeling. To use what is rapidly becoming a tired old chestnut, it feels like the kind of project that needs serialisation. Netflix’s Drive To Survive is the obvious thing to point to, that avoids the pitfalls of not knowing how the season is going to shake out when you start filming by dedicating one episode to individual teams or drivers, thus neutering the need for an over-arching narrative.

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The drivers of Formula E are at the heart of And We Go Green.

That being said, the Vergne/Bird stuff is good. Though the approach is a little scatter shot, interviews with the two allow for a spotlight to be placed on the cutthroat world of professional racing, where dreams of making it to F1 frequently turn to disappointment and burnout. Vergne made it to the top of the mountain but had a torrid time with Toro Rosso, which included a crash diet-induced hospitalisation when he was deemed to be a few pounds too heavy for the car, and then the devastating blow of seeing good friend Jules Bianchi suffer fatal injuries in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. The moment when Vergne attempts to speak about Bianchi, but is unable to find the words, is very affecting. Bird meanwhile got as far as being test driver for Mercedes, and nowhere else, and obviously feels regret for being a nearly-man. Formula E allowed a measure of healing and redemption for both men, to get their dreams of competing for world motorsport titles back on track. In some ways, the journey of the two matches the journey of Formula E: initially considered a busted flush and a joke, before becoming something more.

I think that And We Go Green does capture something about why we are so obsessed, sometimes, with racing car drivers. Films like Rush did this from the perspective of entertainment, commenting that men willing to put themselves in the position of facing death in a competition of speed were like modern-day knights. Motorsports, from Formula 1 to Formula E, to everything else, has never just been about cars, engines, turns and chequered flags, they have thrived on the backs of the larger-than-life people in the cars. And We Go Green showcases some of them and their stories well, from Piquet Jr’s unresolved relationship with his largely absentee father that he races to try and please, to Vergne and Bird’s desperate need to win, comparing the desire to the necessity of breathing.

It also helps that the two come across as so personable and, well, human, at other moments. Early on cameras pick up on Vergne coaching his team-mate Lotterer over what to text back to an unhappy sounding paramour (after advising a nonchalant approach, Vergne suggests he should start charging for his romantic skills). Bird almost enjoys getting under the skin of “Jev” in high-pressure situations, but deals with his own pressure with tense runs and nervous energy when watching his rivals in qualifying. The two men, former team-mates and always rivals, have nearly come to blows on some occasions on and off the track, but also, in one critical moment near the conclusion, showcase the kind of camaraderie that has always been associated with professional motorsport racers.

The two go hammer-and-tongs in the final races of the season, both trying to make up for previous shortcomings, both trying to deal with the pressure. I won’t spoil the ending for those that are unaware, but the directors do a decent job of showcasing the drama of those final few races, even while the previous spotlights slowly dim as other racers fall out of contention. Crafting a narrative out of such a jumble of potential outcomes is a difficult task, but And We Go Green does at least find a decent conclusion in there somewhere.

Visually, it makes the best of Malcolm Venville’s experience of car photography in those sections dedicated to the actual racing, and Steven’s more personable touch for everything else. The film looks slick, and does as much as is humanly possible to get across how exciting Formula E can be. Stevans involvement, and Di Caprio’s, also calls back to 2016’s Before The Flood, and marks And We Go Green firmly as an environmental exercise, even if Agag is inclined to consider such things secondary in many ways.

And We Go Green does deal with a few of the criticisms that have been thrown Formula E’s way. It’s been accused of just being a sop to public following the emissions scandal, but Agag is happy to concede that competition got a boost from such a thing. The teams involved haven’t exactly gone running for the hills at the first opportunity. The car swapping of the first four seasons is pointed at as an understandable origin for ridicule, but Formula E was doing the best with what it had, and as of season five the cars can go a whole race. The street circuits are too narrow, but Formula E is getting into places, like New York and London, that Formula 1 can’t. Formula E cars are too quiet, and I suppose this is a problem if you have the attention span of a gnat.

At the end of the day, Formula E, or some future version of it, is going to be the only game in town when it comes to the top tier of motorsport. Formula 1 in its current guise won’t last, not least because it is dependent on an energy source that the world has a finite level of. Pure fans of F1 might turn their noses up at E, calling it gimmicky, underwhelming, all spectacle and no substance, but there is no escaping the fact that electric racing stands to expand at the same rate as the electric car market, and the opinion that Formula E is simply more entertaining – far more entertaining I would say – than the frequently pathetic facade of competition that the current version of F1 deigns to throw up, where the graphic “Battle for 7th” says everything you need to know.

And We Go Green had its planned release schedule largely blown up by COVID, much like how Formula E’s sixth season was stopped for months. It’s apropos to give it a look now if you can then, as Formula E restarts next week, with the first of several races to be held in the Berlin track, with the organisation planning on making course alterations for every race to keep things from getting too mundane. Even in the days of coronavirus, Formula E is finding ways to approach things differently. Such an competition deserves more support, and this film is a good way of going about getting it. It captures some of what makes Formula E, and motorsport generally, great entertainment, and offers an acceptable, if not fully-fleshed-out, summation of where Formula E came from and where it might be going. The structure can be distracting in its unevenness, but it’s forgivable. If you can, this is worth watching, just like Formula E. Recommended.

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And we go forward.

(All images are copyright of Hulu).

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Ireland’s Wars: Mrs Lindsay And Cork’s Informant War

The Irish War of Independence was, at its beating heart, an ugly affair. All wars are, in their own way, but there is something especially brutal about the kind of asymmetric war that the years 1919-1921 saw in Ireland: they are wars where the idea and ideals behind “civilised” conflict are thrown out of the window especially hard, and where the actions of either side err particularly towards the far edge of morally dubious. We have seen this in accounts of assassination, burnings and massacres. In today’s entry, we will look at another example, that opens the door on an extremely controversial aspect of the war, namely the degree to which parts of that war were as much about sectarian bloodletting as they were about Irish freedom.

“Informers” were serious business for the IRA. The oldest men and women of the movement still remembered the intelligence holes that marked the disastrous 1867 Rebellion, and everyone had been reared on similar tales from 1798. With the RIC increasingly out of commission, the Crown Forces were more dependent than ever on civilians for information, and the IRA was determined to strike back against such things. Sometimes this could take the form of threats, sometimes enforced deportation. Sometimes it went further.

This example begins with a scene we are already very familiar with: a unit of the IRA waiting to ambush a detachment of the Crown Forces in the Irish countryside. It was the morning of the 28th of January 1921, the IRA were composed of men from the Cork No. 1 Brigade’s 6th battalion, the Crown Forces were expected to be a convoy of British troops on patrol between barracks and the location was a place known as Godfrey’s Cross, about halfway between the villages of Coachford and Dripsey, the latter of which is most commonly associated with the engagement.

As has been mentioned before, it was completely normal for IRA ambush parties to spend a great deal of time in the ambush position, just waiting for the enemy to come by. In some instances, they could wait there for days. A group of armed men in such a situation might be able to keep their location and intention secret from the enemy forces for a time, as said enemy forces would generally stick to the roads: concealed behind hedges, hills and any other natural impediment, if the IRA did not want to be seen by the enemy, it was not a hugely difficult endevour to not be seen.

But civilians living locally were a different matter. Whether they were farmers, tradesmen, children, priests, drivers, publicans, vagrants or anybody else, people were going to happen by the ambush site, and realise what was going on. In those situations, the IRA could detain that person, but of course they could only do this so many times and for so long without creating a bigger problem for themselves. So often they did nothing, beyond a warning for said civilians to keep their mouths shut. Sometimes they did, out of ideological agreement, or fear, or lack of care. Sometimes they didn’t. It was not unusual for most of the civilian population in a certain locality to be fully aware that the IRA was “out”, and that they should avoid a certain stretch of road for a while. On this particular occasion, many people in the immediate locality were aware that the 6th battalion was preparing an ambush, and knew where they were planning to do so.

One of those people was a 59-year-old woman named Maria Lindsay. She was a somewhat well-off woman, from a landed estate family in Wicklow. A widower, she lived in a large home/estate in Leemount, not far from Dripsey, along with several servants. Her background, upbringing and Presbyterian religion all combined to make Lindsay a fairly committed loyalist, with a decidedly negative opinion of Irish nationalism and the IRA. That morning, she was being driven to Ballincollig by her butler/driver, James Clarke, when she stopped in a grocers. The proprietor, upon hearing of her intended plan for the day, warned her off, as her route happened to be where the IRA was waiting for their targets. Mrs Lindsay could have just gone home, or taken a different route to Ballincollig, but instead decided to try and put her loyalist leanings into practise.

She first went to the local priest, a Fr Shennick, to tell him about what she knew, before driving to Ballincollig to inform the military there (they would have been receptive, as Lindsay was well known from officers’ social circles). Shennick shared Lindsay’s anti-IRA sentiments, but also wanted to avoid bloodshed: he sent a message to the waiting IRA that their planned ambush was now rumbled. But Shennick’s political opinions were well known to the Volunteers, and it was thought he was simply trying to trick them into abandoning what could be a very successful ambush. Their commander, the Captain of the Blarney Company named Frank Busteed, decided to stay, while Mrs Lindsay was driven home after meeting the military.

The IRA should have left. Forewarned, the British military in Ballincollig were able to send men to Dripsey, who split into several columns and moved to take the IRA positions from the rear. The Volunteers received some warning from scouts, but not soon enough for them to be able to withdraw cleanly. A firefight broke out: five of the IRA were wounded. These five, three others and two civilians were captured by the military. The rest of the Volunteers were able to escape.

Barely a week and a half later, the men who were capable of being tried – two of the captured were critically injured and remained in hospital, where one would die and the other would eventually get a life sentence – were court-martialed. After a few days of proceedings, one Volunteer and the two civilians were released owing to lack of evidence. The other five were sentenced to death.

Just as it had been impossible for the IRA ambush party to hide their activities from locals, so it was impossible for Mrs Lindsay’s impact on the ambush to remain hidden from the IRA for too long. Fr Shinnick was interrogated, and admitted as to the full details of what had happened, including Mrs Lindsay’s involvement. The local IRA, on foot of the sentences of execution for their comrades, were desperate. On the 17th of February, a force surrounded Lindsay’s home and took both her and her butler – allegedly found hiding under a bed when Volunteers rushed the house – into custody. The mansion was later burned to the ground.

Some manner of trial may have taken place secretly for Mrs Lindsay, though the exact details are a bit vague. IRA General Orders allowed brigade commanders to preside over “Courts of Inquiry” into such matters, but whatever took place should not be considered to be a fair trial, anymore than, say, the trials of those executed after the Easter Rising had been. For one thing, it is doubtful that Mary Lindsay or James Clarke had anything resembling legal counsel, and it is unknown whether they were even allowed to speak in their defence. Accounts suggest that Lindsay denied the accusations against her, though the IRA holding her were sure about what she had done.

The IRA contacted General E.P Strictland in Cork’s Victoria Barracks, informing him that if the planned execution of their comrades went ahead, then Lindsay and her butler would be executed in turn. Their communication included a personal message from Lindsay herself, pleading for the General to intercede. The messages were to no avail. While obviously the British leadership did not want to see Lindsay or Clarke dead, they knew that to give a stay of execution in such circumstances would only lead to more kidnappings in the future. The hard-line exemplified by the lack of clemency for Terence McSwiney and Kevin Barry, and the imposition of martial law, was being made obvious again. The five men sentenced to death were duly shot by firing squad on the 28th February.

The most immediate consequence was bloodshed for the British Army. That same day, six members of the regular military were shot dead in the streets of Cork City, and several more wounded, in what amounted to an ad-hoc operation of retaliatory killings carried out by various members of the IRA. The soldiers in question appear to have been, for the most part, on leave from their units and unarmed. A week and a half later, the Cork IRA made good on their threat, and both Lindsay and Clarke were shot and buried secretly.

Busteed himself did the shooting, and never expressed any regrets about it. However, there is evidence that other elements of the IRA were unhappy with the way that things fell out, up as far as Michael Collins, who felt that the execution of an elderly woman was hardly the sort of thing that the army of Irish republicanism should be doing. Lindsay’s case became somewhat of a short-term fixation of the press, and is an instance where the IRA were the ones figuratively shooting themselves in the foot in propaganda terms. Whatever about what she had done, it was hard to put a good face on the shooting of an old woman, or the death of Clarke, who appears to have no involvement other than as Lindsay’s driver. The details of their confinement, which appears to have been in miserable enough conditions, also did not paint a glorious picture. Lindsay at least went to her death stoically, and with no small amount of quiet defiance, at least according to the later account of Busteed.

The entire affair allows us to speak briefly on what some have called the War of Independence’s “disappeared”, those men and women abducted by the IRA and killed, usually on charges of espionage or giving information to the Crown Forces, before being displayed publicly or buried secretly. There was a disproportionate number of cases of these in Cork, matching the disproportionate number of military engagements in the area. The topic is a sensitive one, amid accusations that too many of the victims were Protestant civilians, adding a potentially sectarian sheen to what was nominally an issue of military law and order.

78 “spies” were executed in Cork, the highest number in the country. For comparison, it was Tipperary who had the second highest, at 16. 23 of the Cork 78 were Protestants. This may seem like a large amount, but I think it is fair to say that this reflects the intensity of the war in Cork, and the slightly larger number of Protestant communities in the county than was standard elsewhere. Crown Forces in the area would have relied disproportionately on loyalists for information, and said loyalists would have been pre-dominantly Protestant: thus it cannot be seen as too surprising when Cork sees a spike in the list of Protestant deaths. Peter Hart is the most notable academic to adhere to the theory of sectarian motivation, going as far as calling the killings a form of ethnic cleansing. The numbers simply don’t back this up. The vast majority of recognised IRA spy killings, in Cork and in Ireland generally, were Catholic, and there were no such recorded executions in well over half of Ulster. It was a brutal facet of the Irish War of Independence, and perhaps some individual killings may have had some manner of sectarian motivation, it would be churlish to insist otherwise. But the idea of their being some sort of conscious effort to eliminate Protestants specifically in Cork does not bear up under scrutiny.

With all that said, did Mrs Lindsay and James Clarke deserve death? It depends on your perspective. If you see the IRA of the time as the legitimate army of Ireland’s legitimate political body, then the two, albeit as an accessory in Clarke’s case, must be seen as enemy informants. But execution and secret burial seems a harsh punishment given Lindsay’s age and Clarke’s lack of direct blame. If you hew to the other side of the divide, then you can only view the killings as murder, plain and simple, but Lindsay’s actions did, directly or indirectly, lead to six IRA deaths, whether she intended this or not. Such things cannot be waved away. There is no clear answer, no single preferred outcome to satisfy the moral setsquare. War remains, as I said, an ugly affair.

It is a topic that we will undoubtedly return to in some form, especially during sections of the Irish Civil War. For now, we turn back to the military operations of the Irish War of Independence. Earlier in February, the “Blacksmith of Ballinalee” was engaged once more, in another of the more famous ambushes that feature his involvement, so it is to Longford that we go next.

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

NFB Watches Wrestling #12: WCW Saturday Night (02/01/1993)

The random number generator threw out a show from the start of the Bill Watts regime in charge of WCW for entry #8, now its thrown out-something from the end. It’s the 2nd January 1993 (filmed 14th December 1992) and we’re at the Center Stage Theatre of Atlanta, Georgia for an edition of WCW Saturday Night! Tonight’s main event: Danny Spivey vs Ricky Steamboat in a quarter final of a US Title Tournament.

Saturday Night is actually one of the longest running wrestling shows ever, existing under various names from 1971 through to 2000. At this point in time, it was WCW’s primary television avenue, so would frequently carry quite a decent card. But this was also the tail end of Bill Watts’ time with WCW: the man had little time left at the top, following a string of run-ins with numerous employees, the institution of numerous unpopular rules regarding the in-ring product, falling ratings and, the kicker, the roadblock Watts represented in terms of getting Ric Flair back. Oh, and the tricky issue of some Watts’ less wise comments, of a racist or bigoted nature.

We open with a “special report” on Big Van Vader becoming a two-time WCW Champion after defeating Ron Simmons at a house show, which amounts to Eric Bischoff describing what happened in a rapid manner over still shots of the guys in question. Simmons’ title win was a watershed, but he was booked poorly as champion, defeating undeserving challengers and rarely main-eventing. The plug was pulled after a short enough time, and now they are moving on pretty rapidly, which Bischoff indicating that Vader wants to face Sting next, and not a hint of a re-match with Simmons.

Opening titles which feature slow-mo rotoscoped footage to a funky beat and we’re straight into out first match from the off. Jim Ross and Larry Zbyszko on commentary.

Cactus Jack and the Barbarian vs Johnny Gunn and the Z-Man

Jack not far off a face-turn as I recall. No idea who Gunn and the Z-Man are, who despite their very different names are largely indistinguishable. JR and Zbyszko briefly discuss the world title change, but Larry shuts it down quick enough by declaring Simmons run “a fluke”. That’ll show em. Jack and Gunn to start. Tie-ups, Gunn dodges a clothesline and hits an arm drag. You’ll only piss him off jobber. Cactus back on top with a headbutt and in comes the Barbarian for around two seconds of offence. Gunn able to fight both off and in comes the Z-Man. Double drop-kick to both of their opponents. Jack back body-dropped into Barbarian.

Cactus and his tag partner re-group outside. Jack in against Z-Man. Beating him down in the corner, but Z-Man counters into an armbar. Jack powers out of it, and in comes the Barbarian. Long enough tie-up, and then Jack holds the rope to dump a running Z-Man out. Beatdown on the outside and Jack rolls him back-in before getting the tag. Cactus floored by a super stiff-looking shoulder charge. Barbarian in against Gunn. Gunn floors him with a clothesline, dodges a Stinger Splash attempt, then hits a second rope clothesline. Everyone in, things break down a bit, and Gunn hits a Lou Thesz Press on Jack. Barbarian nails Gunn with a kick to the head, and that’s enough after just under six.

Winners: Cactus Jack and the Barbarian, putting it up there for random heel tag teams.

Verdict: A nothing tag opening, but at least the jobbers got a bit of offence in.

Some basic title cards inform us we’ll be seeing Battle Bowl highlights next, and later matches for a tournament to find a #1 contender to the US Title.

Back from break, and that funky theme drowns out JR and Zbyszko for a bit. We’re getting thrown to Battle Bowl highlights, which was part of the recent Starrcade show. Bill Watts and Tont Schiavone introduce famous baseballer Hank Aaron. Watts says Battle Bowl was Dusty Rhodes’ dream, like Rhodes is dead or something. The winner of the Bowl will get a special ring, presented by Aaron. The winner of last year’s Bowl, Sting, will get one too, and out he comes to get it. Thrilling stuff.

Back in studio, JR and Zbyszko run down the Battle Bowl, which is a battle royal where the participants are decided by randomly assigned tag matches earlier in the show. Plenty of big names involved, including surprises like Jushin Thunder Liger and the Great Muta. After a very quick rundown of the tag qualifiers, we see the Bowl itself, which consists of Muta, Vadar, Dustin Rhodes, Van Hammer, Danny Spivey, Sting, “Dr Death” Steve Williams and Barry Windham. The highlights are basic enough. The final two are Windham and Muta, and the latter skins the cat to avoid an elimination. This being highlights of a recent PPV, we cut suddenly from that to Muta celebrating a win because go buy it.

JR and Zbyszko congratulate Muta and briefly discuss the event, but their heart is not in it. Back from break, and again the music plays over JR. The US Title tournament is later, but first a singles match featuring Erik Watts. His old football coach gets the chance to play him up in an interview with Schiavone, as if it really matters: this is Cowboy Bills’ son, and that’s all he needs to be at the moment to get a good place on the card.

Erik Watts vs Mustapha Saed

Saed, a future tag partner of New Jack. Watts’ position on the card was another stick to beat his dad with when it came right down to it. Wrist-locks chains to start, then Watts on top. Saed rallying back with eye-pokes, then a few bear hugs. Watts eventually counters into a belly-to-back. Then a Scoop Slam, elbow strike, back body-drop, locks in an STF, and Saed taps in just over two and a half.

Winner: Nepotism

Verdict: Nothing match. He has the Moves of Doom and the same finisher, but Cena he ain’t.

Backstage Cactus Jack is with Tony Atlas, being interviewed by Teddy Long PLAYA. Jack means to win the bounty that is out on Erik Watts, and will turn him into a vegetable so he will fit on at the Christmas dinner table. What an amazing threat. Atlas faces Van Hammer later, and while Van Hammer has beaten the rest, Atlas is the best. Why are these two together?

No time to discover the answer because we are back from break and after another round of music playing over JR, we get an outline of the US Title situation. Rude is carrying a neck injury, and if he doesn’t defend his title within 30 days he will be stripped of that championship, hence this tournament is right now a #1 Contender search, but will actually turn into finding a new champ since Rude’s injury is legit. Ross throws to highlights of a Rude promo at Starrcade, where Rude is dressed all in denim and lacks facial hair. He complains about his treatment, says no-one is taking his title, etc. You know the drill here.

Vinnie Vegas vs Dustin Rhodes (WCW United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter-Final)

Vegas is none other than Kevin Nash, with a Vegas mobster gimmick, not long before his switch to the WWF. Rhodes with a roll-up early for two, then another for two. Vegas with a Sunset Flip in response for two, and it’s weird to see Nash so athletic. I watched live as he came back from injury in 2002 and promptly tore another muscle. Rhodes with a mat headlock. Vegas eventually gets up, hits a snapmare but misses an elbow. More pinning combinations from Rhodes, but no pin yet.

After another headlock sequence Vegas hits a Sidewalk Slam for two, then a huge Irish Whip into the corner that floors Rhodes. Focusing in the lower back with blows, and when Rhodes goes for a slam he collapses with Vegas on top. Vegas hits the future Jackknife Powerbomb, but it isn’t a finisher yet so only two. Bear Hug for long time. Lots of shrieky kids in the audience. Vegas with a near fall after a minute of bear hugging, then right back to it.

Rhodes eventually out, gets a Sunset Flip but rope-break. Exchanging strikes, Rhodes getting on top and floors Vegas with an Axehandle, then a flying clothesline, then a drop-kick. Fast-paced stuff now. Rhodes powers out of a powerslam attempt, hits a Bulldog, and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in just under six and a half.

Winner: Dustin Rhodes, who is a bit too bland at the moment.

Verdict: Half boring bear hugs, half decent action.

After a break Barry Windham, looking for all he world like the Tiger King, is backstage with Flyin Brian Pillman and Tony Schiavone. Windham plays up Steve Austin as his tag partner, and a bathrobe wearing Austin saunters onto camera for Pillman to play him up as well. So I guess this is a new heel faction? The Dangerous Alliance minus Dangerously? Austin says he and Windham will be unstoppable in “their quest for the Tag Team Champions.” OK then.

Flyin Brian Pillman and Steve Austin vs Larry Santo and Rikki Nelson

Austin and Nelson to start, fast running of the ropes, and Nelson takes the advantage with numerous drop kicks. Actually I think this footage has been sped up a bit. Santo in for a few hip tosses before Pillman comes in. More hip tosses and doesn’t take long for Austin to come back in. Nelson with an elbow lock for a bit, then Nelson in to take over on the same move. All a bit samey.

Austin able to counter some Irish Whips by flipping Nelson by the leg, in a cool looking spot. Pillman in, and not a hint of his high-flying style, which is sad, just standard heel beatdown. Quick series of tags as the beatdown continues, but after a minute or so Santo gets the “hot” tag, and I put that in quotes for a reason. Drop kick floors Pillman, blind tag to Austin, he hits a sneaky Stun Gun, and that’s all in just over four a half.

Winners: The Stunning Flyers

Verdict: Tag squash is squash.

After a break we have more highlights from Starrcade, where Sting faced Vader in the final of a tournament celebrating the anniversary of wrestling airing on TBS, the “King of Cable”. I suppose this was a King Of The Ring facsimile. Vader chucking Sting around, Sting makes the comeback, and knocks Vader’s mask off. Ringside brawling, Vader hammering Sting back in the ring, big comeback, and we don’t get to see the finish, only Sting’s trophy celebration. Great. Sting and Vader will face each other again shortly at Clash of the Champions in a “Thundercage” match with a bunch of other main eventers. The Thundercage was a proto-Hell In The Cell that never got much traction in WCW, I suppose because it never nearly killed Mick Foley twice-over.

“Heavy Metal” Van Hammer vs Tony Atlas w/Cactus Jack (WCW United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter-Final)

Again, don’t know why Cactus and Atlas are best friends. The winner of this faces Rhodes next week. Van Hammer won a “Strongest Arm” contest, and bodybuilder Tony Atlas is unhappy about this, and has challenged Van Hammer to an arm-wrestling match at a later show. That’ll be fun. Lock-up and Atlas floors Hammer after a shoulderblock, running the ropes very slowly. Hammer rallies back with a few slams and a knockdown of his own, then into a lengthy wrist-lock/test of strength spot, with Jack shouting encouragement to Atlas being about the only entertaining thing happening.

Atlas eventually grabs some hair to take Hammer down, but Hammer able to get in a back body-drop, tonight’s most popular move, and an elbow drop for two. More restholds, and eventually Atlas hits a reverse suplex. Looks very cumbersome trying to hit a clothesline, and Hammer looking much more impressive when he is on offence. Hammer with a leg drop for two, and Atlas then clotheslines him to the outside. Hammer with a shot to an interfering Jack, then goes to suplex Atlas from the apron into the ring, but Jack trips him – though Hammer was already falling pretty clearly – and it turns into a splash that’s enough in just over five.

Winner: Tony Atlas and his bestest buddy Cactus Jack beside him.

Verdict: Atlas didn’t look so hot here. Finish looked stupid. Wrong guy won.

No time for anything to breathe in this show as we go straight to an interview with Arn Anderson as part of “WCW Up Close”, this time with Jesse Ventura. Ventura says he’s “basically ruled WCW”, but I don’t recall Anderson ever getting a sustained run at the top. Anderson is currently laid up with a knee injury, which he laments. It was apparently caused by Erik Watts, which tracks with that guy. Anderson says he is out of contract in 1993, and complains, with Jesse, about the Watts father and son combo, and there’s a little bit of shoot in this.

Barry Windham vs Johnny B. Badd (WCW United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter-Final)

Badd getting a lengthy entrance, but not sure the kids are really into him. Some fast-paced chains to start, then into a lengthy wrist-lock segment. Eventually Badd gets in a flurry of shots and that sends Windham out. Back in Windham gets on top with a suplex. Scoop Slam, elbow drop, for two. Badd tossed out, and Madusa has suddenly showed up to “scout” for Rick Rude. Badd mounting a comeback in the ring, but Windham shoves him down, drops a knee and lays in some slow kicks.

Windham with a suplex for two, and then lays in some shots and this is a bit dull now. Gutwrench Sideslam for two, then chokes and this is a very predictable pattern. Badd counters another suplex attempt into one of his own and the comeback in punctuated by, you guessed, it, a back body-drop. Running elbow gets two. Windham throws Badd by the tights into the turnbuckle, Badd not out of it though, with the world’s slowest Frankensteiner, looked really bad. To the top, for a huge air Sunset Flip attempt, but Windham rolls out and nails Badd with a clothesline. Windham hits a Jumping DDT and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in just over seven and a half.

Winner: Barry Windham, despite taking the move of doom that is the back body-drop.

Verdict: Windham looked slow, and some sloppy moves spoiled this one.

Backstage with Schivone are the Tag Champs Shane Douglas and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and isn’t that a bit of a random pair. Douglas is behind Steamboat’s effort to win the US Title, but both are putting their primary focus on the tags. Steamboat wants to win his quarter final so he can face Barry Windham in the semis, to get revenge for some previous altercation. He can sell this little min-feud well enough.

“Dangerous” Danny Spivey vs Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (WCW United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter-Final)

Spivey I barely remember from a mid-90’s WWF run. Towers over Steamboat anyway, but we all know who the better wrestler is. Headlock-focused chains to start, with Steamboat on top. Crossbody for two, then a singing neckbreaker for two, and here’s Madusa again, as if Rude is actually coming back. Spivey back into it with a Spinebuster. Very awkward looking backbreaker, then Steamboat back with a few good-looking chops, before Spivey floors him with a clothesline for two.

The two battling over who gets to do a suplex, and then Spivey transitions into an abdominal stretch. Steamboat counters into a snapmare, then eats an uranage for two. Spivey chopping Steamboat down, huge Scoop Slam, then back to the abdominal stretch, into a slam, for two. Steamboat trying to go toe-to-toe with Spivey with the strikes, but consistently beaten down. Bear hug spot, into a near-fall. Steamboat counters a corner charge into a reverse suplex, but after countering an Irish Whip to land on the apron, eats a huge clothesline over the rope, that looked brutal. Back up, Steamboat knocks Spivey back, to the top, lands a crossbody, and that’s it suddenly in just under eight and a half.

Winner: Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and bring on Windham.

Verdict: Told a pretty good story, even if it was a bit too slow for its own good.

Still a few minutes left, so JR and Zbyszko run-down the semi-final line-up. Teddy Long interviews Windham backstage, and ask for his opinion on Steamboat’s previous comments. Says he can get out of any predicament, that he’s ready for anything, and he’s going to tear Steamboat up. Gives a good promo does Windham. JR plugs the hotline, and that’ll be all after one more funky beat.

Best Match: I guess the main event of Spivey/Steamboat was the pick of the bunch, just because it told a decent in-ring story.

Best Wrestler: Van Hammer carried Atlas well enough in their match, and that was impressive enough.

Worst Match: Windham and Badd was needlessly slow for how short it was, with Windham not looking too bothered.

Worst Wrestler: Tony Atlas looked gassed a few seconds after the bell.

Overall Verdict: Perfectly acceptable early-90’s TV, and the lack of squash matches is to be appreciated. But must be considered a bit dull in many respects, and that’s a by-product of Bill Watts, whose enforced mundanity goes from the in-ring action to the commentary desk, that lacked much in the way of notable talk. WCW was over-flowing with major talent at this time, but needed someone with more imagination and ambition in charge. They would get just that, for better or worse, soon enough.

To view more entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: The Old Guard

The Old Guard

Trailer

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A Scythian, a Saracen, a Crusader, a Napoleonic soldier and a US Marine walk into a bar…

Let me tell you about the weird reason I wanted to see this film: because I came up with it. Only, well, not really. As in, not at all. But, in my younger years, I did scribble down a short story one day, back when writing terrible short stories was a hobby, that revolved around a group of immortals, whose every wound, ailment and sickness could heal almost instantly, and how they got on down the eons. It was trash – a lot of it was, I realise now, taken verbatim from elements of The Sandman, so sorry Neil Gaiman – but it remains one of those nostalgic points in memory, of a time when you genuinely think you might have a knack for this whole fiction thing. Alas, it was not to be.

But when I saw the promotional material for The Old Guard, that memory helped spur me on to give it a look, though there are a few other reasons as well. Not least of these is Charlize Thereon in the lead, an actress who hasn’t really come close to matching the level of her last great performance in Mad Max: Fury Road, but who might have had a good opportunity to do so in this vehicle. And The Old Guard is that still rare thing: an action-heavy gunfest, that happens to be directed by a woman, in this case Gina Prince-Bythewood, best known for mini-series Shots Fired. Oh, and one of my favourite actors, Chewital Ejiofor, is in there too. A kaleidoscope of varying elements to draw the eye then: was The Old Guard worthy of such attention, or just another forgettable streaming shoot-em-up?

Andy (Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwen Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are immortals: beings who have lived for centuries, who spend their existence helping others in conflicts but with increasing cynicism for a world that constantly seems to despise them. After being betrayed by an ex-CIA agent named Copley (Ejiofor), the four are forced to confront the machinations of pharmaceutical executive Merrick (Harry Melling), who wants to capture them for experimental research. Into the mix comes the latest immortal: US Marine Nile (Kiki Layne), whom Andy is obligated to take on-board.

The Old Guard is a film that has a certain amount of pretensions about itself. It certainly does not want the viewer to assume that it is just another brainless action movie, covering for its lack of nuance with some shallow emotional manipulation (like, say, Netflix’s recent Extraction). It has themes that run to the likes of LGBT relationships through time, the loneliness of unnatural long life, women in the military and how one deals with the invisible benefit of doing good acts, when the idea of them just being a moral compunction is no longer good enough. Sounds deep enough right? Somewhere in all that, The Old Guard also has to find time for some fighting, some shooting, some stabbing and some death (and resurrection, and death). It is in the space between them where The Old Guard lives and dies, and there I feel it is closer to death, unfortunately.

It is something that I find myself saying a fair bit recently, but The Old Guard, based off of a graphic novel of the same name written by Greg Rucka (who also did this screenplay), would be better suited as a more long-form TV show than as a film. There’s simply too much for it to tackle in order for it to be effective: all of the above themes, five characters that fit under the term “immortal” and lots of gun slinging and knife throwing. With a TV format you could zip around timelines for various adventures, you could parse a few key elements, like the Andy/Nile relationship, out a bit more, you could definitely have a more properly-defined villain. The Old Guard, in its current form isn’t able to really dive into these kinds of things properly. We see only glimpses of “Andromache of Scythia” down the ages, and nods/winks to old hooks – she apparently once hooked up with Auguste Rodin, for example, to take the one played most for comic effect – and you’re left wanting to see more of that.

THE OLD GUARD

Thereon is easily the film’s best element.

Instead, you’re just sort of stuck with something that isn’t really sure what it wants to be. Is it an examination of the mental trauma that comes with unnaturally long life? Is it an exploration of how one copes with going through life watching everyone you’ve ever loved die? Is it a reluctant mentor/student type movie, in the relationship between Andy and Nile? It is a philosophical rumination on the consequences of good? Is it just an action film? In little more than two hours, The Old Guard struggles to pack it all in, to the point that it undeniably feels like it is paying lip-service to the various ideas. As I said, a longer format would have provided the breathing space to solve these problems.

Taken on their individual merits, the characters of The Old Guard do provide for some engaging drama. Andy has had a long life full of turmoil and heartache, and is caught between the twin despairs of seeing nothing to live for in the future and nothing but pain in the past. Thereon brings a quiet intensity to the part, a weariness that makes you buy the vast time span involved, and a nihilism in how she views the world these days. The others are interesting in their own rights as well: Schoenaerts who is completely tired of living in his current state; Kenzari and Marinelli, whose romantic relationship gives the film a positive LGBT sheen, especially in one notable scene where Kenzari gives an emotional monologue about his immortal love for another man; and Layne, a female marine who survives a slit throat in Afghanistan, and who serves ably enough as an audience surrogate. Unfortunately, outside of the main cast things begin to fall apart a bit.

I last saw Harry Melling in The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, where he put in a great show as a limbless actor, but here he is at sea, cast as an evil big pharma version of Mark Zuckerberg crossed with Elon Musk, and lacking the requires sense of menace to make any of it work. This is all the more baffling considering that one of his underlings is the award winning Ejiofor who, while not putting in a virtuoso performance by any means, is a steady pair of hands as the morally dubious Copley. Switch those two pieces of casting around, and you’ll have yourselves a better fit. His is a better character too, with a better motivation for what he is doing. Hell, Ejiofor already played a ethically dubious “greater good” villain in one of my favourite films ever. Without a strong antagonist, a film like this has lost something very important that it needs in order to centre itself.

Perhaps The Old Guard would work better if it was more of a pure action movie, though it would also undoubtedly be more forgettable if it was I suppose. The fight scenes here are decent enough, shot well and with an eye for impact. The most notable is probably Andy taking on a frustrated Nile inside a battered looking cargo plane, where the two accomplished fighters go a few rounds of punches, kicks and locks, undeniably when the violence is married most effectively to the plot. Other moments stray more into the realms of blood-soaked titillation, where swords, knives and one crazy-looking axe are used with abandon. The Old Guard does run out of steam towards its conclusion though, with the grand finale a not unexpected shooting spree through a corporate office. Aside from the restrained nature of the action, the effects department seems to have hit its limit, with the likes of muzzle flashes disappearing as people shoot around the corners of curiously under-populated labs, while no-one outside, in the middle of London, takes much notice of the noise of gun battle. The Old Guard wants to be seen as John Wick-like I think, but it is no John Wick.

Beyond that, the film is shot is a average kind of way: no sequences really stand out as truly stellar in my memory, which is a bit of a shame in a sub-genre that seems to always aim for every offering to have a least one major eye-drawing set-piece, like, say, Extraction’s “oner”. Prince-Bythewood is not unaccomplished at this level, but perhaps lacks the requisite experience in what is trying to at least make itself out to be a big budget blockbuster type.

The Old Guard must, upon reflection, be considered a bit of a missed opportunity. While the cast is fine and the premise is undoubtedly interesting, the director wasn’t able to drag all of the elements together to make the best kind of story for the two hour running time, a situation exacerbated by a poor villain and a misuse of certain principals. A longer format would help with that, and it is that kind of avenue that Netflix should explore next, and leave aside the set-up for a film sequel that the final scenes of this movie would seem to indicate. The Old Guard had the potential to be a unique adaptation of a graphic novel, that could have made a splash in the sub-genre of alternative superhero stories. But as it is the film instead coasts by on the back of its leading star and her not inconsiderable talents, and  that is just not really good enough at this level. Not recommended.

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Pass

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Glenwood Ambush

Having spent a degree of time going over the higher political situation, we must now dive deep into the hurley burley of 1921’s military engagement in earnest. We begin in County Clare. We have a spent a bit of time there already in the not-too distant past, but almost entirely with the men and ambushes of the Mid-Clare Brigade. Today, we look a little to the right, to focus instead on the somewhat less notable East Clare Brigade, a unit that would sometimes be criticised for a lack of action during the war but which, in January 1921, managed to achieve their singular success of the conflict.

The leader of the East Clare Brigade was 25-year-old Michael Brennan. We mentioned him briefly in the context of his assistance to others around the time of the kidnapping of General Lucas, but now he deserves a closer look, seeing as his future career will almost certainly come to out attention again. Meelick born, Brennan had been a member of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood since 1911, inducted at the rather young age of 15, and was one of the first people involved in the organisation of the Irish Volunteers in Limerick City. A firm nationalist – if not, perhaps, a firm republican as later events would indicate – Brennan sided with the “Irish” side of the Volunteer split, and though he was reduced to operating in only a small unit for a time, by 1916 the Meelick Volunteers were a more substantial force again.

On Easter Week Brennan was caught up in the miasma of contradicting orders and a failure of many of the men of his unit to muster: he stated of this moment that “I found most men were willing to risk death for their country, but most unwilling to face getting wet for it.” Thought he was desperate to engage in a rising Brennan found little support, and was later arrested. Spending various amounts of time in prison over the next few years, while out Brennan became a vitally important figure in the nascent Clare IRA, eventually appointed to be the O/C of the third of Clare’s brigades.

Brennan was active enough, leading and directing raids and the odd ambush. One encounter with the RIC left him with a broken arm, but he compensated by using a German Mauser pistol with an extended stock as a sort of one-handed rifle. By the end of 1920 Brennan was also working with the Clare County Council, and grew concerned about calls for an end to the fighting from some involved in the political dimension, like the neighbouring Galway County Council. In January, he determined to arrange for another ambush, as a demonstration of the area’s fighting spirit and a rejection of any proposed peace plan. The first effort, near Meelick, resulted in two dead RIC, but Brennan’s ambushing party was lucky to escape an attempted encirclement of British military.

A better opportunity to make a larger splash occurred a week later, at a place called Glenwood, between Simile bridge and Broadfort. The rural area had many of the usual characteristics that we should be used to by now: a narrow enough road, a nearby bend that would necessitate any enemy vehicles to slow, and a low stone wall that would provide cover to the ambushers. It also provided a decent avenue for escape to nearby woods and then into a mountainous area. The target was a lorry of RIC, including some Black and Tans, that was observed taking the route a bit too routinely.

On the 20th January, Brennan was able to get his men, taken from throughout the Brigade, to the area. They numbered around 35 in total. The IRA was in position early in the morning but, as often happened, they stayed in place all day with no sight of the enemy. I have mentioned before, but it bears repeating, that the majority of ambush attempts that the IRA enacted ended with nothing happening, usually due to the absence of the enemy. By the late afternoon, Brennan’s account claims that he had had enough and called in the outlying scouts ahead of an intention to retreat and disperse. After that order was given, the sound of an approaching lorry was heard. Brennan had no time to get word to the scouts, and no signals could be given. Knowing that the approaching vehicle could just be a civilian truck, Brennan sent his men back to their positions, realising that he would only be able to authorise them to open fire when the lorry was on top of them. Other accounts do not mention the scout withdrawal, but it would be an odd thing to invent.

The lorry was indeed the RIC the IRA had expected earlier. At a very late moment, Brennan blow a whistle to authorise the Volunteers to open fire. The ambush was quick, with the RIC caught completely by surprise. The IRA focused their initial burst of fire at the driver, hoping to force the lorry to come to a halt. The lorry did halt, owing to damage taken by the steering mechanism, but incredibly the driver avoided getting hit, being able to pop out of the cabin and make a break for it. The men in the lorry was less fortunate. The vehicle had come to a rest right next to the wall, so the Volunteers could hardly miss. Of the ten RIC/Black and Tans inside, it is claimed by the IRA that nearly all of them were hit by the volleys of fire, and were largely unable to fire back. A few were able to follow the driver and bolt for the countryside. Some of the Volunteers pursued, but Brennan called them back.

Inside and around the lorry, he found six dead. One of them was a fairly high value target, relatively speaking, a District Inspector of the RIC named William Clarke, a veteran of the Royal Irish Rifles. The other five dead constituted three members of the Black and Tans, and two “regular” RIC members. The dead appeared to have been killed almost instantly. Brennan and his men collected the captured rifles and ammunition – almost as big a prize as the enemy dead in the context of the war – set the lorry on fire, and then dispersed

In the aftermath, the usual reprisals took place all throughout the surrounding area: from nearby hills in which he was ensconced, Brennan claimed to see at least 36 buildings in flames within hours of the ambush, though on this occasion no fatalities appeared to have occurred. This in itself is remarkable enough, because the ambush was a disaster for the RIC any way you look at it, and feelings would surely have been running high. The IRA had been caught having to enact an ambush in a somewhat last-minute way, with a commander who wasn’t capable of using an actual rifle. The enemy was in a vehicle, and had enough men and ammunition that, in an actual fight, they would surely have been able to give a good account of themselves. Instead, they were nearly all cut down in moments, and in numbers that made a mockery of claims that the war in Clare had turned in the Crown Forces’ favour. The British at least learned some lessons from Glenwood, and some accounts of those present report that they never saw an RIC lorry out of a convoy in those parts for the rest of the conflict. The usual exaggerations occurred afterwards from both sides – some British reports claimed the attack had been carried out by 500 men, and a pro-republican account claims 13 RIC were killed – but Glenwood was still a rather notable event.

The IRA had used their knowledge of the local geography, the advantage of surprise and what arms they had to the fullest effect. On top of that, they had seemingly done it on the fly, and without adequate warning from outlying scouts, indicating a degree of flexibility and adaptability in their operations that did not exist before. The East Clare Brigade may have struggled to match the achievement for the rest of the war, but it undoubtedly did no harm to the reputation of Brennan and the men under his direct command.

Next, we turn further south, back to Cork. The war there in 1921 would become increasingly brutal, as more and more attention was paid by the IRA to the issue of informants, those civilians who were willing to pass information on Volunteers to the Crown Forces, and who often paid for such actions with their lives. To a certain extent, this level of the War of Independence has been described as sectarian in nature and, in the most extreme of descriptions, as ethnic cleansing. Such descriptions are often overblown in my opinion, but next week we will look at them in more detail, with a particular focus on one incident of note: a betrayed ambush, and the IRA’s vengeance afterwards.

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