Review – Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road


The title characters lengthiest bit of dialogue happens when his face isn't even on camera. But does that really matter?

The title characters lengthiest bit of dialogue happens when his face isn’t even on camera. But does that really matter?

George Miller’s most famous creation is one of those cult films that has managed to retain both a fawning core of intense fandom, as well as leaving a mark on the wider popular consciousness. But I could never say that I was ever really that into them. The Road Warrior, for sure, was an eighties treat, and the series generally has done some great work with chase sequences and the presentation of its anarchic world. But I found them deficient in both story and character, with not enough of a spectacle to make up for that. Miller’s career since has been very hit and miss, with his greatest success being with the markedly different Babe and Happy Feet franchises, so I can’t say I’ve ever been fully on-board with him as a filmmaker. But now, given a large budget to play around with, as well as film technology 30 years more advanced, Miller has been given an opportunity to go back to where his career really started, with a new Max Rockatansky in tow. Could the star power of Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron propel Mad Max into the modern age? Or is it all an over hyped piece of nostalgia bait?

In a post-apocalyptic Wasteland, Max (Hardy) is a lone drifter just trying to survive, captured by the forces of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a malformed warlord who, set up as a warrior-god,  dominates his hellish kingdom through the control of a local water supply, using Max as a living blood bag for his “War Boy” Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When Furiosa (Theron), one of his chief soldiers, absconds with Joe’s “breeders” – women coveted for their beauty and reproductive potential – Max finds himself caught up in the running battle between Furiosa’s stolen war-rig and Joe’s freakish army.

The above is a basic synopsis of the film, but I could write another two sentences and have essentially covered the entirety of the experience. Fury Road’s story is extremely threadbare, set up entirely within the first 15 minutes or so, with only slight additions added or new directions undertaken for the remainder. Those seeking a deep, thoughtful exploration of a post-apocalyptic world and all that it entails, should not be looking to find much in Fury Road.

But that’s OK. Because expectation is important when it comes to film, and I had no serious expectation of great story. What expectations I had, from the epic promotional material, was of high-octane action sequences which, in their practicality, would be almost unique in a modern Hollywood system, so obsessed with colour graded CGI creations (comparing Fury Road to Jurassic World is going to be interesting).

If Fury Road did nothing else, it met those expectations. I got everything out of the film that I wanted, and while you can’t look at Fury Road’s budget and not think that there could have been a bit more in the form of plot if Miller was really bothered (feel free to throw in an extra 15 or 20 minutes guys, I was hooked), it still won’t bother you unduly. Fury Road delivers in its action set-pieces, all of them, and is one of the better summer popcorn movies that have graced the screen in recent times.

The main crux of the plot, such as it is, is the saving of the girls that Furiosa smuggles out of the Citadel, and that Max inadvertently finds himself trying to protect as well. But there is only so much done with that premise, to the extent that the girls’ common refrain that “We are not things” starts to become rather ironic, considering how empty they are as characters, mere MacGuffins for Hardy and Theron to try and keep out of the hands of Immortan Joe and his pale army.  It’s hard to get totally engaged with that struggle then, in the way other films would have succeeded. Children Of Men, somewhat similar in many respects, springs to mind. But in Fury Road, the girls exist as a prize to be held and chased, a centrepiece of a grand game of “Capture The Flag”. They get very minor moments of sudden evolution or agency, but they are as fleeting as they are empty.

What actual arcs for characters that exist aren’t all that much either. Characters have traits and hooks, and cleverly we find these out more through actions than being told. But the players don’t have great journeys to go on.  I notice some pushback on this point among some of the film’s more adoring fans, but I firmly believe that, in much the same way as the rabid fanbase of Pacific Rim did, they are seeing what they want to see and filling in the blanks to make the characters better presented than they actually are (but, to clarify, it hasn’t gotten to anywhere near the same levels of obnoxiousness as Pacific Rim’s fanbase did).

As has been oft noted in the critical community, the title character is rather subdued as a presence, getting scant dialogue and preferring to just look as grim as possible in the course of the film. After a brief opening monologue outlining his situation, Max doesn’t speak more than a word for another 40 or so minutes, and what journey exists for him as a character is bound up in vague visions/nightmares of his dead child, that takes an unexpectedly supernatural swerve at moments in the last act. A crucial turn for the character, from drifter to willing ally, occurs at the top of that third act, and it’s all very quick. Nux, a turncoat War Boy, is a little bit better, but even his journey can be reduced to dirt simple terms all too easily, moving away from the twisted religion of his upbringing after one bad moment, and all too easily deciding to join up with the “good guys” afterward. Its light switch characterisation: when you need the characters to change, but don’t have time to portray it properly. And the film’s primary antagonist is an empty caricature of crazed militarism, who never moves much beyond the early defined traits of murderous possessiveness.

The exception is Theron’s Furiosa, who dominates so much of the film that it could legitimately be retiled Furiosa Road without it feeling forced. She, at the very least, has some mystery, intrigue and questions that surround her, questions that the audience looks forward to seeing answered. They mainly revolve around why she wants to help these girls, and why she is choosing this moment to do it, and where exactly she wants to go. She’s a tortured result of the Wasteland’s abuse, but one still clinging to a hope for a better future, and the audience can get swept along with that. She retains femininity, the guardian of humanity’s literal future, tired of the misogynistic militarism that defines the present, where war is all and women are chattel. It gets taken to a dark place with some very cliché elements (see below) but Furiosa’s arc is much stronger than everyone else’s in the film, her character remaining consistent in act and theme. She’s another strong female character to cherish in 2015, far stronger and better presented than the others in the war-rig, one who fights and holds her own throughout the film, while still showing enough vulnerability that she isn’t just a stylised macho woman. Is Hollywood finally starting to get the Katniss Everdeen message?

Theron's Furiosa is, perhaps, the film's greatest element. Not counting the action of course.

Theron’s Furiosa is, perhaps, the film’s greatest element. Not counting the action of course.

Once you get beyond all of that, and, excepting Furiosa, it really is so thin that it isn’t that hard, you can sit back and enjoy what Fury Road has to offer elsewhere. The world-building is almost comical in its “over the top” nature, but no less enjoyable for it. The George Miller freak show gets a wonderful tour in Fury Road, calling back to Zach Snyder’s Persian army in 300 in many respects, but even more varied and colourful. There are different gangs, different factions, and a primitive society at war with itself, which Max, Furiosa and the war-rig have to navigate carefully.

That freak show forms the core of the films many action sequences, which dominate the running time. But, remarkably, Miller manages to ensure that, in terms of pacing and tempo, Fury Road never really hits a dud beat, except for maybe towards the very end. The film’s opening act is dominated by a chase/battle sequence that seems about a half hour long, but is so varied in its make-up and so exciting in its presentation that it never feels slow or boring, in the way that Michael Bay would almost certainly have made it. As we move forward, the environments change and the type of action does too: in one memorable moment, when the audience needs a break from the adrenaline, Miller chooses to portray the destruction of a significant part of the antagonist army off-screen, the manner of which embiggens the title character significantly. As I said, it’s only in the climactic battle that you might start to get a sense of déjà vu starting to cut in, but only by the end. The vast majority of Fury Road’s main attraction is wonderfully presented, and slotted into the film brilliantly.

There is so little to say about Fury Road’s story – which is satisfying despite its limitations, perfect for the, ahem, vehicle it is in – that I really should just move on, lest I find myself stumbling into the trap of hyper criticism like many others have already done for this film.

Tom Hardy in the lead really doesn’t have all that much to do. He might have less than 20 lines, and for a very large part of the film his face is obscured, Bane-like, by an imposing metal harness. On the film review podcast Filmspotting, they recently wondered if, following Fury Road and Locke, we weren’t heading towards a Hardy performance that simply involved him walking somewhere angrily for two hours. Hardy has his presence and his steely-eyed look, but precious else besides in Fury Road. The part could have been played by anyone, even an aging Mel Gibson if he’d had the inclination, without much changing.

It is Theron who we have to look to in the acting stakes. Like Hardy, she doesn’t have all that many lines really, though she has more than him. But she gets the opportunity to express a great deal more in her look, her face and in her actions. In the design of her character, with that gruesome metal appendage for an arm and the oily dirt on her face, we can see so much of the woman who has spent 7’000 days in the service of Joe, and who has simply had enough. In every look she gives to the girls she is shepherding, we can see the fear, concern and longing for relief she has been living with for decades. Furiosa is a bit of an enigma, insofar as we never really get to understand why she is choosing this moment to fight back against Immortan Joe, and whether or not she has a death wish with some of her actions. But I can live with that I think. I realise now that I haven’t seen anything Theron has made since her disappointing turn in Snow White And The Huntsman, but Fury Road is a welcome return to form (don’t be too happy, as Theron is apparently reprising that role in an ill-advised Huntsman sequel).

Most of the rest of the cast are minor players really. Keays-Byrne, so hidden by prosthetics and bizarre costuming, couldn’t really bring much to the Joe character beyond his imposing look and voice. Nathan Jones, John Howard and Richard Carter don’t fare much better as Joe’s chief underlings, marked out more by their costume and deformities than any acting talent, existent or otherwise. There’s is a situation where they are obligated to look weird and scary, occasionally shout, and just generally be a threat. Of the girls, Rosie Huntington-Whitely is apparently the chief focus, but her acting abilities haven’t gotten any better since her limp appearance in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, and none of the others are setting this post-apocalyptic world on fire either. This is the second film I’ve seen Zoe Kravitz in over the last few months (after Good Kill), and it’s the second time I’ve been underwhelmed by her.

If there is a real stand-out in the supporting cast, it is Nicholas Hoult, a man who has managed to carve out a delightful niche as a character actor in Hollywood, having made the jump from British television a few years ago. His Nux is one of the really brilliant characters in Fury Road purely in terms of his attitude, accent and persona, if not his journey. Hoult brings a wonderful manic energy to the role of the half crazed War Boy, who gleefully rides into battle with Max confined in a cage on the front of his vehicle, a blood transfusion still occurring between them. Fury Road needed that kind of character, half-mad, half-hilarious, to give a more personable window into the world of Immortan Joe’s sadistic quasi-religious society of death-seeking warriors, and Hoult provides it.

It is in the visual that Fury Road soars into the stratosphere. The direction and John Seale’s cinematography is truly wonderful: tight and focused when it needs to be, expansive and illuminating at other moments. The “Wasteland” might be bare and bleak, but it is also beautiful. The harsh orange of the desert gives way to blue-tinted nights, and effective contrast is drawn between the brief bits of greenery and the rest of this run-down ramshackle world. Those little moments of beauty are great and important: the sight of the stars and the odd growing thing help to engender that greater feeling of looking for hope in a very bad world.

The world in general, and by that I mean the world building, is also at the fore of Fury Road’s visual style. The factions are similar but different: Joe’s paint coated War Boys mix with the Bullet Farmers more gunned up compatriots, raiders in the desert are covered in spikes, and more peaceful tribes have more laid back robes. In simple ways, Miller shows us a Wasteland that has its form of society, and the visual is a key element in all of that.

But then there is the stuff that everyone has come to see. Early on, Miller teases an exciting escape for Max from Joe’s Citadel, Hardy’s character making a leap off a bare cliff onto a crane hook. But then he gets easily dragged back into captivity, and it soon becomes clear that Miller has his action sights set on much more fast-paced and technologically sophisticated stuff. Fury Road offers three and a bit vehicle warfare sections, and all of them are top notch, some of the best ever put to film if I’m being honest. Miller is obviously a director in love with the practical, and the decision to allow for the vast majority of special effects and carnage shots to be practical pays off big time. There’s something great and exhilarating about seeing real vehicles smash into each other, topple, explode and smash into each other again, in running battles across the length of this varied Wasteland. But Miller, to his immense credit in my eyes, also knows just when it’s OK to let the world of CGI in, such as with a spectacular race into a sandstorm in the first act, that proceeds to start sucking up participants in the vehicular brawl that continues through it. The cuts are slick, the slow-motion moments are well chosen, and there is a great amount of variety to everything.

When it's good, it's great. And that is all the time.

When it’s good, it’s great. And that is all the time.

Not least of course, the Immortan Joe freak show. It’s not enough to have the dwarf with the telescope, the right hand man with the giant irradiated foot, the scores and scores of War Boys with their white paint and chrome mouths, the tattoos, the cancerous lumps, the spikes, the metal, the scars. No, there has to be a car with a giant speaker system set-up on it, and it has to have a large percussion group riding along, and it has to have a chained guitarist, and he has to be playing this huge double electric guitar, and it has to be a guitar that spits flames, because, well, why not?

Miller has an active and enthralling imagination, and with the resources to bring that imagination to life, manages to craft the kind of insane army of bad guys that would make any B-movie director envious. The variety of mental villains adds a lot to the action scenes, as exploding spears are chucked, flamethrowers spurt, machine guns rattle and every manner of car, truck, bike and vehicle goes for a destructive ride across the desert. Despite the lack of a really effective plot to wrap it all around, it’s OK: the brilliance of these action scenes, so high in their level of quality, is enough that they can get by without them. The action is clear and meaningful in this film, with little confusion between the players and goals for them that you can follow and get engaged with, in a way that other films have often failed to accomplish (cough, Matrix Reloaded, cough). And it is so, so wonderful to behold.

The script, written between Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Latouris, is as basic as you like. Max’s monologue at the start, as he munches on a two-headed lizard, or his brief words on redemption to Furiosa are as close as the film gets to substantial dialogue, and there is little else to really note. There are some great whacky lines at times, like Nux’s “What a lovely day!” as he plunges into the sandstorm with reckless abandon, but Fury Road is dedicated to a vast experiment of show, show and show some more, with very letting telling of any description. Wordplay in this film, rather like water in the wasteland, is a precious resource to be used very sparingly.

Junkie XL’s score is a great accompaniment to the action, marked particularly by some fast-paced violins, piercing in their severity, but doing an admirable job of getting the heart beating. And in some thumping percussion at a near constant level, and you have an action score to be super proud of, and it’s been filling my ears a lot since I left the theatre. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Fury Road might have the best score of any film I’ve seen so far this year. More than a little of Hanz Zimmer in there, but that’s just the right kind of music really, and XL can perform more sweeping symphonic stuff when it is required.

Some brief spoiler talk follows.

-Of course, if Fury Road isn’t a reboot, then Hardy is all kinds of the wrong age to play the character, considering that many decades must have passed since the downfall of society and the situation as it exists in this film. But Mad Max has always felt a little comic-booky in many ways, so it’s not surprising that a certain time-freeze is evident.

-The iconic super charged Pursuit Special gets chewed up twice in the film, much to the chagrin of the fan boys I assume, but it did sort of fit the way that this film is a renewal of the franchise.

-There’s something very weirdly appropriate about the way that Immortan Joe has his little Kingdom set up. His “brothers” make the bullets and the gas, but Joe, at the top, controls the two things that the world needs the most: water and women. That, and the dramatically imposing “citadel”.

-The first, and I think, only, wife to die is Rosie Huntington-Whitley’s character, and I found that scene a little oddly cut together. That aside, it worked to add some stakes to the race and destruction, but didn’t do anything to makes the wives better characters.

-Gotta love the warped quasi-Norse religion that Joe had set-up in the Citadel. I think the implication was that Joe was a crazed former member of a pre-apocalypse military, and it was neat to see him string together this massive army of mutants and doomed men with visions of a violent afterlife.

-I greatly enjoyed Miller’s way of showing that the group in the war-rig were making do with what they had. There’s something great about how the bolt-cutters kept making an appearance, or how Furiosa’s metal arm had multiple uses. No infinite ammo or resources here, just a ramshackle truck barely staying together. The little details in the film generally, from the steering wheel altar to the barely seen swamp dwellers, are great. The story might not have been stellar here, but I want to see more stories from this universe.

The film falls down a bit with its villain, who is notable only in his physical appearance.

The film falls down a bit with its villain, who is notable only in his physical appearance.

-Furiosa’s role has drawn apt comparisons to Moses, as a sort of messianic figure leading the chosen few to a land of milk and honey that she herself will not see. But Miller inverts that well in the last act, after a fairly predictable discovery that the “green place” doesn’t exist to be found, not anymore.

-The failure of this goal – with the resoundingly cliché scene of Furiosa screaming at the heavens – leads to a temporary decision to tackle the “salt flats” while they have enough fuel to drive through them, maybe. It brought to mind the reality that, apocalypse or no apocalypse, there should still be maps of Australia around, and why aren’t people living near the sea? But, in more symbolic terms, the salt flats route is just Furiosa giving in to despair and abandoning the quest, a path she has to be turned away from.

-Max’s alternative plan is daring, and brings Fury Road’s story right back onto the monomyth path, ending where it began. For Max himself, it’s his temporary rejection of the drifter lifestyle, agreeing to help a team of people take down the bad guy, the moment when Fury Road becomes most like that brand of western with anonymous protagonists.

-Loved the Many Mothers. Bad-ass doesn’t have an age limit.

-Joe’s death seemed more about marking Furiosa out as a character, and the sudden way he was dispatched was a little unsatisfying for me. I guess the point was to show him as a figurehead without the fight to back it up when it matters, but that just means Fury Road lacks an effective antagonist.

-Nux’s death was pure cliché, and could be seen coming the moment he failed so abysmally at undertaking Joe’s instructions. I found that belated romance angle with one of the wives rather lame, but at least he went out in a blaze of glory.

-Furiosa’s death wish following the truth about her homeland is plain, but she’s happy to take Joe down with her. But then Fury Road did something I didn’t expect, calling back to Max’s established status as a universal donor, and his newfound willingness to hope and work with others, to save her from what seemed like an inevitable death. His revelation of his name was rather unnecessary, but I liked the general scene and what it meant.

-The ending was no surprise, and fits the Max character to a tee, the man with no name, riding off into that desert to continue his lone survival, where he will inevitably find more people that need his aid. Fury Road has plenty in common with The Road Warrior, and this is probably the strongest point in regards Max himself. It’s as happy as Fury Road can get, and satisfying for that.

-Weirdly, Miller chooses to end the film with a quotation, which I subsequently discovered was invented for the film itself: “Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves.” Quotes such as that are usually put at the start of a film to denote the main theme; it’s rather odd to throw it in at the end, as if Miller was worried the audience wouldn’t get the message he was trying to put out.

Spoilers end.

The incredible critical praise that Fury Road has gotten since its release – at time of writing, an incredible 215 of 219 Rotten Tomatoes reviews are counted as “Fresh”, putting Fury Road in a very exclusive category – is well deserved, precisely because the film delivers on just about everything that any reasonable person would have expected it to offer. The action sequences are simply immense, and while I’m not going to be rushing to go and see it again in a theatre, it is certainly one of those kinds of films that can only be properly appreciated on a big screen. Miller’s eye for action and larger directorial prowess is clear throughout, and in Charlize Theron’s role he found one of the stand-out female performances of the year, and in Nicholas Hoult’s one of the most eye-catching from a supporting player.

The flaws, not unsubstantial, are in story, which is shallow, the limited material for Tom Hardy, which is unfortunate, and the script, which is regrettable. In the canon of films I have seen this year, I cannot really bring myself to overlook those flaws enough to give Fury Road a top five place at this point in time. Some thing’s, important things, had to be sacrificed in this exercise of prioritising style over substance at nearly every turn.

But what style it is. Fury Road is a proper action movie, a summer blockbuster that deserves most of the general plaudits it is getting. While it remains unclear whether the film will do well enough to justify any planned sequels, and a proper rebirth of the franchise, I for one am happy to say that I would be willing to pay money to see a sequel, or another film from the same production team. Incredibly entertaining, Mad Max: Fury Road is a triumph everywhere that it really matters for a film of this type, and comes fully recommended.

You won't regret seeing this one.

You won’t regret seeing this one.

(All images are copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures).



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Same-Sex Marriage Referendum: Today

Have you voted yet? Don’t worry, the site isn’t going anywhere. I’ll wait.

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Same-Sex Marriage Referendum: One Day Out


I could try a number of things here. Another link dump for the past 24 hours worth of news. An appeal to emotional. An appeal to rationality.

All of those things can be found throughout the internet and social media if one has a mind to look for them, so I’ll keep my closing thoughts on this as brief as is practicable. Anyone interested in more can look back over my posts on the topic.

To the unregistered and the non-voter, I can only ask you to close the window and move on. You aren’t even worth the energy to scold right now.

To the committed “No” voter, I can only ask you to close the window, move on, and it’s probably best if you don’t come back.

To everyone else, that last section of genuine undecideds, I have more to say.

I discovered a “No” leaflet left propped against my door yesterday morning. This was at around 6.20, so whoever left it there was either operating very late at night, or very early in the morning.

The leaflet was full of the usual. Half-baked misinformation, twisting of facts, appeals to non-pertinent issues and abhorrent in its deeper message. Surrogacy and adoption and the ECHR and teaching in schools, all proven false or faulty. It does not surprise me that whoever left at my door did so at an hour when the chance of having to actually speak to the people he was trying to win over was negligible: because who, in good conscience, would stand over such a leaflet if put under scrutiny?

The “No” side would I suppose, the side that have run a campaign based on fear, panic, confusion and regressive ideology, all masked by an outer shell of faux-reasonableness and “I don’t have problems with gay people but….”. They have managed to change minds. They have, beyond all intrusions of reality, managed to cultivate a perception that they are a bullied minority. With the aid of a willing media, they have injected poisonous and factious rhetoric into this debate, in an at-all-costs style of campaign.

Please, don’t be one of those people. Don’t get sucked in by their message. Because, as I pointed out here and here, the key tenants of the “No” vote message simply do not stand up under any serious observation.

Meanwhile, the reasons for voting “Yes”, clear, simple and with the full force of the law and moral right on their side, are undeniable and unequivocal. For the rights of all Irish citizens to be equal. For people to not have to hide their sexual orientation. For people in love to be in a position to enjoy all of the rights that others do in this country. It is about those things, and nothing else.

48 hours from time of posting, we should know whether the constitution will be changed. I remain confident that it will, though, in any campaign like this, the confidence is tinged with that ever-present sense of danger. We need the vote, the young, the old, the urbanite and the rural dweller, to get out tomorrow and make it happen. If the turnout is high enough, you can put a fork in it. If you are still undecided and seeking an answer, I have only one for you: be a part of significant, worthy and righteous change in our country. Reject fear. Reject “tradition”. Reject lies. And look back with pride later.

To the committed “Yes” voters, I offer my praise, my appreciation, my support and my urging to take that final step tomorrow, and cast one of the most significant ballots of your lives. A “No” poster outside Trinity College that I pass every day, that has had another poster above it slip down and obscure some of the message, is a truthful appraisal of what “No” wants from the LGBT community and its supporters: “BE SILENCED – VOTE NO”.

But you don’t have to be silent any more. You have a voice. And in conjunction with millions of others, it can roar tomorrow.

Vote Yes. Please.

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Ireland’s Wars: Winter Operations And Aims In 1691

The major campaigns of the War of the Two Kings had ceased with the taking Cork and Kinsale by John Churchill, but, through the winter months at the end of 1690 and into the beginning of 1691, there were still minor clashes between both sides, as Williamite and Jacobite forces jockeyed for position ahead of the more decisive battles soon to be fought.

For the Williamites, that time was one of affecting their own administration over the portions of Ireland now under their control. From Dublin, the newly appointed justices and government busied itself issuing decrees and trying to sort out the ever-present land issue, which mostly involved taking it from Catholics, present or absent, and handing it over to Protestants (or back as the case may be). The laws and decrees of the Patriot Parliament were rolled back wholesale, as was to be expected.

There were other matters to be attended to as well though. A smuggling system had come into being between Catholics in the east and the Jacobites in the west, which the Williamites struggled to clamp down on. New reinforcements, from varying European Kingdoms and principalities, continued to flood into the country, that all needed to be put up and integrated into the army proper. And, in order to further bolster that army, a new wave of militia troops, raised from the Protestant communities now no longer under Jacobite control, were also being raised and trained. Ahead of the expected resumption of campaigning in 1691, the Williamites were keen to maintain their military advantage in both number and quality of soldiers.

Across the country, there was also the increased amount of rapparee attacks that had to be confronted. It was the common Irish guerrilla story told all over again: small mobile bands of soldiers, setting ambushes in isolated areas, striking fast and withdrawing just as quickly, utilising terrain such as woods, bogs and mountains to their advantage. Across Williamite controlled Ireland, rapparee groups – some politically motivated, others more of the bandit sort – hit supply columns, garrisons and towns, making troop movement and maintenance increasing difficult. When the Williamites tried to hit back, they often found no one to hit, with the enemy vanished and their arms hidden, until the next fight. At times the problem grew to extraordinary levels, and rapparee activity in Wicklow and the surrounding counties, no stranger to such fighting throughout Irish history, had Dublin in a panic during this period.

The burning of Williamite controlled hamlets and villages in Wicklow were not uncommon events, and the civil administration in Dublin was perpetually in fear of a sudden attack from Irish Catholic peasantry. The response was a familiar one: expelling of Catholics from the city, a crackdown on Catholic meetings and Catholic-owned businesses, and an officially sanctioned policy of reprisal against Catholic communities in the vicinity of rapparee attacks. This was, perhaps, never quite as vicious as the Tory struggle in Ireland at the conclusion of the Eleven Year Wars, but was still bad enough: and, in these winter months, aggravated the crisis facing a land that had suffered extensive fighting and crop failure.

Godert de Ginkel, now firmly established as William’s chosen commander in chief in Ireland, wanted to appointment to be productive before the weather improved, perhaps inspired by the success of the unpopular Marlborough on the south coast. To that end, he envisioned a daring – too daring really – pincer movement on the Jacobite position to take place over the winter weeks and months, which, if properly executed, could have had the potential to tremendously weaken the Jacobites before the oncoming of Spring. His plan was a simple attack to the south and north: a push into West Cork and Kerry from the newly won coastal region, and a push on and beyond Sligo to the north, down the western bank of the River Shannon.

Ginkel’s plan was extraordinarily ambitious under the circumstances. Aside from the terrible weather that left any attempted military manoeuvres very difficult to perform, he lacked enough men, on either side of the endeavour, to really see it through properly, with most of the Williamite Army still stuck in winter quarters. And the intended targets were risky in the extreme: the hilly ambush friendly country of Kerry, and the Jacobite heartland of Connacht.

The scheme started well enough, with a quick push on additional Cork ports, like Castlehaven, Baltimore and Bantry, finding success in their rapid seizures, the ports left largely undefended. But from there things became more difficult. Local irregular forces led by Catholic noblemen rallied and harassed the occupiers, preventing their free movement and leaving them limited. When they did deign to continue with the stated objective and move into Kerry, the reduced garrisons were easy prey, and the ports rapidly changed hands again.

Meanwhile, the more concerted effort, being led from Cork, also came up short. A large enough force began a march in the general direction of Macroom, but held up by the weather, the terrain and the harassing operations of the rapparee’s, eventually gave up and turned back. There would be no grand success in the depths of winter for the Williamites.

To the north, Ginkel’s offensive also floundered. Williamite troops did move forward, but rapid relocation of Jacobite forces and the bad weather insured that the northern wing of the operation was a doomed endeavour before it ever really got started, and the Williamites backed off long before any substantial fighting could take place. Ginkel was left red-faced, though he had not lost all that much in the effort. He placed part of the operations’ failure on the civil administration, which refused to cooperate with him on a suggested policy of offering pardon to Jacobite soldiers who refused to fight. Ginkel saw the lack of this as a lost opportunity to weaken enemy resolve, but the truth is that the offensive, generally, was just a bad idea from the start and, if it had gone much further, could easily have turned into a serious repulse for the Williamites.

The Jacobites very briefly pushed back in the aftermath, with raids pushing out from Kerry in the south, Limerick in the centre and Athlone to the north, with places like Clonakilty in the firing line. Ginkel’s remaining forces in the field quickly rallied and forced the Jacobites back. Such was the frontier war that dragged on throughout the winter and into the early Spring, as both sides made small temporary in-roads into enemy territory, without ever really threatening to enact anything more decisive than that.

So the Williamites had their problems but, then again, so did the Jacobites. Their winter months were spent, apart from the things that I have already mentioned, on solidifying their position and preparing for more warfare in the future months. Territory around the Shannon and beyond, on the eastern side, was targeted for a rudimentary scorched earth strategy, with fortifications burned, crops plundered and herds stolen. To the south of Limerick this was largely carried out by the Duke of Berwick, soon to depart for France to join his father: it is said that at one point he spent the night dining at the Earl of Orrery’s manor in Charleville, then ordered it destroyed, sticking around long enough to watch it burn. This strategy made life a bit more difficult for the Williamites, who could not count on much local material support in any future advance on the Shannon defensive line, at least in certain points.

Around this time, Tyrconnell took ship to France, there to meet with James to discuss the situation in Ireland. James’ thoughts and opinions had precious little weight any more though, aside from, granting Talbot the Lord Lieutenancy, and it was the outlook of the French King that was far more important. He released more troops, supplies and guns for Tyrconnell to take home, along with a decent amount of French officers to take over the situation in Ireland, but it can never be forgot what his larger goal was. Ireland was just a sideshow to the grander European war he was fighting against William, a place to keep just strong enough that the Williamites would have to keep diverting troops and resources there. He never gave enough troops to the Jacobites in Ireland as to potentially lead to a grander offensive against William.

The French soldiery also created even more recriminations in the high command of the Jacobite war effort. Patrick Sarsfield and many others were put out by the paucity of money and troops, and even more by the reality, impressed upon them by Louis, that his generals would be at the top of the chain of command, with Sarsfield and other Irish reduced to subordinate roles. There was method to the madness – the French officers had more experience in war for one thing – but it rankled with many of the Irish officers. They had been the ones to successfully resist at Limerick, not the French. It mattered not: Charles Chalmont, the Marquis of St Ruth, now became the head of the Jacobite military in Ireland. Sarsfield had to make do with the Earldom of Lucan.

So, what were the respective aims and plans for both sides, in the short, medium and long term?

In the short term, it was plain that it would be a case of more Williamite offensives and Jacobite defence. The Williamites, with their greater reserves of manpower and material, would try and breach the Shannon at one or many points, and thereby deal a fatal blow to the cause of Jacobite survival. The main question was where the first blow would fall, with both of the obvious targets – Athlone and Limerick – having withstood Williamite attacks already. Going around the Shannon to the north was not a palatable option either. Whatever the choice, the Williamites would be sure to bring more soldiers and artillery than last time, and try and win a passage over the river. The Jacobites, still rearming and reorganising, would just have to try and stop them again, buying more time for the larger strategic picture to change.

How likely that was to happen was very much up in the air. The medium term, for the Williamites, a breach over the Shannon should have led to the end of the war. The Jacobite army would have nowhere else to run, barring holding up in every fort and castle it could find, and that was not a winning strategy. A battle would have to be fought, one where the Williamites would hold most of the cards. That battle won, the Williamites would be all but triumphant, with the likes of Galway unlikely to hold up William’s accession to Irish domination for too long.

If the Jacobites were to hold the Shannon line, their medium term plans – for within the year of 1691 – would probably be to try some limited offensives eastwards. A lot would be dependent on the continental war and on what opportunities made themselves available in Ireland. If the Williamites could be made to suffer enough in the coming assault on the Shannon, a larger counter-attack to the east might be possible, with everything that it might entail: the retaking of lost territory, bringing the war back into Leinster and even the possibility of threatening Dublin once more.

In longer term plans, the Williamites were already looking beyond the war, and, as we have seen, already trying to settle the land question. Ireland was to be cleared of rebellious elements and incorporated fully back into the British fold, with its Catholic population to remain an underclass, an ascendency of Protestants having control of both government, law and armed forces.

For the Jacobites, the long term was still a question mark, dependent entirely on the course of a war they initially just wanted to prolong, and on the effect of, and possible intervention from, Europe. Certainly, there would have been dreams of reclaiming the entirety of the island and using that as a springboard for something, though these visions would have varied wildly from an independent Catholic Kingdom, to launching an invasion of Britain with the aim of reinstating James II. He was still the nominal head of the Jacobite movement after all, despite his absence, but who knows how his departure from the main stage might have affected the grander political goals of the men now actually in charge of the war effort in Ireland?

So after a winter of tit-for-tat strikes and aborted efforts at something greater, the two sides were left as they had been: waiting for the guns to start sounding again and facing each from either side of the Shannon. William and Ginkel were determined that 1691 would be the last year of the war in Ireland, but they would have to get past that barrier first.

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

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Same-Sex Marriage Referendum: Two Days Out

Less than 48 hours until the polls open! Last night there was a debate. I did not watch it. I’m confident that if I had, I would have thought “Yes” won, while “No” voters will think “No” won. And the whole scene unfolds, with a tedious inevitability.

Back in the real world, where 80% or more of voters have made up their minds, the campaign enters the final straight. Hear “No” voters complain about harassment and intolerance of their position? Remember that LGBT people in the country have had it far worse for far longer, even those who you might expect would be in a position where they shouldn’t. The McAleese endorsement remains worth its weight in gold…and votes. Speaking of the “No” side talking out of its rear end, anytime you hear someone from that side of the argument complain about intolerance or supposed “harassment” – which, 19 times out of 20, turns out to be nothing of the sort – think of this. And wonder how many messages like that “No” side have gotten.

The international press continue to issue forth with multiple articles noting Ireland’s imminent decision, with Reuters framing their look by casting their gaze backwards a little bit. The shift in attitudes towards homosexuality – Ireland being the last country in Western Europe to decriminalise it – has been striking, and the legalisation of SSM will be one of the most effective signs that this trend is now the norm, and not some aberration. It wasn’t all that long ago that homosexuality was still the subject of vitriolic comments from judges and other people of authority, but now we are on the cusp of major change, where homosexuality becomes part and parcel of our constitution. What a decision that will be. What a moment of pride it could be, if “Yes” is successful. Ireland has a lot to make up for with its human rights record, and this week is a chance to do some making up.

Witness also the last twitching of the “No” campaign. Having gone through everything in the barrel from adoption to surrogacy to retroactive praising of civil partnership to religion and back to adoption and surrogacy, they have even now decided to scrap the very bottom and throw the word “homophobic” at the “Yes” side, hoping that anything and everything might stick and win a few votes. This is the truly desperate time: accuse “Yes” of everything that the media is willing to print. Undemocratic. Intolerant. Bigoted. Homophobic. Racist maybe. Sexist? Sure, why not. Un-Irish. Traitors. Whatever it takes. As the “Yes” side continues to preach, as it always has done, its message of acceptance, equality and love over hate, the contrast with the negative stop-at-nothing “No” campaign, perhaps, has never been more stark.

I also find it hilarious that the few members of the LGBT community voting “No” have gotten as much attention as they have, out of all disproportion to their numbers. It’s even more hilarious considering that chief among them, Keith Mills, having acted as if the sky will fall with a “Yes” vote, won’t be voting. Why? He’s on holidays. Seriously. Well, priorities are priorities Keith.

Not long left now. Tune in tomorrow.

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Same-Sex Marriage Referendum: Three Days Out

Hotting up now, a veritable avalanche of news every time I turn to Google. Despite the fact that most polls indicate that a huge majority – up to 80% or more – have already made up their minds, both sides continue to go for broke.

The announcement that 66’000 new voters have been added to the Irish electorate in the supplementary register is double edged for me. On the face of it, it’s great news, and a welcome return for the fantastic efforts of various organisations and individuals to get as many new voters registered as possible. And despite David Quinn’s desperate attempts to portray it as otherwise, the vast, vast majority of those new voters will be “Yes” voters. I’m literally thinking 90-95%. After all, the “No” side, very calculatingly, didn’t lift a finger to register new voters.

But, on the other hand, the Irish electorate has increased in size by just 2%, and a large number of eligible people have exercised their right to not take part in the democratic process. There are times when this enrages me, but there are also times when it just leaves me feeling rather sad, and this is one of those times. If we’re looking at a divorce referendum scenario, that 2% could make all the difference, but I’m hopeful that, in the event of a “Yes” vote, the margin of victory will be beyond that.

A major “No” talking point over the last 24 to 48 hours, spurred on by the Bishops classic letter from the pulpit, has been about schools. Despite the fact that all and sundry in authority have said otherwise, and continue to do so, the “No” side keep spouting the same old tired line. And even if the the line wasn’t nonsense, which it is, what would it matter? Teaching students about homosexuality!? In a society where it is a legal practise, and no longer looked down upon!? What is the county coming to!?

I mean, the “No” side continually insists they have “no problem” with gay people. Unless, it seems, it involves telling children what being gay is. Then they have a gigantic problem. This is the “No” side. This is what “No” voters are opting for.

Lastly for today, an example of increasing international media attention on Ireland. It’s no small thing I suppose, potentially being the the first nation on this planet to legalise SSM, but the Guardian has a more cynical approach to the story, wondering if the polls might be wrong. Part of me is starting to sense a certain bit of hedging bets in all of these reports, like if the vote goes “No” unexpectedly the media won’t look like they were caught out.

But regardless, I found this article interesting because of a fact that it points out, that has gone little reported elsewhere:

If there is a low turnout on Friday then the outcome could be closer than implied in polls because older age groups are generally more likely to vote. But support for yes is also strongest among the middle-class and urban voters, and weaker in rural constituencies (where only a minority intend to vote yes) and past referendums turnout among the former two groups tends to be higher compared with the latter.

Very important to remember I feel. Ireland’s cities and urban areas will vote “Yes”, and there’s more people in them than there is in the countryside. A strong turn-out in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway will leave the “Yes” vote in a match point position, with what affirmative votes from the countryside that exists – a minority perhaps, but I sincerely believe it won’t be that much of a minority – providing the coup de grace.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at that divorce referendum by constituency. Dublin, Cork and Limerick cities provided the vast bulk of the “Yes” voters, with commuter heavy counties like Wicklow, Kildare and Louth providing much of the rest.  Rural counties nearly all voted “No”. And the rural counties lost.

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Same-Sex Marriage Referendum: Four Days Out

Time’s moving on now. As expected a few more polls have been released since the last time I wrote on this, and it’s a varied mix. The common thread is that the “Yes” side has the lead, and a sizable one, while the “No” side and the “Don’t Know’s” are more even. Despite some apocalyptic headlines, such as in the Indo, it’s still generally encouraging. Splitting the difference between the polls see’s the “Yes” side settle somewhere in the 60’s, with “No” failing to win even if all of the “Don’t Know” crowd voted their way (which they won’t, I’d be thinking a 33/66 split there). Since it’s been a few weeks since the last few polls, we can see that in the frenzy of negative campaigning (and man has it become especially negative, you should see the bile filled copy of Alive that was pushed through my letterbox yesterday), the “No” side hasn’t managed to cut down the “Yes” lead enough in the polls, barely managing to drag away 10% of its support directly to its side.

If the polls hold true, this vote is decided, and, looking at their general outline, I would be very surprised at this stage if they don’t. The vote can still swing “No”, but it would require a seismic movement against all of the indicators to do so, probably combined with an unexpectedly low turnout or bad weather or whatever. So I’m reasonably confident ahead of Friday. At worst, the poll spin that “Yes” is faltering will combat complacency, which isn’t a bad thing, though the panic stations sentiment isn’t super helpful either in my opinion.

This is the week for impassioned appeals for people to get out and vote “Yes”, because if there is a reasonable turn-out then the vote will be carried. I won’t be linking around to all of the ones that I find, but I do think that Jason O’Mahony’s thoughts are exceptional.

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