Ireland’s Wars: The Rising In Ulster

It is fair to say that the northern nine counties of Ireland frequently get a raw deal when it comes to the remembrance of the Irish revolutionary period, to the extent that you may be forgiven for thinking that nothing of note ever happened there between 1913 and 1923, such is the focus on events in Dublin and Munster through the Easter Rising, War of Independence and Civil War. But there was a part to play for Ulster in all three, even if in some cases it was minimal. No more than many other places in Ireland, the Easter Rising was still-born in Ulster, but the reasons why and the efforts to prevent this are still worth some examination.

There were Irish Volunteers in Ulster, and plenty of places where nationalist and republican sentiment held sway, especially parts of Belfast, swaths of Tyrone and the counties closest to the Leinster. However, Ulster was still the heartland of unionism and the Ulster Volunteers, and so any movement of the Irish Volunteers was essentially operating in enemy territory. The split left things in an even worse state, with Joe Devlin of the Hibernian Order (and an IPP MP) taking over most of what existed in Belfast, and the rest being piecemeal and scattered.

Arguably the central figure of nationalism in Ulster was Denis McCullough. The Belfast native from a hardcore nationalist stock was a member of the IRB as soon as his father was able to arrange for him to be inducted: in fact, we have covered this event before, as it was McCullough who was sworn in at the side-door of a pub by an inebriated IRB man, an event that made it clear to him that the “Organisation” needed serious reinvention. Together with men like Bulmer Hobson and Sean Mac Diarmada, McCullough worked to make the IRB a more effective organisation, and also was engaged with other nationalist entitles, like the Dungannan Clubs.

Such was his impact that McCullough was elected, in late 1915, to serve as the President of the IRB. It was a double edged sword however: his candidacy may have been supported by the likes of Tom Clarke because they deemed McCullough unlikely to interfere with the plans of the military committee, which McCullough was not part of. He would only learn about the plans for the Rising definitively in the days before it began, when, on the foot of various rumours, he confronted Clarke and Mac Diarmada directly.

The military committee did not ignore the Ulster based Irish Volunteers, but they didn’t exactly pay them a huge amount of attention. Their orders were far too simplye amounting to instructions to mobilise, march west to join with Volunteers in Tyrone, and then to head south to hook-up with Connacht based Volunteers, as far as Liam Mellows in Galway. James Connolly would specifically tell McCullough that they expected no shots to be fired in the northern province. How the Volunteers from Ulster were to do this, without adequate transportation or direction, does not seem to be something that Pearse and company seriously considered.

On Good Friday McCullough took the 200 or so personnel under his command from Belfast to the arranged rally point in Coalisland, County Tyrone, where he encountered what was, essentially, a fatal blow to the idea of a rising in Ulster. The Tyrone-based Volunteers, under a man named Patrick McCartan, refused to obey the orders to mobilise that weekend, even before MacNeill’s countermanding order arrived. Many thought the planned move to Connacht was insanity, while local clergy claimed that the Rising was an Irish Citizen Army affair that the Volunteers should have nothing to do with. McCullough was left in a quandary, as he felt he could not even attempt to move the men from Antrim further on if he could not count on the support of the Volunteers further west.

The news of Casement’s arrest, and then the arrival of MacNeill’s order, only made the situation worse. On Easter Sunday a large enough force had mobilised at Coalisland, but direction was lacking, and McCartan and others were in no mode to commence a march into Connacht. Instead, with the Tyrone Volunteers still refusing to countenance moving out, McCullough took his contingent back to Belfast. He himself was a casualty of the Rising, with an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound to his hand. His status as a pre-eminent Irish nationalist took a battering from the whole affair, even if he was arrested in the aftermath, and he himself became disillusioned with the IRB, leaving it in the years afterwards, though he would still play a part in the later conflicts.

In the following days, after the rebellion started in Dublin, RIC units in the north grew increasingly concerned at the possibility of an uprising, especially in Tyrone, to the extent that they were prepared to use the Ulster Volunteers as a force multiplier. Some Ulster Volunteers were apparently employed to patrol and scout, but no rising came. The very fact that they were used in such a fashion, and that the authorities were prepared to give them an even larger role if needed, is a firm indication of the unique challenges the northern Volunteers faced. In the end, McCartan would hold some meetings with his subordinates to discuss the idea of a belated Rising, but found little support, while McCullough had essentially washed his hands of the idea in Belfast.

Around the rest of the province, very little happened, something that the military committee undoubtedly contributed to by limiting even their inadequate orders to the Volunteers of Belfast and Tyrone. The Monaghan Volunteers stuck to MacNeill’s orders, and their O/C claimed he was forced to “go on the run” from them when he tried to spur them into action. Some Derry Volunteers assembled early on Monday morning, before a message from McCullough sent them home. In Donegal orders was not received in time and a small force mobilised, to cut telegraph wires and inspect bridges for possible demolition, before the men went home owing to the predations of the local RIC. Across the province, what Volunteers existed, stayed home.

There was, as in other parts of Ireland, much bitterness and many recriminations following the failure of the Rising in Ulster, with McCullough, as already noted, and McCartan coming in for particular vehemence from some quarters. Certainly, they could be accused of not doing as much as they possibly could have. But much of the anger was misplaced: more than the rest of Leinster, more than Munster, more than Connacht, Ulster was treated as a total sideshow, with orders only given to some of the Volunteer units there, and those orders amounting to a request that they go and help another province. The Ulster based Irish Volunteers had all of the same difficulties as the Volunteers in the rest of Ireland – iffy recruitment, a lack of resolve from much of the membership, a shortfall of arms and poor inter-organisation communication – and dealt with all of those things while operating in an area dominated by unionist thinking, unionist thinking that was backed up by a well-armed and unofficially state-backed militia. To expect anything of such a group seems fanciful: if the Volunteers in Ulster has risen, the impact they could have had would have been minor, and the casualties they would have incurred would likely have been quite high.

We have covered all that I plan to cover in terms of the military events of the Easter Rising, and all that is left is the aftermath, those few critical weeks after the surrender when the British attempted to implement their own justice on those who had carried out the rebellion. In so doing they transformed the Easter Rising, and the men who led it, into more than a failed revolution; indeed, it can be claimed that what happened afterwards was far more important to Irish history than the Rising itself.

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

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Review: The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers

Trailer

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Oh brother, where art thou?

Based on the 2011 novel by Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers grabs the eye right away with its title, but perhaps less with the premise if I may be so bold: two hard-riding bounty hunter/assassins going through the boundless wild west in search of their quarry, the sort of narrative that this genre and this medium has had more than enough of. Even in the new wave of westerns that seem to be a surprisingly popular choice for film-makers nowadays, we’ve seen the basic idea recently enough, in 2015’s Slow West and even last years disappointing The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs had certain elements. John C. Reilly had enough faith in this idea to get his production company involved as well as starring, and I can’t fault the other cast members or choice of director, but I must admit that I was wary of The Sisters Brothers as I sat into my seat, making the choice to view it sort of at the last minute when nothing else really appealed: the film thus had ample opportunity to be a wonderful surprise, or maybe to confirm my worst fears.

Famed gunfighters the Sisters Brothers, Eli (Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix), are hired by a wealthy businessman to track down Hermann (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who claims to have discovered a method of making gold in rivers glow. While private detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) attempts to delay Hermann on the Gold Rush, Eli and Charlie deal with a number of unlucky happenstances, as well as a growing clash of personalities that may yet tear the two apart.

The Sisters Brothers certainly has its tropes. Gunfights, bounty hunters, cathouses (replete with whores with a heart of gold), shots of whiskey, Oregon trails, prospecting, more gunfights, lots of familiar looking scenery, and right in the middle of it are two common archetypes: the well-meaning, almost kindly lug who only shoots to protect family, and the alcoholic reprobate who doesn’t let the juice interfere with his trigger finger skills too much. A target to hunt down, a succession of bad guys to shoot and a shadowy figure right at the top of it. There are plenty of occasions when The Sisters Brothers looks for all the world like 120 minutes of cliche, the kind of forgettable spaghetti western that were a dime a dozen in the 60’s and 70’s.

And yet. The Sisters Brothers saves itself, and then goes on to excel, when it subverts expectations and casts the tropes off, even if it is only temporary. This is a film made by a director, Jacques Audiard, known almost exclusively for his French-language works, shot in a mixture of Spain and Romania, so I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that it is full of such twists: the brotherly relationship based on misguided co-dependence, a comedic twang underlining the serious drama, a big third act finale deferred in surprising fashion and buckets and buckets of brutal unrelenting bloodshed, in a manner that would make John Wayne blush: The Sisters Brothers wants to set up a traditional story, and then break it apart bit by bit, like an editor ripping a western yarn to pieces with copious notes. The end result is an interesting and engaging feature, that manages to both maintain the facade of a well-worn adventure story and still have enough left over for a character study with depth.

You have Reilly’s Eli of course, a man who is in need of something more in his life than murder and mayhem, but stays tied to it, and his brother, out of a sense of warped obligation for previous events. In Reilly’s excellent performance – long due a really decent dramatic lead role – he carries himself as a gentle giant (I can’t have been the only one who saw a little bit of Steinbeck’s Lenny in him, though he also embodies George insofar as he’s attached to someone he doesn’t want to be attached to) looking for companionship and even refinement – a recurring motif involving toothbrushes springs to mind, as does a somewhat sad sequence where he attempts to eat borscht with some strangers – and who thinks back to vague events upon involving a “schoolmarm” and a shawl frequently. But there is a crumbling edifice to it all: he engages in murder and mayhem without any serious compunctions as well as his brother, and at the end of the day his apparent dream of getting out of the gunslinger life seems as distant for him as it must be for Charlie.

Phoenix’s younger sibling is the film’s destructive force, inheriting an addiction to the bottle from a deviant father and content to solve his problems with harsh words followed closely after by bullets. While his capability with a gun is unquestioned, and he also maintains a strange, albeit distant, loyalty to his brother, Charlie is undoubtedly a walking disaster area, who keeps Eli saddled to the life without ever fully realising the damage that he is doing. The inversion of the trope may be simply that Charlie’s declarations that all he wants in life are bullets and blood is not entirely true, that there may be simple greed in there too, that comes out disastrously for all concerned late-on. Phoenix’s performance is a fine one, but that should come as no surprise really.

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One should not dismiss the secondary duo, who do fine work also.

Reilly and Phoenix play off each other so well. The feeling of a proper sibling bond comes across in their dialogue, delivery and expression, something based in a deep-rooted affection, that manages to overcome the fact that they spar in so many ways, verbally, morally and even physically on occasion. A film like this lives or dies on how believable that brotherly affection seems, how possible it is that Eli and Charlie could stand each other and both Reilly and Phoenix really nail it here, bringing to life the blackly comic and moody script in a way that makes it seem human, even when it’s pushing the boundary of how you would expect such people to act.

On the other side of the narrative is the story of Gyllenhall’s John Morris and Riz Ahmen’s Hermann, a very unlikely pair who get thrust together in unlikely circumstances. Both give good performances that mirror those of the two leads, and manage to further subvert the tropes, with Gyllenhaal’s Morris a somewhat worldly, educated diary-writing detective, and Ahmed as an idealistic chemist out to eliminate greed from the world. At times their growing relationship borders on the sycophantic, maybe even romantic (get your Brokeback Mountain jokes in early folks) in a way, but this is both a decent contrast with the Eli/Charlie pair, and not all that unusual when one acknowledges the social mores of the time period (that is to say, we shouldn’t look too much into it really).

Between both plots the main thesis of the film becomes clear, being a sort of battle between idealism – summed up by Eli’s pining for a normal life he can never have, and Hermann’s idea for a greedless society he plans to set-up – and cynicism – summed up by John’s low view of human nature and Charlie’s constant recourse to whiskey, sex and robbery. One half of the equation has a positive view of what can become of humanity, while the other two, while willing to be seduced by the dream for a time, know the real truth, that this is the old west, where life is brutish and short too often. Diversions with camaraderie and friendship are feelgood moments, but only add to the tension in a certain way, as Audiard just waits for the right moment to bring the Charlie way of thinking back to the fore. If the director is asking “Can a man change?” as Eli hopes for himself and Hermann hopes for humanity, then John and Charlie are there to say “No, of course not, and get your gun out, damn you”.

This makes the films ending all the harder to get my head around. I won’t spoil, other than to say that The Sisters Brothers’ last five or so minutes is its biggest inversion of the formula it happily trots out earlier, to an extent that I can’t view positively. It was like Audiard, or maybe deWitt in his source material, completely forgot the kind of narrative they were telling, and resorted to saccharine trivialities to close off the tale in absence of anything better. It is, I deem it, a very significant weak-point, with the closing sequence making the film one that seems tone-deaf at best. There are other examples I could give, but I will focus on one episodic misadventure, where Eli is the victim of a spider laying eggs inside him, resulting in hallucinatory visions of death and decay while, offscreen, Charlie shoots dead a bear that wonders too close to the camp. It’s a strange and unappealingly disorientating sequence, that jumps between gross-out comedy and confusing avant-garde too quickly.

Audiard’s production is a visually interesting one, with the director obviously concerned with the extreme interplay between pitch blackness and bursts of light, most notably in repeating gun battles that take place at night, the booming exchanges rattling in your eardrums. The opening shots, whereby a distant battle is illuminated solely by such flashes, and punctuated by such booms, make the point, and Audiard has an eye for the dynamic night time shots elsewhere in the film, that largely sticks to modern western style cinematography elsewhere. You know the type: expansive exterior views (one of the Pacific Ocean sticks in the mind), movement-heavy interiors (the crammed saloon makes an appearance) and a pervading sense of rough-and-tumble in every production aspect, from grimy clothes to mangy horses. It’s all competently done, but aside from those few individual moments, it doesn’t stand out.

Notwithstanding the ending and how it calls attention to flaws in the films presentation of its key themes and ideas, I did enjoy The Sisters Brothers. It does a few interesting things with the western idea, and presents a quartet of interesting characters that are easy to watch and follow along with. All four of the leads, most notably Reilly, do a really stand-up job bringing what could have been a mishmash of a script to life, and while there are some pacing issues and a sense that the film never really fully grasps what it wants to be, it’s still a very entertaining, engaging experience, so much that I certainly do not deem my time or money wasted, as I feared. The genre of the modern western still has interesting places to go, or so it would seem. Recommended.

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Well worth watching.

(All images are copyright of Annapurna Pictures).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Rising In Connacht

The western most province in Ireland had somewhat of a part to play in the plans of the military committee, even if, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that they were mostly fantasy. At times Pearse and the others envisioned that Connacht would rise and then be held by a force of Volunteers using the Shannon as a natural defensive line, and could even be a respite and sanctuary for rebels further east, retreating after their initial uprising to safety in the west.

For this they were relying, to too much of an extent, on the Volunteers in Limerick and Clare, but there were Volunteer units in Connacht proper who would play a part in what was to come, many influenced by agrarian-based violence that had never fully ceased from its height in previous centuries. And there were potential targets aplenty: urban centres like Galway City, various ports and harbours of the west coast, and critical points of British authority in the form of barracks and depots.

We must focus primarily on Galway, and the central figure there was a man named Liam Mellows. Son of a British NCO, Mellows was educated in military schools but ultimately decided against pursuing a career in the crown forces, perhaps because of his ever deepening nationalist leanings. In rapid succession he joined and became a key member of a number of nationalist organisations, like Fianna Eireann, the IRB and then the Volunteers, being placed in important organisational positions. In 1915 he was appointed to help re-organise and train the Galway Volunteers, doing so despite a number of arrests and stints in prison. It was a difficult task: the county and city of Galway were dominated by the Redmonite Volunteers, recruitment was difficult and even with the transfer of a batch of Howth Mausers, the Irish Volunteers in the west remained poorly armed. But Mellows was admired for his attitude and efforts, thus his deportation in March 1916 under DORA law was a setback. It was only temporary though: a few weeks later, with the Rising imminent, friends and family found where he was being detained in Britain, sprung him, and got him back to Ireland a few days in advance of the rebellion.

By the time Mellows was in a position to exert influence on the situation in Galway, all was confusion there. Only belatedly had the other senior Galway officers of the Volunteers realised the depth of the divide in the higher Volunteer leadership and, just as in other parts of the country, this contributed to a sense of paralysis in the face of contradictory orders. Having initially expected to rise on the Sunday, MacNeill’s countermand left the Galway Volunteers wondering who to trust, and while there remained a strong belief in the necessity of a rebellion, such belief was useless without direction. Some mobilised on Sunday, some on Monday, some on both, and some never mobilised at all (such as in Galway City). Those that did, fully prepared to engage in an uprising, did so with limited arms, and a few limited attacks on RIC barracks did little to procure more. Among the more notable of the early attacks was that undertaken by the Clarinbridge company, who wounded one policeman in an extended firefight, only to be obliged to retreat with other RIC arrived at the village.

Maybe a thousand or so men were mobilised in County Galway, some of whom disbanded in the face of even the lightest opposition. The element of surprise was lost quickly, and the local RIC moved fast to consolidate their own barracks’ and to call for military reinforcements. It was left to Mellows to try and turn them to some kind of productive avenue, which he attempted to do from a rally point at the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction’s experimental farm outside the town of Athenry, where over 500 men had gathered by late on Tuesday, but with arms for only 350: like others, they did not know what to do when the promised German guns failed to materialise. The next few days worth of operations consisted of patrolling and scouting of the surrounding area, with Mellows trying to get a better picture of how things lay in the county: there were some engagements with RIC in this time, mostly exchanges of fire between opposed patrols, but with no casualties on either side. The lack of arms hamstrung any pretensions of grander operations, and most of the leadership rejected the calls of those who advocated a split into columns and a guerrilla approach.

On Wednesday, worried about the sedentary nature of his forces and with word of RIC all around, Mellows moved his force to nearby Moyode Castle, a mostly deserted “big house”. There were constant rumours and reports of RIC and British military advancing on Mellows’ position, and despite the praise directed towards him for his spirit and organisational abilities, here he seemed to be affected by that same terrible sense of despairing passivity that so infected large parts of the Volunteer make-up in Easter Week, unwilling to move to the attack, and also unwilling to stay where he was. The movement to Moyode, and subsequent maneuvers, may have been part of a vague plan to hook up with Volunteer units in Clare and Limerick. It was not a very defensible position, though there was little in the eyeline to defend against: Mellows found the nearest RIC barracks occupied by just two women and one ill RIC sergeant.

A brief engagement with a motorised RIC patrol was the sum total of active Volunteer fighting at Moyode, and the only other clear sign that a military uprising was taking place was the booming of artillery from the HMS Laburnum, a Royal Navy sloop that had sailed into Galway Bay and was now trying, without success, to fix its guns’ sights on the rebel HQ. Such was the lack of accuracy, that some of the Moyode garrison were content to fool themselves into thinking the artillery noise was evidence of British and German ships firing at each other.

At several points over the next few days Mellows put the choice of disbandment to the garrison, and some choose to take up the option: Mellows himself vacillated between stirring words of fighting it out to the bitter end, and relinquishing command. On Friday he took what was left and moved to another abandoned big house, at Tulira Castle. On the way there, Mellows received communications from local priests noting the failure of the country at large to rise, the hopelessness of the rebel position in Dublin, and the nearby landing of a company of Royal Marines, who even then were closing in with other British regulars. This was the last straw for many, and what was left of Mellows’ force gradually disbanded, the commander giving grudging assent, with many of its make-up soon to be arrested. Mellows himself would escape to America, and would go on to have a sizable impact on what was left of the Irish revolutionary period in other ways.

The Rising was extremely limited in the rest of the province. Aside from the usual hesitance of Volunteer units, the British military and the RIC moved quickly to secure important points, and numerous arrests of nationalist leaders were made, neutering the possibility of any rebellion before it could get going. Priests also intervened in some cases to prevent mobilisations. Only in a small number of cases did Volunteers gather, such as on Achill Island, to no effect, and it can be fairly said that Connacht contributed more to the Rising through those born there who fought in Dublin, than actively during Easter week.

There remains only one more province to discuss. Often forgotten in the history of the Irish revolutionary period, Ulster did play a part in 1916, but it is appropriate that we leave it till last, owing to the limited nature of the events there.

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

 

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Review: At Eternity’s Gate

At Eternity’s Gate

Trailer

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Oh for a muse of fire, to summon the brightest heaven of invention.

I’ve taken a few shots at the biopic genre as of late, especially the most recent brand, the “standing ovation” biopic that has become one of the most successful non-superhero formulas in the move-making industry. Even just this year, I’ve seen Welcome To Marwen, Fighting With My Family, The Dirt and Gotti all adhere to that formula to varying degrees, and only one of those actually impressed me. 2019 hasn’t been without it’s outside-the-box biopics either in fairness, what with Mary Queen Of Scots and All Is True, but part of the reason I was drawn to see Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate was the promise of a different type of biopic, in form, script and focus, that would, if done correctly, be a refreshing change of pace: certainly there is going to be no standing ovation in a properly done van Gogh biopic. And there is Willem Dafoe of course, who I would dare to venture may actually be a bit undervalued as an actor, with the perfect project to alter some minds on that score. Did it all come together, or is At Eternity’s Gate an eternal slog?

Unhappy in the dingy urban surrounds of Paris, unsuccessful painter Vincent van Gogh (Dafoe) moves to the countryside town of Arles to find inspiration in nature for his post-impressionist work. Dependent on the support of his affectionate brother Theo (Rupert Friend), verbally sparring with friend and peer Paul Gaugain (Oscar Isaac), and dealing with the attentions of the oft-hostile locals, Van Gogh attempts to craft work that straddles the line between joy and pain, and must contemplate the limits of his own sanity in doing so.

At Eternity’s Gate is certainly a unique experience, one that attempts to get inside the head of van Gogh and showcase him to an audience by making it’s 110 minute running time as disorientating as possible. Schnabel does this by separating his films into numerous chapters, punctuated by blacked-out quotations from van Gogh himself, that do not follow a traditional structure, with narrative jumps back and forth, interjected sequences of van Gogh’s process that do not rightly fit with the rest of the story, and a sense that we are dealing with an unreliable narrator, unreliable because his mental state is not conducive to reliability.

This is the real triumph of At Eternity’s Gate, the way it uses this disorientation – punctuated by dream-like sequences and music being suddenly cut-off, and the sense that van Gogh is never fully aware of his surroundings in a way that we would recognise – to give as memorable and affecting a portrayal of mental illness and emotional anguish as possible. It’s such a unique way of going about things, and marks the film out as less of a biopic or character study, and more of a deep dive into a state of mind, a philosophical discussion on the utility of pain as an artistic cipher, and the merits of perceived divinity  in the mundane as a giver of joy (Schnabel does not belabour that point for those worried the film becoming a de facto theological essay, with the most of it coming in a fascinating dialogue between van Gogh and a sympathetic pastor late-on).

This is not a biopic that is seeking to venerate its subject beyond the obvious. I recall the Doctor Who episode “Vincent And The Doctor” from 2010, an excellent piece of television, as being as close to the “standing ovation” formula as you’re likely to get with this subject, but Dafoe’s Vincent van Gogh is an altogether more real person. Aside from the nature of his mental illness and how that makes him almost alien to the viewer, the van Gogh of At Eternity’s Gate is simply unlikable in other ways: gruff, rude, clingy, intentionally dirtying himself to commune with nature, nervous when in conversation with new people, at times almost arrogantly convinced of his own genius, at others distractedly unaware of the same. At Eternity’s Gate does convince us that someone of van Gogh’s obvious ability could be overlooked: at the same time it presents a three-dimensional picture of the man.

It is for Dafoe to make the effort required to bridge the gap between audience and subject, and he does so in what must be regarded as one of his finest ever performances. For much of the film he is alone, sometimes with only his own repeating internal thoughts for company, and Dafoe takes on that burden of expression admirably. The camera is often locked firmly on Dafoe’s face, in portrait style, presumably an attempt to replicate in moving picture form van Gogh’s famous self-portraits. Of course it is impossible to accurately re-make van Gogh’s stunning visages, with their green skin, simple mouth and soul-piercing eyes, but Dafoe and Schnabel make a game attempt, and through the quality of the lead’s showing, we come to understand a little bit more about van Gogh through such things, so as to not be turned off by his more negative characteristics. There was obviously a great connection between actor and director here, and the results speak for themselves.

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The film spends much time illustrating van Gogh’s appreciation for the divine beauty within nature.

Dafoe only briefly shares the screen with others, most notably Oscaar Isaac’s (isn’t he just popping up everywhere?) Gaugain, a sort of quasi-friend whose presence is at first a balm to van Gogh’s mental state, and later the source of his most potent self-harm, and Rupert Friend as his loving brother, with both men doing a great job without ever detracting from Dafoe. Mads Mikkelsen also impresses in a one-scene appearance late-on, and indeed it is fair to say that the supporting cast, often simply placed opposite Dafoe and left to play off of him, almost benefit from the way that Schnabel keeps his camera locked on the main character, giving them leeway and slack to play with when Dafoe is on a tighter range. Other actors may have struggled with this script, but Dafoe excels, as his discusses the “menacing spirit” of his depression, or the, as he see’s it, divine source of his need to paint (Mikkelsen’s pastor is unconvinced, telling van Gogh his Landscape With Rabbits is “ugly”, wondering how it could be considered divine in any way, typical of what van Gogh faces).

We should also land briefly on Schnabel’s interpretation of history, most notably the circumstances surrounding van Gogh’s death, commonly considered a suicide by gunshot, but with enough curious circumstantial elements to the affair that any reasonable person would be given pause. The idea that van Gogh, incapable of suicide for moral reasons, accepted death as a consequence of the acts of others when he himself could not pull the trigger, does not ring untrue, and the, again, disorientating effect of the sequence adds to that aura of mystery, effectively so.

The director places special emphasis on showing van Gogh actually painting (Dafoe, in at least some cases, did the painting himself, and does a credible job imitating the style of the master) in sequences that straddle the line between hard-boiled reality and quasi fantasy. These are moments where we see van Gogh at both his most intense and most joyful, even when he is simply painting his own tired looking boots. Other painters comment critically on his style, thinking his liberal use of paint make his work more like a sculpture, but there is something very affecting in the way van Gogh outlines his own artistic process, this fiery need to make the image and to make it quickly, so that the bout of inspiration does not pass.

This is as venerated as Schnabel’s van Gogh becomes, through his own words and works, with At Eternity’s Gate a testament to the humanity and and vision of the artist and how this came to be reflected in his paintings, even as his own life and sanity fell apart. Here was a man who saw a field of wilted and dead sunflowers, and decided the only way to save them was a painting that would make their previous beauty eternal, a quest for immortality thorough art that corresponds to the artist himself. In that sense, At Eternity’s Gate is essentially an extension of that line of thought, a piece of art that seeks to, and perhaps succeeds, in immortalising this real, harsh, tender portrayal of van Gogh, to stand forever as a testament to him.

Van Gogh remains, ultimately, a tragic figure, as both the quintessential misunderstood genius and as a socially awkward, mentally disturbed man who may or may not have killed himself, but who certainly welcomed death when it came.Any film approaching such a person must tread warily, lest it diminish his experience by being overly-praising, or sentimentalise it by applying the formula. Thankfully, Schnabel does neither, and cements this as a project worth notice and ovation through the performance of Dafoe, which finds a way to humanise and honour van Gogh without letting us forget his flaws, insecurities or downfall. Uniquely shot and structured, At Eternity’s Gate must be considered one of the medium’s must films of this year, and is a welcome diversion from the by-now standard line of biopics that are cluttering up the prestige picture genre. Highly recommended.

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Really worth seeing.

(All images are copyright of CBS Films).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Rising In Munster

Munster had been the centrepiece of the larger national plans for the Rising, based around the intended landing of German arms on the County Kerry coastline for later distribution to Volunteers in Cork. The province had many targets that would have been a worthwhile focus: two of the biggest cities in the country, crossings over the Shannon, vital ports and a host of military barracks with troops that could be attacked, diverted or otherwise held-up. But the combination of shallow planning for the operational side of this endevour, and then the floundering of the German efforts to actually land arms, meant that the Munster Volunteers were not in the best position when Easter Sunday came.

Given the nature of the discussion of the Munster experience in the Easter Rising, it is appropriate that we begin with County Cork. There was positive perception of the Cork-based Volunteers, considered by some to be the best organised of the non-Dublin units. The Cork brigade was led by Tomas Mac Curtain and his immediate adjutant Terence MacSwiney, both well-regarded as industrious and capable officers. They had overseen a rigorous training programme for the men under their command, and had spent the days and weeks leading up to Easter Sunday at their own Volunteer buildings engaged in intense planning. However, all of this was shot to pieces by the failure of the Aud, then a succession of communication flubs, and then, perhaps, a previously unacknowledged inadequacy in their own leadership and strength.

On Easter Sunday just over 220 men of the Cork City battalion assembled, much less than was expected, but soon to be joined by Volunteer units from throughout the larger county, to the extent that there may have been 1’200 Volunteers prepared to engage in a Rising that day. They set-off for previously assigned rally points dotted between Cork City and the intended German landing point on the Kerry coast, and soon, inevitably, the force was hopelessly splintered and unable to communicate adequately with its various sections. When Eoin MacNeill’s countermanding order arrived, Mac Curtain and MacSwiney were obligated to traipse around the countryside in an unreliable car – it broke down at least one time – to try and get the word out to their men to stand down. They were still undertaking this exhausting task on Monday, when a motorbike messenger from Dublin arrived with a scribbled order from Pearse, telling the shocked men to follow their original orders. As has been noted, at least nine different contradictory messages with orders from Dublin would arrive over the next few days.

In simple terms, neither Mac Curtain nor MacSwiney rightly knew what to do. They were divorced from the squabbles of the Dublin leadership, and so did not fully know who to follow, Pearse or MacNeill, and there was some rumours that the Rising in Dublin was primarily a Irish Citizen Army affair, that the Volunteers should not get engaged in. There was also a fear that seizing buildings in Cork City, an urban area underneath natural heights on its outskirts, would end disastrously, and that British forces in the city were too strong. Lacking clear orders, the two commanders decided to await developments and perhaps a communication from the capital with definite instructions.

This was not to the liking of many in Cork who, as the days of the week slipped by, saw their chance of making an impact fading away. Some claimed the concern about Cork’s hills were nonsensical, since the Volunteers could simply have left the city and seized them themselves. Individual unit commanders did attempt to organise attacks on RIC barracks, but found lack of numbers to be an impediment that was impossible to overcome. Many of the rank-and-file went home and back to work, even as news of what was happening in Dublin reached the countryside.

Mac Curtain, aside from pacing back and forth in the Cork City Volunteer Hall, came under pressure from the mayor and local clergy, fearful of what was happening in Dublin coming to their streets, to surrender the Volunteers’ guns. The headquarters was being closely watched by British authorities, and it was a tense enough, if bloodless, stand-off. An elaborate deal was eventually reached where the Volunteers’ arms would be placed under the control of the civic authorities for a time, before being returned, but they were simply handed over to the British when a deadline for the deal expired without it being brought to fruition, with the Volunteer leadership in Cork arrested to boot. The loss of the arms to the British without a fight was undoubtedly the most controversial element of the entire affair in Cork, and would trigger investigations and recriminations later.

There was some bloodshed in Cork during the Easter Rising however, when the RIC raided the Kent family home in Castlelyons on Monday 2nd May. The Kent’s were prominent nationalists with two of their son’s in the local Volunteers; they engaged in a three-hour firefight with the police, with one of the brothers, Richard, killed, along with an RIC constable, before the rest surrendered and were arrested.

If Cork had reason to feel it’s performance during the course of the Rising was inadequate, they were, at least, in good company when it came to the rest of Munster. In Limerick Michael Colivert was the commander of the Volunteers in the city and county, as well as those in neighbouring Clare, a force that totalled over 1’500 men, but which was not adequately armed. Until the Tuesday before the Rising began Colivert’s instructions in the event of a rebellion was to hold a defensive line on the banks of the Shannon, but given the amount of men that Colivert had to hand, this was a fanciful objective: as he himself outlined to Pearse, he would have to defend the river with one man for every 300 yards of ground. But that week Colivert received new instructions, to stand ready to receive a shipment of German arms and distribute them, and to adjust his plans accordingly.

Colivert had no time to properly come up with such a plan, and when the news of the arms shipment’s failure reached him and other commanders, followed by MacNeill’s countermand, it was the death blow to any pretensions of holding a rising in the south-east. Even when Pearse sent an order to rise on Monday, Colivert and his subordinates demurred, noting that Pearse still referred to Germans that had not, and would not arrive. In the end, despite authorities fearing unrest and insurrection from Limerick City and Ennis, nothing happened beyond brief mobilisations and manoeuvres, some of which were called off due to bad weather. Colivert arranged a surrender of arms just like Mac Curtain, and would be arrested after the Rising.

We have already seen the issues faced by Kerry-based Volunteers to a certain extent, with the disaster at Ballykissane Pier, the arrest of Roger Casement and Austin Stack, and the Aud’s misdelivery. The Rising, naturally enough, did not go ahead in the county, beyond the assembling and marching of a few Volunteer companies for a time. In Tipperary, one RIC member was shot dead while attempting to arrest a Volunteer officer near the Limerick border, while in Waterford Volunteers in the city briefly considered an attack on the post office only to find it held by RIC, while elsewhere in the county the Rising amounted to attempted train hold-ups.

The failure of the Volunteers in Munster to effect any kind of Rising remains a uncertain topic, but with the benefit of hindsight we must be realistic. The would-be Munster rebels were not adequately armed for the task asked of them, and only the most perfect execution of the Aud plan would have given them the required guns. The communications with Dublin and the military party within the Volunteer leadership was poor – Colivert, for example, was not in Pearse’s full confidence, and so did not receive adequate instructions – both before the Rising and during. In the end, soldiers with poor or non-existent directions, arms or plans could not be expected to take on armed police and military in what was already clear as a hopeless cause as early as Tuesday.

However, we should not excuse the lines of Mac Curtain and Colivert entirely. It was within their power to do something, albeit not the spectacular grabbing of buildings and river-lines that Pearse presumably wanted. Disruption, diversions, sabotage and other gestures could well have been attempted, as became the case a few years later during the War of Independence, but partly because of the aforementioned problems, but also because of inexperienced and paralysed leadership within the province, they were not.

The recriminations would come for Munster, and may well have fanned some of the flames that would engulf the prince from 1919 onwards. For now, we must move north to Connacht, and the Rising in Galway and elsewhere, when substantial actions were taken, but with very mixed results.

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

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Review: The Highwaymen

The Highwaymen

Trailer

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Oh boy…

The story of Bonnie and Clyde has been told many times on film, as has the story of Frank Hamer, the man most popularly associated with their downfall in 1934. I can’t say I’ve ever been as enthralled by either of those two stories as others have. Perhaps Bonnie and Clyde is an outlaw tale that appeals primarily to American audiences, being so intrinsically tied to the Great Depression and the dust bowl and that pre-World War II era of Tommy Guns and bank robbery, of public enemies and posses.

And perhaps the same can be said for the story of the Texas Rangers at that time, men clinging on to the last vestiges of the wild west and that sort of vigilante-style justice they so embodied. The Highwaymen, the latest Netflix original with a fairly big name cast, is an attempt to tell the story of the Texas Rangers – two of them anyway – and their part in the Bonnie and Clyde story, but boy are their some pitfalls to be navigated here, not least the iffy historical record of the ambush and the attitudes of Hamer himself, a controversial figure in Texan law enforcement history to say the least.

With Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow embarked on a crime spree of robbery and murder, Texan governor “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) comes under pressure to revive the recently disbanded Texas Rangers as a solution to the problem. As other agencies scramble to bring down the tommy gun toting pair, Ma authorises the use of two retired Rangers  – quiet, focused Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and down-on-his-luck Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) to act as semi-independent hunters, but the quest to stop Bonnie and Clyde will not be an easy one, bringing the pair face-to-face with the heart of the Depression-era south.

There are three key ways that The Highwaymen falls down, and it really did not have to be so. The root of an thought-provoking idea is clearly visible in its premise, of looking at the law’s side in a tale normally dominated by the criminals, but The Highwaymen can’t get beyond that trifecta of mediocrity: the performances of the leads, it’s questionable grasp of the historical record in relation to the story being told, and it’s length.

Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson really look for all the world as if they want to be doing anything else. Like a lot of films I have seen recently, The Highwaymen had a fairly lengthy genesis, apparently going all the way back to 2005, and it is my experience that such productions often tend to end up with leads who regret their choice. So seems to have been the case here, where Costner was brought in only after a number of other actors, Robert Redford and Liam Neeson among them, declined.

Costner clearly wants his Hamer to comes across as a quietly confident, intense yet somewhat repressed individual, but the bottom line is that his Hamer is mouse-ish to the point of being boring, unexpressive, limited and simple in character terms. Harrelson is only slightly better with a slightly meatier backstory – alcoholic, suffering with the rest of the Depression unemployed, raring for perhaps one last chance to be in the crime-fighting saddle – but suffers from the same sense of over-restraint in his performance, like the director, Saving Mr Banks‘ John Lee Hancock, was actively holding him back. The two don’t have a great dynamic, settling into a fairly rote “good cop/bad cop” roles. And the only other person even remotely noteworthy in The Highwaymen is poor unfortunate Kathy Bates, in what could have been a meaty role – “Ma” Ferguson is a truly fascinating historical personality in her own right –  but which is essentially a distant quasi-antagonist figure here, in about four or five scenes.

The historical record is, as I have said before, not sacrosanct, and should be bent, and even broken occasionally in the pursuit of an entertaining narrative. But that doesn’t mean that the historical record should be completely discarded, or definitively ignored. I speak, of course, about the main character of Frank Hamer, who is undoubtedly the film’s heroic focus: this old school law man who doesn’t let pesky things like due process get in the way of shooting down the bad guys, even if the ignorant masses may think, in a fit of delusion, that said bad guys are more than just bank robbing murderers. Writer John Fusco may have felt a need to correct the record a tad, as Arthur Penn’s 1967 Bonnie And Clyde portrayed the lawman as a bumbling moron, but this is, in every sense of the word, a whitewash.

Hamer’s endemic racism is largely ignored, as is his “shoot first, ask questions never” style of gun fighting justice, bar a third-act Harrelson monologue describing the man’s gunning down of numerous Mexican criminals without prior warning years prior, an event that seems like it is being played at least partially for sympathy regards the police who carried out the massacre. Instead, he is, “member berries”-like, just the stern old-man here to lay some discipline down on the unruly kids. Other aspects of Hamer’s background – like his efforts to thwart investigations into the Texas Rangers extra judicial killings, or his role in strike-breaking organisations – go un-commented on. In a day and age when the predilection of white police officers to racist policing is a recurring theme, the absence of such from a man like Hamer seems tone-deaf, at best.

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The moment Harrelson realises what he’s signed up for.

You could argue that such things are not in the scope of the story, but given that a central theme is the warped perception of the Bonnie and Clyde gang that members of the public have, giving an accurate portrayal of who Hamer was, good and bad, was especially essential. The Highwaymen does not do that, and also goes a step further by presenting the brief shutdown of the Texas Rangers, a law enforcement branch that was essentially taking that law into its own hands whenever it felt like, as being the result of ignorant, interfering politicians who should know better than to place their trust in the modern scientific methods of the FBI (in one risible scene, Gault kicks dust over a forensic examination out of sheer spite). We should also not forget about the actual ambush of Bonnie and Clyde, an event with numerous different accounts, where Hancock chooses to depict Hamer in as noble a light as possible.

Last of those three key flaws is the film;s length, with The Highwaymen clocking in at a truly heroic two hours and twelve minutes, for a story that I genuinely believe could probably have been told in 90 and change. The problem is that the tale of Hamer and Gault’s hunt for Bonnie and Clyde is simply too straightforward to be padded out for this length of time, resembling an episode of Law & Order in the way it amounts to “this person leads to this person leads to this person”. Sad to say given the film’s attempt to have a unique viewpoint on this story, it may actually have benefited from some time for Bonnie and Clyde themselves, two characters who remain almost entirely in the background, and are a damn sight more interesting, character wise, than Hamer and Gault.

Which is not to say that The Highwaymen doesn’t have a few striking things to say, or a few stimulating scenes. When Hamer has a pow-wow with Clyde’s father, the script lingers for a moment on the origins of criminal behavior, a brief juxtaposition between Hamer’s apparent belief in the inherent nature of evil and the father’s insistence that it is nurture – in this case an over-the-top harassment of Clyde since he was a boy from law-enforcement, after he stole a chicken because he was hungry – that is to blame. Gault is generally thought-provoking as an example of a man in this place and time trying to avoid the black hole of unemployment, alcoholism and being a burden to his family, even if you can consider him past-it in most senses of the term.

And most interestingly, The Highwaymen asks us to ponder the nature of the relationship between infamy and celebrity, which is something that must surely resonate in today’s world. From mass-shooters to world leaders, it seems today that the best way to get famous, and even adored by a proportion of the masses, is to do bad and say bad things that should be considered outside the pale; Hancock turns his camera on a pretty ancient example, but one that is a progenitor of the modern behavior nonetheless.

Bonnie and Clyde break criminals out of prison, rob banks and stores, kill people in cold blood, murder cops in grisly execution style and fully intend to go down swinging, yet the people of this dust bowl love them for their exoticism, their anti-authoritarian nature, for the perception that they rob from the rich to give to the poor in a time when the rich are rich and the poor are dying under heel. The two are mobbed by a small-town’s adoring population while Hamer and Gault look on, disgusted, and Hamer is moved to violence by a gas station attendant who expresses admiration for the two, despite the clear evidence, within the film anyway, that the two are sadistic to some extent. The parallels are not hard to see, but Hancock gives time to look at the fickleness of the mob: when the inevitable comes, a same adoring crowds want to tear the corpses of the criminal duo apart for grisly souvenirs.

Hancock directs a good-looking production, one that captures the dust bowl for why it was called that, and the expanse of the American south-west where a group of marauding criminals could disappear into the horizon. It’s an era where the world is still clinging onto the wild west while the tide of modernity sweeps relentlessly in, the point made visually by the camera’s emphasis on cars and gas stations replacing horses and way stations and a mid-point car shootout that turns into a confused dust storm hunt is a nice blend of the twin focuses. What action exists here is is not all some exciting: one of the film’s few moments of humour in an otherwise flat script is seeing the aging Hamer struggle, and ultimately fail, to chase down a young lead on foot.

The Highwaymen is an unsatisfying beast, one that takes the potential of its premise and largely wastes it in glorifying an American institution and personality who simply do not need, and arguably do not deserve, the glorification. The performances from the leads are wooden, and the dynamic between the two, all important in a buddy-cop production, is lacking. It’s too long and too dull, and while it has some redeeming value from its commentary on celebrity, it isn’t enough to save it. Hamer and Gault do not beat Bonnie and Clyde. Not recommended.

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Hit the road, jack.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Rising In Leinster

Since the Easter Rising was such a Dublin-centric event, it would stand to reason that the province of Ireland with the most rebel activity outside of the capital would be the larger Leinster region. There were plenty of targets that would have been of worth to the rebels: the various ports on the eastern coast, roads heading to the south and west, and numerous RIC and military barracks. However, as will become a recurring theme for my comments on the “National Rising”, the confused nature of the mobilisations on Easter Sunday and Monday, along with the lack of solid communications with Dublin, meant that the Rising in Leinster, and the rest of the country, would be a confused piecemeal thing.

We must start with Enniscorthy, County Wexford. That county had a significant nationalist pedigree – Not for nothing did Pearse emphasise to the GPO garrison that a rebellion had begun in the most south-eastern county – but at that time it could be fairly said that the majority of Wexford was more in the Redmonite line of thinking, with Enniscorthy as a major exception. There, the work of the IRB had ensured that the local Volunteers, along with companies in nearby Ferns and New Ross among others, were of the “Irish” variety.

It is important to note that it was not just because Enniscorthy had symbolic value that it became a focus: it was a stop on the railroad coming from the ports at Waterford and Rosslare, and so the military committee had logical interest in its control in the event of a Rising. Who was to exert that control was a confused thing though: A number of names have come down as the county commandant, but it seems clear that Paul Galligan, a Cavan Volunteer appointed by Thomas McDonagh to sort out difficulties in Wexford and to take charge of training, was the man in charge during the events in question.

The Enniscorthy Volunteers were prepared, at least somewhat, to rise, but the countermanding order threw everything into disarray, and the officers spent a large part of Easter Sunday, Monday and Tuesday attempting to figure out what was going on. Many clearly expected, and wanted, to go “out”, but the lack of support from neighbouring counties (see below), gave them serious pause. No one wanted to be the only Volunteers undertaking a rebellion. By Tuesday anything between 200 and 600 men (there are conflicting accounts) had assembled in or near Enniscorthy, but with the conflicting orders nothing had occurred. That changed when Galligan returned from Dublin, where he had consulted with the GPO leadership, who told him to go back to Enniscorthy, take control of the town in order to block the railway, but to conserve ammunition by avoiding direct assaults on police barracks. He was back on site by Wednesday evening, when he assembled the officers and outlined the plan.

The Volunteers took the mostly symbolic step of occupying Vinegar Hill, from which they exchanged a few rounds with the local RIC barracks, before occupying the town hall, castle and train station. The RIC barracks held out and refused to surrender: conscious of the noted lack of ammunition – his few hundred men had barley 20 rifles between them all – Galligan did not order an attack, instead cutting  the building’s gas and water, and leaving the defenders besieged. The Athenaeum Theatre became the Volunteers headquarters, and there was next to no resistance in the remainder of the town, with numerous accounts claiming that the locals were firmly on the side of the rebels. Only a handful of casualties would occur in the course of the week, and no fatalities.

Volunteers came into Enniscorthy in dribs and drabs throughout the next few days, and there may have been over a thousand men there by the weekend. The biggest problem was finding places to house this influx, and to feed them all, as no British attack was forthcoming. Though the British Army did assemble a thousand strong force in Wexford Town for that purpose it never moved out: given the disparity in artillery and ammunition, it is likely that if they had attacked, they would have succeeded.

Instead of warding against an attack from the direction of Wexford Town, Galligan had instead moved northwards to Ferns with around 50 men on the Saturday. Some accounts claim he did so to ward against a rumoured British advance from Arklow, others that he was actually marching on Dublin in the absence of enemy to fight in Wexford. Whatever the case, Galligan went no further than Ferns, occupying the abandoned RIC barracks and school house there.

But no attack happened in Ferns either. On Sunday messages arrived from Dublin about the surrender: like with Ashe and the 5th Battalion, the Wexford Volunteers did not accept this order until two representatives had visited Pearse in person, transported by the British military. With the surrender order confirmed, the Volunteers laid down their arms and went into captivity, save a handful that attempted to flee to the hills and begin a guerrilla struggle, that only lasted a few days. There was some bitterness at the nature of the surrender, both because the Volunteers were giving up without much of a fight of their own accord, and because the “National” Volunteers assisted the British in the aftermath, in patrolling once rebel-held areas, and helping to round up republicans in the weeks that followed; already existent ill-feeling between the two groups was thus exacerbated. Galligan slipped away back to his home county, but was arrested soon after.

Enniscorthy was undoubtedly the biggest event of the Easter Rising in the larger Leinster area, but there were other places worth mentioning also. The Volunteers of Louth and Meath had been expected to rise and support the work of the 5th Battalion, with a planned muster at the Hill of Tara (purely for symbolic reasons, as local commanders had told Pearse how inconvenient such a location was for the task). The countermanding order confused matters horribly however, and by the time the local officers had received firm instructions from Pearse to rise on Monday, he majority of their men had gone home.

Donal O’Hannigan, commander of the Louth Volunteers, belated began a rising in the village of Lurgen Green with just 28 Volunteers, capturing local RIC and some unfortunate British officers who happened to be travelling through the area; one RIC man was killed. They soon moved on to Dunboyne, where they received orders from Connolly to march to Dublin, something that was totally impractical: the HQ Commandant may have misunderstood the position of the Louth Volunteers. Instead, O’Hannigan briefly attempted to organise a link-up with Thomas Ashe, and when this didn’t work out his group occupied Tyrellstown House in Blanchardstown, remaining there for the rest of the Rising.

A small number of Meath Volunteers did assemble at Tara, but with no outlook of a larger scale uprising, they simply went home. This was repeated in Westmeath, where only a small proportion of the local Volunteers mobilised, and soon went home without any orders to follow. Laois-based Volunteers sabotaged a railway line, but did little else that week. In Kildare it was a similar story, with confusion over the contradictory orders, and one incident of railway sabotage, though other companies, most notably those based in Maynooth, did march to the capital to take part in the fighting in the headquarters garrison. In Longford there were some cutting of telegraph wires and road blockages, but that was all.

Ginger O’Connell, he who had advocated a patient approach and training in guerrilla warfare, hesitated with his Volunteers in Kilkenny and the surrounding area, debating with other officers at numerous points throughout the week whether he should stage a rebellion. Aside from his own lack of conviction in Pearse’s plan, O’Connell felt that the lack of an uprising elsewhere, especially Munster, would make any effort he would attempt pointless. In the end, the Volunteers under his aegis did nothing. Even with news of the Rising in Dublin, a lack of suitable leadership in the localities meant that these Volunteer companies stayed put, and O’Connell’s lack of movement undoubtedly affected the outlook of many of the Wexford Volunteers, as noted above.

Thus did the Rising in Leinster, with little in the way of pro-active achievement for the Volunteers, but also little in the way of bloodshed. The Volunteers were able to make a splash in Enniscorthy, enough to distract the British somewhat and impede movement on the railway, but that was essentially it. The opportunity for a larger scale affair, that could have supported what was occurring in Dublin, was lost owing to the countermanding order, and the hesitance – not illogical hesitance it must be admitted – of numerous local commanders.

It was a somewhat different story to the south and west, and the various Volunteer units in Munster. It was there that much was expected, owing to the planned landing of German arms, but that crucial lack of planning and botched communications would produce one of the more controversial aspects of the Easter Rising.

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

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