Ireland’s Wars: The Truce

The Irish War of Independence came to an end, officially speaking, on the 11th July 1921, when a truce that was agreed between representatives of “the Republic” and the British government came into effect. I say “officially speaking” because in many ways the truce meant merely a reduction in violence and not a stop to it, and to a very large degree was flat-out ignored in the north, where the violence would only escalate in the truce period. Recognition of the truce as the end of the war is really another one of those historical conveniences that attempts to give distant conflicts a definitive endpoint for easier rationalisation: better I think to say that it was an event that marked a transitional period in the larger Irish Revolution, the end of the endorsed fighting between nationalists and the British administration, but not the end of the fighting.

The last time we seriously discussed the attempts to bring the War of Independence to a peaceful resolution was in regards the efforts of Archbishop Patrick Clune, which had fizzled out around the end of 1920/beginning of 1921. But the peace moves never really stopped being pursued by various people, often in the form of back channel dealings, even while the military effort was maintained and even ramped up. De Valera’s return from America, with Lloyd George’s orders that he was not to be arrested, brought fresh hopes that a moderate voice could be beneficial to arranging a ceasefire.

But it was still a long and bumpy road. Throughout the Spring of 1921 efforts were made, many of them prosecuted strongly by Hamar Greenwood’s socialite wife Margery, to get de Valera in the same room as the Unionists’ Edward Carson, as a prelude to direct talks with Lloyd George. Such efforts would frequently stumble on the intransigence of both sides, on preconditions to meetings and an unwillingness to meet unless actual results were promised. At this stage, there was a great deal of back-and-forth on what exactly each side would accept, and I should be said that a 32-county Republic was not listed among such options. Sticking points were to what extent a settlement would allow an Irish state to be autonomous, especially financially. Neither de Valera or Carson or James Craig or Lloyd George wanted to be the ones to make the first overt move. Such fencing provoked despair among those seeking peace, who were using every avenue available – members of the church, members of trade unions, contacts with Sinn Fein, even unionists in the north – as go-betweens.

In April a new effort made by Edward Stanley, the Lord Derby, got as far as a meeting with de Valera, but also produced no result. More developments that month and in May gave signs of hope: the long-past-due retirement of the irrelevant John French as Lord Lieutenant, replaced by Edmund Talbot, the Lord Fitzalan, a Catholic; a meeting, though without result, between de Valera and James Craig; and the May elections, all provoked louder calls for at least a temporary laying down of arms. But Lloyd George’s changeable attitude – in May he declared that his government had already been overly-generous in the Government of Ireland Act, and that previous compromises like prisoner releases had had no positive result – made things impossible.

It was late May and June that saw the change come. That month there was increasing acceptance from both the military and political leadership of the British side that the “coercion” policy was not fit for purpose. The Southern Ireland Parliament was still-born, and an expansion of the military effort, to the point of full martial law and a flooding of Ireland with troops, was seen as both too costly and unlikely to get the result needed. “All in or get out” was how one commentator put it, and Lloyd George was unwilling to become “all in” in Ireland. So the question swung back to how “get out” could be made acceptable.

Similarly, on the other side, a more focused effort had to be made. De Valera as a figurehead helped, as did, in a certain manner, the imprisonment of Griffith and MacNeill. But the Republic remained a disparate collection of figures, factions a organisations, many of them with very different outlooks and expectations. Die-hards wanted nothing more than a complete separation on a 32 county basis, others would have been satisfied with Dominion status, others somewhere in-between or something even lesser. And there was the divide in the military, between those who thought their units and areas were in a strong position to continue the fight, and those who felt they were barely clinging on, a difference in opinion that could go right down to neighboring companies. British reprisals as an official policy had been brought to a halt in June, and RIC deaths were at a height around the same time, but so were arrests of Volunteers. The declining influence of flying columns on the conflict was also evident around this time.

Some lamented how difficult it was to make peace with the “Shinners” when said party seemed to have no clear position to barter from. It was a problem that would find no solution to satisfy everyone long term, but even a short-term rapprochement seemed impossible at times. One of the rungs in that ladder was supplied by King George V, in a speech he gave in Belfast on the occasion of the first meeting of the Northern Ireland parliament. It had been drafted by South African Prime Minister Jam Smuts and then approved by Lloyd George; in it, the King called upon “all Irishmen…to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation” before expressing his “earnest desire” that in Southern Ireland “there may ere long take place a parallel to what is now passing in this Hall” before stating that “The future lies in the hands of My Irish people themselves.” While its impact has undoubtedly been exaggerated, the conciliatory tone of the speech was noteworthy, and it signified a change in British policy that many picked up on.

Smuts turned out to be a key player in what happened next. A veteran of the Boer War now turned international statesmen, he had played a key role in the Versailles Conference, and proved to be one of the key intermediaries between the British and Irish governments. His experience with South Africa, a state that had emerged from a war with Britain and was now self-governing without separation from the Empire, made him a favourable figure in that regard, who could be trusted to represent the Imperial position while being able to sell Dominion status to de Valera. Tom Casement, brother of Roger, brought Smuts and de Valera together, but only after the embarrassing need to release de Valera from prison after he had been arrested on the same day of the King’s speech, against Lloyd George’s express orders.

De Valera seemed pliant on the issue of a Republic, though he insisted that negotiations would have to be preceded by a truce. Things moved quickly enough then: Griffith and MacNeill were released from prison, captured British figures were similarly released by the other side, Sinn Fein representatives agreed to meet with delegations from southern unionists and military leaders on both sides were told to start making arrangements for a truce, which was done over the course of four days in early July. Men who had been deadly enemies the day previously were suddenly meeting repeatedly, hammering out the most basic possible terms acceptable to both sides. In the end, the terms that were agreed between Robert Barton and Eamon Duggan for the Dail (and by extension the IRA) and General Macready for the British on the 9th July were not all that different from those that had been proposed seven months earlier.

There were two distinct list of requirements to apply to either side. The British agreed to import no more soldiers, police or Auxiliaries into Ireland. Existing forces would make no “provocative display” of their strength. The truce would apply to all parts of the island equally, whether they were under martial law at the time or not. IRA Volunteers, their war material and lines of communication would not be pursued, nor observed by “secret agents”, and there was to be no interference with the movement of Irish civilians or military personnel (essentially an agreement to end curfews).

The Irish agreed to cease all attacks on Crown Forces and loyalist civilians. They too committed to make no provocative displays of their forces. They would not “interfere” with either government or private property. They committed to “discountenance” any attempt of their own side to do anything which could necessitate military intervention from the other side. The terms did not say anything about the IRA importation of arms. Some of the overall terms were disputed – papers would print different versions – but this is essentially what they came down to.

In essence, the truce agreement was a simple commitment from both sides to cease active military operations, at least those aimed at the other side. No ambushes, no raids, no assassinations, no reprisals, no bombings, no burnings. The last point for the Irish side was a unique recognition of the IRA’s position, and the likelihood that swaths of the organisation would not respond positively to the truce; the British put the enforcement of the truce, in that respect, purely on the heads of the IRA. It was, perhaps, also a preemptive acknowledgement that post-truce violence was likely, with the British preemptively trying to blame the IRA for it.

That was the military side of things. The political side was just as, if not more, important. The simple fact that a truce had been agreed at all was a huge victory for Sinn Fein and the IRA: it was a recognition from the British that they were more than just a “murder gang”, even if Lloyd George was careful to refer to de Valera only as a leader of “the great majority in Southern Ireland”. It was the fruition of the entire military strategy, to fight the British into a corner until negotiations, and thus recognition, became preferable to continuing the fight. De Valera was invited to London to talks directly with Lloyd George, which would take place later in the month, setting the stage for later negotiations, the subject of future entries.

A two day period was agreed between the signing of the truce and its implementation, to allow time for the news of its contents to be adequately communicated to IRA units across the country many of which were difficult to contact, being on the run. The news got a mixed response. Some celebrated, especially in Dublin. Others, especially in parts of Tipperary and Cork, were less enthusiastic, suspecting that the truce was temporary at best, or to the advantage of their enemies at worst. Plenty had cause to worry what would be the outcome of negotiations, that the Republic they had been fighting and dying for would now be traded away. As we have seen, many units continued operations for that two day period, or came up with ones on the fly. Crown Forces received the news mostly negatively, seeing the truce agreement as a defeat, but obeyed for the most part. And we have already discussed the reaction of loyalist/unionist elements in the north, which was a sign of things to come there.

That aforementioned divide between those who felt the IRA was on its last legs and those who felt the war could be extended for some time yet has never really gotten a satisfactory final judgement in history, and it is up to individual interpretation. Elements of the IRA were badly stretched at the time, especially active areas like Dublin and Limerick. Others remained well-organised and relatively well-supplied. It would be my opinion that the war could have been continued for a time based on the level of force deployment in July 1921, but a recourse to full martial law may have been a gamechanger, and may have necessitated at least a temporary pause in IRA operations, or a switch to predominant targeting of property in the form of bombings and burnings. However, it would not have really won the conflict for the British, merely extended the inevitable: Ireland, the 26 counties at least, had moved beyond them in terms of its political status.

One interested party who received news of the truce with wholehearted support was the people. The days leading up the announcement had been marked by large crowds assembling wherever talks were taking place: when it became public knowledge, a party atmosphere was often the result, with massed celebrations, the unfurling of tricolours, the odd firework and generally a joyous response. Beyond the feeling that Ireland had won the war by bringing the British to the table, it must be remembered that the Irish citizenry had been living in various shades of wartime for most of the period from 1914 to the summer of 1921, and exhaustion was certainly palpable: the idea that it would now all come to an end, and leave Ireland untangled with the British, would surely have made it all seem worth it for many. IRA men on the run came out of hiding and were acclaimed as heroes, British military personnel left the streets.  It was a time that drew much comment on the perceived oddity of it, not least Ernie O’Malley, who received the news whole training Volunteers in the field: …”and so ended what we called the scrap; the people later on, the trouble and others, fond of labels, the Revolution”.

But of course, it was not to be an end. The exact status of Ireland in a settlement with Britain was very much up in the air, and just about the only absolute was that a Republic would not be the answer. But that recrimination was to come. For now, I want to follow in the footsteps of what I did for 1919 and 1920, and allow an entry to focus on some of the minor actions of the War of Independence in 1921, before moving onto a general summary. That comes next week.

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

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NFB Watches Wrestling #25: WCPW World Cup – German Qualifiers

Commentary on the in-ring or mike prowess of those named as part of #SpeakingOut should not be taken as support for them in general. I believe her.

Time to get into the second half of this tournament’s preliminary stages. It’s the 2nd of July 2017 and we’re in the Huxleys Neue Welt of Berlin, for the German Qualifiers of the WCPW Pro-Wrestling World Cup! Your main event tonight: it will actually be one of the World Cup matches, so I won’t spoil who it is just yet. This is essentially a show of the German Wrestling Federation featuring some WCPW talent and no, I had never really heard of them either.

Dave Bradshaw and (ugh) Alex Shane on commentary as we go straight into the first Tale of the Tape, and you better believe I am not going to know who most of these guys are. Both “Rambo” and “Cash Money Erkan” speak only in German, and there are no subtitles, so I am at a loss (Rambo is apparently from the Caribbean though) Rambo says something about lucha and seems very relaxed. Erkan is a bit more up for it, or so it seems.

Rambo vs Cash Money Erkan (WCPW Pro-Wrestling World Cup Preliminary German Semi-Final #1)

Both of these are GWF guys. Erkan’s entrance video makes it look like his only moves are upper-cuts and drop-kicks (To wit, Shane calls him “Mr Upper-Cut”). Takes a while for Erkan to actually come out after his music plays, bit of a mess-up I presume. Rambo, dubbed “El Presidente” and saluting like Bad Luck Fale, out next, so I guess this is some sort of Banana Republic gimmick? Small ring, small arena, but the crowd seems decent so far. Someone had them chanting “What Culture” anyway.

Erkan the crowd favourite for sure. Wrist-lock chains, Rambo with a back-slide pin for two, then our first Erkan uppercut (1). Knee-drop for two. Rambo dodges a kick and hits a modified backstabber for two, then into a neck-tie. Crowd into this one so far. Rambo with a delay suplex for another near-fall. Some slow Irish Whips, think Rambo might have some mobility issues. Erkan lays in an uppercut (2), then another (3), but then walks into a codebreaker for two. Crowd suddenly right behind Rambo, so not sure what’s up with that. Erkan rallying back with a drop kick, then hits a pumphandle sit-out slam for two. A little laboured at times between these two, especially when running is required.

Uppercut (4) in the corner, then a running one (5) but Rambo back with a running forearm, but then Erkan back with another running uppercut (6). Just doing the same spots back and forth now, then a double clothesline sends them both down. Both slowly back up, uppercut (7), chop, uppercut (8), chop, uppercuts (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15), then Erkan misses a kick and walks into a pop-up sit-down powerbomb from Rambo that gets two. Erkan back with a neat-looking snap fallaway slam for two, then going for another pumphandle, but Rambo countering with a brainbuster. Rambo to the top, but intercepted with a chin kick. Another leaves Rambo prone on the top, Erkan goes up, and after a bit of a delay hits a big superplex, but only two. These two have gotten into a good rhythm now.

Erkan calling for a kick, but Rambo dodges again. Rambo going for a springboard crossbody but Erkan hits a kick to the head (I think, the angle was all wrong) and that’s enough for the 1, 2, 3 in just under nine minutes.

Winner: Mr Uppercut, with 15 in this match alone.

Verdict: Repetitive moves aside, the two guys grew into this one after a slightly dodgy opening few minutes.

A German language ad for GWF follows, and apparently Carlito was involved in this promotion at one stage. Tale of the Tape for the next contest. They both speak German throughout. I have no problem with them speaking German, but I do not, so all I can say is that both guys look like they are in good form. Spalter’s suspenders look nice.

Bad Bones vs Pascal Spalter (WCPW Pro-Wrestling World Cup Preliminary German Semi-Final #2)

Bad Bones I know of vaguely as a WXW guy for years, now a European journeyman. Spalter I know nothing about, but Bradshaw says he is some kind of German reality TV star. “What, Berlin Shore?” says Shane. Come back Matt Striker, please. Spalter grabs the mike to address the crowd and whatever he says gets them whipped up a bit. Bad Bones out with a metal bat. Shane takes a shot at a rival, when it is noted that Bones has wrestled for GFW/Impact “or whatever it is called this week”. What a, ahem, “defiant” statement to make. Lengthy entrances for this one, surprising seeing as how there are ten matches on the less than three hour show.

Lock-up, and Spalter throws Bones back. Lock-up and same again. Bones sent down with a series of shoulder blocks, and running the ropes is a little hard in a ring this compact. Bones back into it with chops and elevated strikes but then into a Scoop Slam. Nobody home on an elbow drop, and it was awkward as Bones dodged too early. Sliding clothesline gets two for Bones, then some slow-moving chains ends with an awkward crossbody from Spalter for two.

Another super-telegraphed rope-lowering from Bones sends Spalter out, and just before you think this is the worst kind of hoss fight Bones lays in a cool looking tope. Back in, Bones to the top, but caught off a top-rope-nothing into an overhead belly-to-belly for two. Looked great, these two have woken up. Rope choke from Spalter, corner chops, hard whip into the opposing corner and we have what is probably a badly needed rest-hold. Spalter maintains the advantage with an elbow, and has a standing pin attempt. Crowd not super happy about that, and we get what I think is a German curse word chant.

Dueling chops and Bones back with a flying crossbody. Corner charges, goes for a lawn dart but caught into a suplex, nice spot. German Suplex (is that just a Suplex here?) gets two. Another rest-hold. Really weird transition into Spalter just sitting on a seated position Bones, and man that looks awful. Bones set up on the top, but battles out of the superplex. Spalter off, and eats a missile drop-kick. Corner charges, now hits the Lawn Dart, but only two. Spalter counters a kick into a torture rack, Bones out and hits the kick, but only two again.

Bones runs into a knee and goes to the apron. Spalter grabs him and able to a hit a suplex over the rope, another good spot, but only two. Shane, who has been blathering on all match about superfluous nonsense, takes a shot at 5 Star Wrestling next, and their efforts to woo CM Punk, and man that kind of thing is not needed. Spalter going for an Olympic Slam, Bones out but then takes a big clothesline. Spalter with his own corner charge, powerslam, only two. Danger of this becoming big move/kick-out spam now.

Spalter can’t get Bones up, and the ref isn’t counting, so awkward pause here. Eventually gets him up for another Olympic Slam try, Bones out of it again, roll-up and that’ll be all in just under 14.

Winner: Bad Bones, who spent most of the match taking moves for some reason.

Verdict: Started not so great but the two grew into it to deliver a better class of hoss fight, though the finish was a bit too indie for its own good.

An ad for the upcoming USA qualifiers, that will include Jay Lethal vs Moose as the apparent stand-out. OK then.

Tale of the Tape, and we’re back to the German promos. Um, they both look up for it?

Da Mack vs Cem Kaplan (WCPW Pro-Wrestling World Cup Preliminary German Semi-Final #3)

Da Mack is unfortunately not The Mack of Lucha Underground and elsewhere, but instead is a WXW mainstay whose biggest claim to larger fame is being the first guy TJ Perkins knocked off on his way to winning the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016. Kaplan is a GWF guy I know nothing about. Mack with a big reception, and I agree with Shane that he appears to have some kind of Michael Jackson-gimmick.

Kaplan on top early with big forearms, then Mack back with strikes and chops. Bradshaw so into this he starts running down the card for the Japanese qualifiers. The two exchange strikes until Mack hits an over-the-top throw for two. Kaplan responds with a rest-hold, and it’s real early to be going for that. Mack out of it with a handstand escape, but Kaplan maintaining the advantage with three-point-stance charges. Crowd dead for all that. Mack into the Tree of Woe and takes a drop-kick to the chest. Nothing really special about this so far.

Kaplan cuts off a comeback with a suplex but getting nowhere with the pins. Mack with a Slingblade, and then with a top rope enziguri, move of the match so far, and gets two. Another enziguri, Shining Wizard, and an Ace Crusher after getting thrown out of a first attempt, and that’s it in just over six minutes.

Winner: Da Mack, and the show’s running time.

Verdict: Think this is shortest tournament match so far, so hard to rate. Nothing to really brag about.

Another ad for the USA qualifiers hypes Bobby Fish vs Davis Starr, and I’m excited to see one of those guys anyway.

Last Tale of the Tape, and both guys stuck on German. Lucky Kid is real smiley, Juvenile X is more serious.

Lucky Kid vs Juvenile X (WCPW Pro-Wrestling World Cup Preliminary German Semi-Final #4)

Kid is a WXW guy who has popped up here and there. Juvenile X has had his profile from Cagematch removed at his request, so it’s a big question mark from me. Lucky the crowd favourite.

X with the advantage early, laying in strikes and chops, but then takes a rana and a Cactus Clothesline, followed by a somersault tope. Kid follows up with a missile drop-kick for two, but X was clearly falling before contact. After taking a powder for a hot second, X takes over again. Body slam, elbow drop, two. Crowd gone completely dead with X’s offence, as we get our first rest-hold.

Juvenile with a drop-kick for two, knee-drop on the rope for two, double-underhook suplex for two. Very pedestrian feel to this one now. The commentators are clearly bored, and start with the kayfabe bickering and it is insufferable. Brief Lucky rallies are shut down for the moment. Uppercuts, suplex, stomps. Kid back with an enziguri, drop-kick, some running kicks to the corner, then a handspring back elbow. Finally some life back in what was a dud so far. X back with some knee strikes and a nice neckbreaker for two.

X looking for a running knee, Kid dodges, some counter chains and then Lucky rolls into a jumping DDT for two, nice sequence. Kid with a Full Nelson, but X out, and counters a Tilt-A-Whirl into a running powerslam. X to the top, but nobody home on a headbutt. Lucky Kid hits a Dragon Suplex with a bridge, and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in around nine and a half.

Winner: Lucky Kid, lucky because he can get the crowd going with fairly basic offence.

Verdict: Very forgettable, didn’t have a great sense of pace to it at all.

This means that your main event tonight will be Da Mack vs Lucky Kid for a place in the finals.

US Qualifiers promo. Ricochet will battle Matt Sydal. I’m down. Next up, tag team action.

Toni Harting and Ronaldo Shaqiri vs The Hunter Brothers (Jim and Lee)

Shaqiri and Harting are GWF guys, the Hunter’s are journeymen with a few appearances with WCPW. This seems like a real thrown together pairing. Lee and Shaqiri to start, crowd firmly behind the more local team. Dueling ranas early on, in comes Harting and Jim. Harting sends Jim down with a shoulder charge, but then Jim “dodges” what looks like a totally useless flip. Harting and Shaqiri with some double-team offence to Jim puts them firmly in control.

Harting floors Jim Hunter with a running knee, but eats a springboard back elbow shortly afterwards. That allows Lee in, and now the Hunter’s get some double teaming in, with lots of rapid tags and rope-assisted somersault sentons. Harting with a nice flip escape from stereo clotheslines gets Shaqiri in to clear house. He hits some big palm strikes, hip-attacks, and Harting joins in with a spinebuster. Local faces in total control and just tossing the heels (?) around with double-team powerbombs. Hunter’s to the outside, Harting looking for a tope but grabs the rope as the Hunter’s dodge. Shaqiri gets to land the tope instead. One Hunter gets a Buckle Bomb and then a spear, and that looks like the end but the other Hunter breaks it up. “This is awesome” from the crowd, but I’m not convinced.

Back to actual tag rules with Harting taking a big Tornado DDT. Shaqiri just comes in without a tag and the ref isn’t interested in that. Shaqiri gets ambushed after a blind tag, Harting takes a very awkward looking Frankensteiner, splash off the top and that’s enough in just under seven minutes.

Winners: The Hunter Brothers, who seem like they want to be perceived as the new Young Bucks but are way off that level. “One of the best tag teams anywhere…on the indie wrestling scene” adds Bradshaw helpfully.

Verdict: Really forgettable tag match – too short, no sense of pacing. Had a bathroom break feel. Come to think of it, Alex Shane was absent from commentary and all.

Completely unneeded show of respect afterwards, with handshakes, joint arm raising and hugs. It was a nothing tag guys.

Ad for the final rounds of the World Cup, which will take place three shows later in August, in the glamorous surrounds of Milton Keyes, Manchester and Newcastle. Hmm. Time for our first of two title matches.

Gabriel Kidd (c) vs Joe Coffey (WCPW Internet Championship)

Coffey, when not busy harassing women, has recently taken up the “Iron King” sobriquet. No context to this one really, other than “The Prestige want another title”. I doubt it tonight, Kidd is still the rising star.

Feeling each other out for a bit. Coffey’s strength gives him the early advantage in lock-ups. Headlock chains, dueling chops and Kidd’s look dreadful. Dueling forearms for a bit and Coffey floors Kidd with a shoulder block, but soon after takes an impressive enough belly-to-belly. Coffey takes Kidd down with a toe-hold and then drags him out of the ring for some crowd brawling, yay.

Crowd are happy anyway, but then Coffey gets back in the ring and lets the ref count, which makes no sense since you can’t win a title that way. After a sec this seems to come to Coffey’s attention and we’re back out for more crowd brawling. Back in soon enough, thank God, and Coffey in full control now. Shots in the corner, running boot to the corner, but only one. Really bad whiffed chop from Coffey shortly afterwards that the camera couldn’t have caught more perfectly. Kidd coming back into it with his own strikes and kicks, then a really awkward headbutt charge that was real “didn’t get all of it” territory. Coffey nails a drop-kick and takes over again with a Cobra Clutch.

Eventually both back to their feet, and Kidd shrugs off a German attempt, to the disappointment of the crowd. Airplane Swing from Coffey, then a half-Boston, and the crowd has turned on Kidd for whatever reason, chanting “Tap, tap, tap”. Kidd to the ropes. Trying to rally back with chops but Coffey no-selling. Dueling chops, strikes and Coffey hits a headbutt. Kidd not really at the races tonight, his offence looks lame. The dueling chops continue for way too long, and I think I hear a “boring” chant. Dueling clotheslines, and now Coffey lands the German. Kidd practically no-sells, hops up and hits a DDT. Both down.

Kidd takes over when they are back up, hits a back body-drop, then a Helluva Kick, then to the top for a missile drop-kick, but only two off that sequence. Coffey hits a shotgun drop-kick, corner clothesline, then a springboard cross-body for two, great sequence. Coffey lining up for the Black Coffey, Kidd ducks, hits a Kamikaze Crash, then a top-rope moonsault for a near fall. Both back up way too fast, Kidd hits a Claymore-like kick as Coffey tries to land his finisher, and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in just under 14-and-a-half.

Winner (and still WCPW Internet Champion): A very lethargic Gabriel Kidd

Verdict: It was OK, house show feel. Looked like the ending might have been botched a bit, I think Kidd was meant to get the pin off the moonsault but the ref wasn’t clued in.

Adam Blampied has some good news and bad news. The bad news is that he was caught, the good news is that he is sorry. Wait, no. Cody Rhodes is out of the World Cup, presumably busy with All Out plans, and is being replaced by Keith Lee. Better outcome, honestly.

Joe Hendry (c) vs Primate (WCPW World Championship)

No context offered for this one either, and weirdly there will be a non-title singles match after this before the tournament preliminary finals. Hendry booed fairly heavily. Gets on the mike, because of course. More shushing, because WCPW haven’t figured out that’s X-Pac heat generating yet. “Who are you?” chants, brilliant. Hendry threatens the louder members of the crowd, to no effect. Hendry complains about the matches he’s being forced to participate in, as it’s putting his beautiful face in danger, so this will be a strictly by-the-books wrestling match. Shout-out to a Scottish stag party in the crowd that’s cheering for Hendry, that Hendry, of course, runs down. Implies the future wife prefers Joe. A little rambling, but it was OK. Gets a loud “Joe Hendry’s a wanker” chant in response. Out comes Primate, who is the inaugural WCPW Hardcore Champion, as if the promotion needed such a belt. Why is he getting a World Title shot? Who knows.

Hendry takes his time getting in the ring, and tries a sneaky belt shot before the bell. Primate having none of that, and lands a big overhead suplex before we head straight to the outside. Brawling, and Primate gives Hendry a kiss on the forehead, or maybe it was a bite. Over to the merch table, and rest assured that the ref isn’t bothering to count. Back to ringside, where Primate silences the crowd so he can deliver a not-very-loud chop. Primate grabs a chair and and gives Hendry a neck shot with it. No call for a bell, so this is a Hardcore match now?

Primate sits Hendry in the chair and gives him a lame looking drop-kick that lacks contact. Bradshaw explains, only now, that the bell was never rung so the match still hasn’t technically started, which is dumb. Primate looking to throw Hendry into the audience, but Hendry escapes with an eye-poke. Primate sent into the chairs instead. Beatdown, into the barricades, and again. Commentary is bickering once more, usually a sign for how dull the action is. On the way back to the ring Hendry nearly walks into a fan whose gotten a bit too close to the ring, which is a bad sign for how little security there is here. Fighting up the ramp, Primate tries for a Piledriver, but gets back body-dropped instead.

“Action” goes into the crowd for more brawling, and this is really slow now. Shane calls critics of Hendry “dumb marks”, and it’s like WCW circa 1998. Fighting around the bar area, and Hendry thrown over the top of it. Hendry throws a glass of water at Primate, to predictably little effect. Primate dragging Hendry back to the ring and we are shown the awkward sight of security having to escort a load of fans back to their seats. The bell officially rings to “start” us, as Hendry hits a DDT for two. With the second actual wrestling move, Hendry decides the time is right for a rest-hold. Elbow smash for two after that.

Bradshaw and Shane continue to bicker, and I’ll break from the action to talk a bit more on that: when you have your announcers doing this kind of thing, it’s because you have no confidence in the actual product to entertain, or to get across what needs to get across. I can see that Hendry is the heel, he ran down the crowd beforehand for god’s sake. I don’t need Alex Shane harping on about how great Hendry is, against all sense, to get him over. This goes back to my thoughts on “heel” commentators in general, that in the modern age there is really only so much you can stand of a doofus on commentary like Corey Graves acting like Baron Corbin is a saint. You want the McGuinness-level: an appreciation of slyness and cunning, but a willingness to accept that certain characters are villains, and that they go too far in pursuit of their goals.

Primate lands a big spinebuster, Hendry hides behind the ref, and Primate gives the man in black an accidental spear. Hendry with the low-blow, belt shot but no-one to count the pin, but of course. Primate, suddenly no-selling the belt shot, locks in a rear-choke and after they go to the floor Hendry taps. The ref calls for the bell in around four and a half officially, but really more like 13 and a half. Psych! It’s a DQ for the belt shot I think?

Winner (by DQ): Primate, but Hendry, of course, retains. Stupid ending. Here’s a way to make Hendry: less stupid commentary and more actual wins, even if he cheats.

Verdict: Poor stuff. Loads of dull crowd brawling and an over-booked finish. Hendry remains one of the most over-rated figures I’ve seen in this tournament series.

I’m already in a bad mood after that, and here’s Blampied to make it worse. He outlines the US bracket, because we need to do that again. In fairness there are a load of huge indie names in there, so I am looking forward to that show. “Are you ready for the next one!?” asks the GWF ring announcer. I suppose mate.

Alex Gracie vs Kenny Williams

No context for this, which could be this show’s tagline. Gracie recently broke-up the tag team Prospect that featured in the English Qualifier show, but is facing Williams tonight because…I dunno. Gracie gets “Who are you” chants from the crowd, so they don’t know either. We only have around 40 or so minutes left for this match, and the two preliminary finals, so I suspect this will be short.

Lock-up, chains, Williams thrown over the rope but skins the cat. Back with running forearms, misses a springboard, to the outside, and avoids the ambush when Gracie goes back in. Williams hits a Lawn Dart, but gets dropped on the ropes when he goes for a suplex from the apron. Gracie with a corner spear, then a corner splash, taunting the crowd a bit but the Germans are not super into this one. Williams back with a roll-up for two, then walks into a swinging neckbreaker.  Williams rolling back and forth across the ring to avoid Gracie in what I think is supposed to be a comedy skit, but man it is not landing. Williams hits a springboard elbow, wrecking ball drop-kick, then a tope. Nice, but what is the point of this match?

Williams with a big elbow from the top to a standing Gracie, but only two. Looks for a Tornado DDT but Gracie out of it to hit a Full Nelson Slam for two. Gracie looking for the “Fall From Gracie”, ie an Unprettier, but Williams out and nails a clothesline. Williams with another roll-up for two, and practically launches himself into the corner when Gracie “kicks out”. Gracie now hits the Fall From Gracie, ie the Pulp Friction, and that’s actually it in just under seven-and-a-half.

Winner: Alex Gracie. This kid has a future…as a little-known journeyman

Verdict: Forgettable stuff. Given Williams’ profile the result is a little surprising, but shrug.

An ad for What Culture Extra and we’re back for the preliminary finals. And, for no announced reason,  the winners of the last two semis are going first, meaning that Bones vs Erkan will be the main event.

Da Mack vs Lucky Kid (WCPW Pro-Wrestling World Cup Preliminary German Final #1)

Man Lucky Kid’s entrance music is loud. Some slow chains to start, dueling roll-ups, running chains and Mack nails a Slingblade. Kid dodges a springboard crossbody, then hits a somersault tope, to a big crowd reaction. Back in, only gets two. More chains, Kid, hits a rana, then Mack back with some kicks and an unphenomenal forearm. Follows up with a slightly less awesome snap suplex for a pin, weird choice. Rest-hold!

After a minute or so Kid comes rally back for a bit, but Mack lays in some chops to maintain the advantage. Corner charge for two. Neat corner pinning predicament for two. Then Kid back in with a shotgun drop-kick and charges. Mack with a jumping knee, Kid with a handspring elbow. Nice back-and-forth to this now. Mack with a PK after some brief Kid offence. Mack goes for some kind of fireman’s carry into a cutter, but countered into a jumping reverse DDT, neat.

Kid looking for his Full Nelson finisher but Mack out. Mack hits an awkward rana, then a springboard somersault, that Shane stupidly calls “a corkscrew.” Kid up way too quick, and his suplex attempt gets reversed into a Falcon Arrow of sorts, but only two. Mack looking for that fireman’s carry cutter again, but Kid out. Both men to the top, Mack shoved off but back up quick with an open-hand strike, then a Frankensteiner for two. A little over-booked that sequence. “This is awesome” chants all the same.

Mack misses a corner charge, a countering sequence, Kid hits his Dragon Suplex finisher OUTTANOWHERE (Shane even says this), and that’s it in just under nine-and-a-half.

Winner (and advancing to the Finals): Lucky Kid, proving that the Michael Jackson gimmick has seen its apogee.

Verdict: It was alright. Went a bit too quick to the indie back-and-forth I suppose.

Lucky Kid’s tag team partner shows up to applaud him. OK then.

An ad for Grandslam Wrestling follows. They feature Bobby Lashley, Carlito, Drago and Moose. Three of those guys are going on to better things. Onto the main event.

Bad Bones vs Cash Money Erkan (WCPW Pro-Wrestling World Cup Preliminary Final #2)

I’m just noticing that Erkan’s theme music appears to just be his name said over and over again, and even for a promotion like this, that is weak. These two are getting about 15 or so minutes. Erkan attacks before the bell, and away we go.

Uppercut (1), but Bones with a back body-drop and a Cactus Clothesline to take the advantage. Bones adds a tope, impressive given his size, and even more impressive when he does it again, knocking Erkan into the ringside chairs. Back in, Bones to the top but sent out with an uppercut (2). Sidewalk Slam (that Shane calls a “side suplex”) onto the apron, then a snap suplex. Ringside brawling, and Erkan waits patiently for Bones to give a drop-kick into the chairs. Looked rather dumb.

Back in, or kind of: Erkan actually struggles to get into the ring in a funny moment. Bones to the top but Erkan intercepts with a drop-kick. Erkan hits a big superplex, crawls to the cover, and gets two. Uppercut (3), another (4), another (5) while Bones hits back with strikes and kicks. Dueling corner charges gives Erkan the chance to hit another uppercut (6), then another (7), then another (8). Bones breaks the stalemate with a German, but Erkan no-sells and responds with…an uppercut (9). Bones’ turn to no-sell, and hits a superkick. Both men down.

Bones with a Small Package for two, shotgun drop-kick for two. Erkan strikes back with a Death Valley Driver OUTTANOWHERE for two. Erkan follows-up with a Pumphandle Slam, but only two again. Bones to the top again, and third time is not the charm as his top-rope nothing gets met with a superkick. Bones rolls to the outside, but gets back in at a count of 9. Crowd big behind him. Erkan tries to the pumphandle again but Bones out of it. To the top, and it is the fourth time lucky as Bones hits the Lung Blower and gets the 1, 2, 3 in just about nine-and-a-half.

Winner (and progressing to the Finals): Bad Bones, who again spent 90% of the match taking moves.

Verdict: Surprisingly short, and almost a squash with the wrong ending.

Bones celebrates with the crowd, going so far as to dive into them. That brings the show to an end.

Best Match: Not a lot of choices to pick from here, but I’ll go with the opener, Rambo and Erkan, as the best that the show had to offer.

Best Wrestler: Also hard to call. I think Lucky Kid looked decent in both of his matches  suppose.

Worst Match: The tag felt like it was thrown in as a last-minute addition to the card, and no-one looked all that great in it.

Worst Wrestler: You know what, I’ll say it again: Joe Hendry ain’t all that, relative to his position on the card.

Overall Verdict: A struggle, this one, plain and simple. Probably the worst of the World Cup shows so far.

Next up when we get back to this tournament, some heavier hitters in the Japanese qualifiers.

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


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Review: The Trial Of The Chicago 7

The Trial Of The Chicago 7


Really should be called Chicago 8

Say the words “Aaron Sorkin” and “courtroom drama” and “new” to me, and you have a recipe for seeing an excited movie fan. A Few Good Men remains one of my favourite films ever, a movie that captured exactly the drama that can take place within the walls of the justice system, aided in the effort by one of the best scripts of the modern era, and I mean that sincerely. Sorkin has done a lot since then, good and bad, but there was no way I was going to ever have anything less than high expectations for The Trial Of The Chicago 7, hereafter shortened to The Trial…

But more than any of that, this seemed like a good basis for a story to tell, here in late October 2020. The United States of America is currently undergoing a crisis of varied hues, but among the most important is a popular protest movement that has seen enough, whether it is the blatant discrimination against minorities, the continued denial of protection from sexual harassment and violence for women or the disgraceful politics of the Republican Party. Looking back to the events of 1968, a time when so many commentators have said that they feared the United States was close to fragmenting, is certainly apropos right now. Sorkin thus had a big responsibility: to meet expectations, tell a story that does justice to the men being portrayed, and that can also serve as a rallying cry for those on the streets today. Did The Trial… pull that off, or is Sorkin too far gone into a certain kind of career nadir?

In the aftermath of the 1968 Democratic Convention riots, eight men are put on trial by the Nixon-controlled state for a conspiracy to cause violence at the event: they include Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) of the Students for a Democratic Society; Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) of the Youth International Party; nonviolent activist David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) and Black Panther Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Defended by civil rights lawyer William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), prosecuted by up-and-coming Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and facing the prejudicial rulings of Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), the eight battle internal divisions and external discrimination in a bid to win their freedom and a harsher spotlight on the ongoing Vietnam War.

The Trial… is very much a mixed bag. It is certainly not up to the level of Sorkin’s best effors, and it is not a patch on A Few Good Men. I’ll get into why exactly below, but there are many reasons to recommend The Trial… at the same time, not least its blatantly obvious resonance with the modern-day situation in America. In essence, The Trial… is a film that I think fails in terms of being an entertaining depiction of a judicial crisis, but which succeeds as allusion and as a thematic piece. Finding the balance between those two things would appear to be the tricky part.

Let’s go to the first point. The Trial… lacks the zip of A Few Good Men, that sense of purpose, of sublime script flow, that so marked that film out as one of the most quotable of the 90s (and I don’t just mean “You can’t handle the truth!”). I think this comes down to the film’s general aimlessness in some ways, a practically inevitable state of affairs when one takes a look at that plot description above. A Few Good Men was about two Marines accused of murder, the man trying to defend them and a possible cover-up of the crime. The Trial… is about four distinct individuals/groups being accused of a crime, and undergoing a politically motivated trial, with its own little sub-dramas involving prosecuting attorneys, defence attorneys and an extraordinarily biased judge. Mix in significant flashback sections, the defendants all being at odds with each other in different ways and an historical basis that does not easily conform to narrative necessity, and you have yourself a recipe for a mess.

So there’s Tom Hayden, conflicted between his disrespect for the larger system and his respect for the court; the Yippies caught between a deadly serious inner motivation and an outward show of comical contempt for authority; the conscientious objector seeing everything that he stands for challenged; the Black Panther whose treatment turns the entire affair into a major point in racial history in America, and who disappears from the film at the half-way point, and all of the lawyers and judges as well. There’s no clear protagonist, with Hayden fitting the bill the most; none of the cast, though excellently curated, are able to really grab the spotlight properly, with Cohen perhaps getting the best of his lot, capturing very well the inherent abnormality of Abbie Hoffman’s life in this clownish agitator.

A better film would perhaps have focused in an just one of the eight – and it is eight, whatever about the title – like Hoffman for example, and made this mostly his story with the others as supporting characters. Or maybe Hayden if you are so inclined, though Redmayne I feel isn’t as magnetic in the part as he has the ability to be. But instead, in trying to give a bit of time to everyone, Sorkin muddies the waters fairly significantly. This is especially notable given the very lengthy development time that The Trial… had – apparently Sorkin has been evolving this project since 2006 – so you would expect the script to be polished to a sheen, instead of the clunky thing it has come out as in the end product.

The flashbacks sequences focusing on the Grant Park clash are brilliantly done.

There are a number of great scenes and great set-pieces scattered throughout The Trial…, including but not limited to anytime Frank Langella’s pathetically hypocritical judge opens his mouth (a moment where Seale is literally bound and gagged in the courtroom is a perverse, powerful scene, the very epitome of Nixon America trying to, as one character says early, put “manners” on their opponents); the flashbacks to the Chicago riot during the convention, told effectively from the viewpoints of both participants and undercover cops; a third act debate between Hayden and Hoffman over the divide between seeking cultural revolution and left-wing electoral success; Michael Keaton’s extended cameo as the LBJ Attorney General whose testimony proves that the trail is a political weapon (before the judge buries it); and the film’s final scene, wherein the higher point of the whole exercise, the wasteful shedding of blood in Vietnam, is brought back front and centre in an apocryphal, but challenging, set-piece.

It is a pity then, that Sorkin is unable to tie them all together properly, with too much chaff separating the wheat: too many scenes of little point or consequence, whether it is Rubin’s infatuation with the undercover cop beside him during the riots, or the entire contribution to the production of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s prosecutor, which was the kind of thing that seemed silly in its execution and was imminently cutable. I wanted The Trial… to come together better than it did in that narrative standpoint, but there was simply too much there, even for a 130 minute running time: perhaps I should rename my film review section to “Better As A TV Show”, because that descriptor applies here.

I want to leave my thoughts on the modern relevance of The Trial… to the conclusion, so will move instead to the technical details. It’s a good looking production for the most part, with the drab glumness of the interior court setting contrasting sharply with the varied array of defendants. The cutting back-and-forth between that arena and the events of the 68 convention is done rather well, and those portions of the film focused on the riots are actually pretty well executed in their own right, capturing something of the chaotic melee that they became, where it becomes legitimately hard to know who was responsible and for what at any given time. Grant Park was an actual shooting location, which helps. Some of this stuff is inter-cut with additional material, like Abbie Hoffman regaling people at what is almost an open-mic night.

Aside from all that, this is an actor’s show-piece as Aaron Sorkin productions tend to be. It’s people dominating the frame, whether they are judges or defendants or lookers-on, and Sorkin keeps his camera locked-and-steady so they can deliver their dialogue without much in the way of cinematographers distraction. That dialogue itself is fine, just too dry and overly-lengthy, better suited for a stage production than something of this medium. The dramatic speeches and the terse back-and-forth is captured well enough, quick and quippy, but has that air of unreality in the way that it is faultlessly delivered (only the villains of the piece ever really stumble over their words). Moments of silence are a bit better, like when the varied personalities stand quiet to watch the names of the Vietnam fallen being listed on TV, or when they collectively – bar one – refuse to stand when Judge Hoffman leaves the chamber. From a musical perspective, Sorkin largely refrains from the easy route of having this period piece garlanded with music of the time, with a fairly under-stated score from Daniel Pemberton as an accompaniment. More notable on the auditory level is Celeste’s “Hear My Voice” that plays over the conclusion, one of the year’s better original songs from film.

Regardless of anything else, The Trial… is a film that simply must be viewed through a lens of the modern political environment in the United States. The comparisons are many, and all apt: a government run by an unashamed criminal; the dominant party of government being a cesspit of hypocrisy, corruption and hateful ideology; opponents of the regime painted as anarchist malcontents; dissent being painted as treason; a racist, biased and unjust justice system; political policing; violence against minorities; ongoing unworthy military operations; and a sense, undeniable, that “the system” is not only not fit for purpose, but must be torn down if any progress is to be made.

The Trial… then can only be viewed as an unashamed, loud-and-proud propaganda piece, one that seeks to draw the eye of those going to the polls in a few weeks to a very similar time in American history. Hindsight provides some very potent imagery: the administration that sought to make an example of the Chicago 8 was one that was mired in disgrace just a few years later, and is now considered one of the worst administrations in the history of the United States. The war they prosecuted is now America’s unadulterated shame. Nixon, his Republican allies, and those denizens of the system like Judge Hoffman who propped it all up, were very much on the wrong side of history, just as Trump, his Republican toadies and the same flawed judiciary will inevitably also be on the wrong side of history. You know it, I know it, they know it in their heart of hearts, we all know it. For that reason, despite its many flaws, I do find myself thinking that The Trial… is the perfect film for this month, ahead of the left’s efforts to get American back on the correct track in a few weeks. It is a rallying cry in the very best ways, asking us to remember the worst of the past so we can change course in the present. As is said over and over again, by crowds and individuals, “The whole world is watching”.

So, The Trial… is that mixed bag: a film that plays a little fast-and-loose with the historical record, that has too many protagonists for its own good, that lacks some of the drive and urgency of other films from the same writer/director. Judging it purely on its own merits, I would say that it is an interesting, yet flawed piece, one worth watching for a few of the performances and set-pieces, but not really all that impactful otherwise. But as a film of October 2020, at another one of those crossroads of the human experience in the modern age, it is not only interesting, but vital. Its clarion call of refusing to prop up a broken system, and refusing to surrender to that broken system, is one that comes at the perfect time, when the same Republican Party, that has repeatedly shown itself as totally irredeemable in the last four years, is hopefully brought to account for its many shameful failures. One shout depicted in the film keeps coming back to my mind, and it is one that I feel is the perfect slogan, to describe not only this battle, but the willingness of those climbing it to keep going, no matter the opposition. To the voters of America, and to all of those on the left who will never willingly submit to what the right has attempted to do there and elsewhere, I say only this: Take the hill. Recommended.

The whole world is watching.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Castleisland Ambush

We are now on the verge of the War of Independence’s conclusion. The events we discuss today took place literally hours before the truce, that I will discuss next week, came into effect. It is evidence of the ferocity of the war in certain parts of the country, that even though that truce was about to become manifest, that fighting between the IRA and the Crown Forces continued. In some ways this came from a practical standpoint: a truce was not inherently an actual end to the war, just a pause, and many people in the various levels of the republican movement fully believed that it was only going to be a temporary thing. Thus, it made perfect sense to keep fighting the enemy until the figurative eleventh hour, since you were only going to end up fighting him again. But there were other reasons too, like the desire to get one last hit in on a despised enemy before you were no longer allowed to. Practicality or emotion: it would have to be a substantial motivation to get young men to risk dying just as the guns were about to be lowered.

This particular ambush, or “shootout” as it has been colourfully described, takes us back to County Kerry, to the small town of Castleisland, around ten km’s east of Tralee. The town was in the region of the Kerry No. 2 Brigade, and had seen its fair share of military activity during the war already, but was of a fairly mixed reputation: GHQ had sent organisers to the region who encountered problems related to the spread of IRB influence, with membership of the local brotherhood practically a requirement if you wanted to have any chance of creating real change. A flying column for the larger brigade had been created though.

Castleisland itself had a degree of strategic importance, straddling the main road that connected the county to the nearest major urban centre of Limerick and on to Dublin. As such, it was manned by both RIC and a detachment of the British military. In the dying days of the conflict the town had already seen violence, with one RIC men killed on the 9th May after being shot while he was returning home from mass, with a colleague wounded; later in the month a Volunteer was killed near the the town when Crown Forces discovered an ambush before it could be properly enacted. In June, the IRA took the somewhat unique step of burning down Castleisland’s local library, on account of it potentially being used as a makeshift barracks/position for Crown Forces.

So, the area around Castleialand was an active one in the summer of 1921, though it is still questionable why operations were taking place as late as they were. Regardless the local IRA leadership, with Brigade OC Humphrey Murphy the leading light, decided to press ahead with multiple attacks on the 10th July, in the full knowledge that they would have to adhere to a ceasefire on the 11th. Some of these attacks, on barracks’ in the area, had been in the works for weeks, but the Castleisland ambush appears to have been more of a thrown together affair. As it was, it was the only attack that night that would have fatal consequences, for the Irish or the British.

The target was a routine patrol of British military, that was known to march from the Castleisland barracks at the western end of the town in a so-called “curfew patrol” at the end of the day, going up to the top of the Main Street and then back again. The patrol consisted of around 15 to 20 men, and had become far too regular in its operation: as noted before, repeatedly, this was a consistent flaw in British counter-insurgency. The IRA planned to take up positions at several points along Main Street, in laneways leading off of it, and in the charred ruins of the previously torched library: Murphy himself was there.

That evening, the British – a patrol of the 2nd North Lancashire Regiment – left the barracks at the usual time and maintained the same basic route as they had been taking. They were past the ruins of the library, up at the east end of town, when the IRA opened fire from their positions. The town was not large and so it became immediately apparent to other soldiers in the barracks what was happening, and they had soon mobilised to support their comrades. The IRA in other positions were thus focusing fire on the initial target, while also trying to keep a relief force at bay. From the off then, the Volunteer position was difficult.

The British military were able to fight their way through the ambush positions and make it back to the barracks, though they took casualties in doing so. The IRA would probably have been better off withdrawing at that point, but choose to instead maintain fire on the barracks, with a section of the military returning fire from that position. Unbeknownst to the IRA, the British Army were not just going to hunker down in the barracks, choosing instead to leave it by the back door, and then advance up the either side of the town to attack the IRA in position near St Stephen’s Church and on the other side of the town from the rear.

From being in a position where they were enacting an ambush, the IRA now found itself fighting a desperate rearguard action. For a time they held their own: the positions west of Main Street were able to withdraw to the north under fire, and then attempted to cover their comrades to the east. But the eastern positions were more hard-pressed, with the British attackers bringing machine guns into the fight on their side: in the process of withdrawing the IRA took several casualties. The British were aided by the effective leadership of a Lt John Sheridan, who had half of his relief party pinning down the Volunteers who had positioned themselves in the churchyard, and the other half waiting to attack further when the IRA moved to withdraw. When the IRA were able to extricate themselves from the situation, they dispersed into the night. Five of the ambushing party had been killed, most of them in the churchyard in the dying moments of the affair. In exchange, for British soldiers had been killed.

From a purely tactical perspective, the ambush can only be viewed as a disaster for the IRA. They had failed to adequately account for the likelihood of additional forces coming from the barracks, or of the possibility of the same forces coming at them from behind. When the initial section of the ambush had come to an end the decision should have been taken to withdraw, but instead the IRA stayed where they were, and thus became vulnerable to counter-attack. For their part, the British should have been more cautious when it came to their curfew patrols, but performed admirably once the shooting started, with the patrol able to withdraw under fire, and the soldiers then able to decisively turn the tables on their opponents. From a larger perspective, the point of the ambush seems questionable especially in relation to the casualties incurred: the IRA were not fighting a war where four enemy dead was worth five Volunteers dead, especially with a truce about to come into being.

The entire affair provoked a mixture of unease and outrage from both sides of the divide. Local members of the IRA questioned both the need for the attack and elements of execution, which were sloppy: giving one final pre-truce blow to the British in such a manner must have seemed an inadequate goal given the loss of Volunteers that it involved. One Volunteer, whose brother was killed at Castleisland, dubbed the affair “a complete fiasco”, and much specific criticism was leveled at Humphrey Murphy. The British were aghast at the size of the ambush and the vigour in which it was pursued, at least in terms of casualties, given the imminence of the truce, but perhaps should have saved some of their criticism for their own soldiers, who may have relaxed their guard a bit too much in the hours before the truce.

One year to the day after the Castleisland attack, the anniversary was marked by a major military gathering, consisting of potentially up to a thousand Volunteers, Fianna and Cumann na mBan, who marched to the graves of the fallen. There, they heard incendiary speeches on the topic of fighting to the east, that was soon to be on their own doorstep. The Irish Civil War had already begun at that stage, and the example of Castleisland was used by anti-Treaty elements in Kerry as a recruiting tool. It was a far cry from the apparent unity that has been in place twelve months previously. The road to that Civil War began with the truce, and it is that truce that I will cover next week.

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

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NFB Watches Wrestling #24: TNA Genesis 2009

Back to the land of Impact! It’s the 11th January 2009 and we’re in the terribly named Bojangles Coliseum of Charlotte, North Carolina for TNA Genesis! Your main event tonight: Booker T, Kevin Nash and Scott Steiner of the Main Event Mafia take on the “Front Line” of A.J. Styles, Mick Foley and Brother Devon!

Who’s ready for some LOLTNA? Well, we are far removed from that first, mostly disastrous, PPV and the TNA of early 2009 had a very different look, but still has plenty of elements tailor-made to create nonsense. Not least of those is Vince “ISWEARTOGAWD” Russo as one of the main writers, the domination of a heel faction of old-school wrestlers over focusing on newer younger talent, Jim Cornette as an authority figure and the unmistakable feeling in booking decisions that we are slowly headed towards the dark days of TNA being WCW 2.0. Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff’s ascension to basically running this company is less than a year away folks!

“Cross the Line” splash video that features Kurt Angle roaring like a T-Rex, and we’re into our opening package. The Main Event Mafia has been beating up all of the young faces, and Mick Foley. Oh and Jeff Jarrett. The MEM are part nWo, part Millionaires Club, part Evolution, and mostly suck too. The only other thing of note from this opening is that, minus Heyman, Rhino is the one shouting “GORE, GORE GORRRREEE” now.

Don “You selfish prick” West and Mike “What is XXX doing in the Impact Zone!?” Tenay on commentary. They ponder who will win in the war between the MEM and the “Front Line”, and jokes on them because the guys running the show in a few months will make that question irrelevant. Straight into our opening match.

Jimmy Rave, Kiyoshi and Sonjay Dutt vs Eric Young and the Latin American Exchange (Homicide and Hernandez) (Elimination Match)

This is an “unannounced match” so no need for a crowd warm-up dark contest tonight. This is Dutt’s last TNA PPV appearance I think, another in a long line of great talents wasted by this company. Rave, in the midst of a self-admitted battle with drug addiction at this time, out with a Guitar Hero guitar, because he’s just plain wacky. Tenay decides Eric Young’s entrance is the perfect time to announce that Christy Hemme was legit injured earlier in the week and so her Knockouts Championship match with Awesome Kong will not take place later. LOLTNA (1). He doesn’t offer a prognosis on Hemme, who would end up being out for seven months, instead outlining the details of the women’s match later, and it is a doozy.

Nice to see Eric Young in a time when he wasn’t just dumped to the sidelines by his employer. Tenay, riding high on irrelevant chatter, decides LAX’s entrance is the time to announce that “War Machine” Rhino hasn’t turned up yet, with a title match against Sting later now in doubt. Next time baby?

Dutt and Homicide to start. Dutt floored earlier with a big right. Young and Rave in. Young playing to the crowd like the lovable face he was always better at being. Wrist-lock chains, “Let’s go Eric” chants, jumping chains, and Young with a flying tackle takes Rave down. Tag to Hernandez, who gives Kyoshi a huge springboard shoulder, then back body-drops him to boot. Hernandez sporting a really bad looking mustache here. Who cares, as he flings Kyoshi onto his face with a release German. Nice start to this one.

Tag to Homicide, and he hits a Catapult/Clothesline combination, then a backbreaker/backslider combo, but only two. Kyoshi with an awkward flapjack into the corner that fails to get Homicide the required distance. Spinning heel kick and in comes Dutt. An inexplicable break from the decent action to watch Cornette pound on the MEM locker room door, and let the WWE pre-shows do that, not the actual PPV. LOLTNA (2). In the actual match, Homicide works over Dutt, hitting a double underhook powerbomb. Homicide to the top, but nobody home on a splash.

Kyoshi in for a rope choke, then a double drop-kick from his partners. Seated clothesline for two. Awkward snapmare where Kyoshi seems to let go of Homicide midmove. Homicide now firmly the face-in-peril as he gets worked over by Rave, to boos. Dutt in, Scoop Slam, apron drop, two count. Kyoshi in, another Scoop, then a big kick to Hernandez on the apron. That’s enough for Young to get the tag, and he clears house with some nice jumps, slides and a neat belly-to-back on Rave for two. Dumps Kyoshi out before getting an uranage on the apron from Rave, then Homicide OUTTANOWHERE with a Tope to those three, then Dutt with a somersault senton. Hernandez calling for something big, and flings himself out on the other five with a huge Superman plancha, years before Roman Reigns perfected it.

EY back in for a two count on Rave. Going for a Death Valley Driver, Dutt leaps over him to clumsily fall into Hernandez, now that looked ugly. Young hits the Driver, but Dutt breaks up the pin. Homicide with a swinging neckbreaker to Dutt, then eats a buzzsaw from Kyoshi, then Kyoshi gets floored by a Young clothesline, then Young hit by a swinging neckbreaker from Rave, then Rave eats an uranage from Hernandez, then Hernandez takes a missile drop-kick from the guru. I do love when tags do that kind of thing, and this was a great example. Lest you get too hyped for this match, we cut again to Jim Cornette hammering on the MEM door, and that’s going to be a LOLTNA (3).

In the ring, Young gets two off a second rope elbow drop on Rave. Dutt with the blind tag, dodges a corner charge, Pele Kick, lawn-dart splash, rope assisted pin and Young is out of here. Homicide in, Gringo Cutter but Dutt out of the Gringo Killer. Rave in, the two countering back and forth, and Rave gets the pin on a roll-up, to boos. Hernandez left all on his own, but floors everyone, with a big pounce to Rave. Dutt tries for a sunset flip, nothing doing, and Hernandez tosses him across the ring.  Border Toss to Kyoshi and he’s pinned. Dutt caught on a crossbody, sit-out powerbomb and he’s gone. I don’t fancy Rave’s chances. Hernandez and he go to the top, Hernandez throws him off, lands a splash and that’s the final 1, 2, 3 in just under 14 minutes.

Winners: The Young Latin American Exchange

Verdict: Fun opener, though it’s never good for the losers to be man-handled like these guys were at the end, especially if they aren’t committed to making Hernandez a big singles star. Reminds me of Summerslam 2010 in that way, but I know I am overstating things a bit.

After cutting from that match twice we go back a third time to Cornette at the MEM locker room. Now Steiner Math himself answers, and expresses his lack of care for Rhino’s absence. Steiner says Rhino is a drunk, and suggests Cornette check out gutters. Classy stuff. LOLTNA (4).

A brief rundown of the X-Division Title Tournament to find a new champion for the vacant belt follows, which has ended up with Alex Shelly and Chris Sabin facing each other, ie, The Motor City Machine Guns Implode! They try to explain why the title was vacated in the first place, but can’t get beyond unstated “controversy”.

Alex Shelley vs Chris Sabin (TNA X-Division Championship Tournament Final)

The announcer says separately that Shelly and Sabin are both representing the Motor City Machine Guns. Yeesh. LOLTNA (5).

Handshake to start. Chains, stereo kip-ups, more chains. Smooth as milk between these two guys, but immediately noticeable that the crowd is a bit dead. I suppose they don’t know who to cheer for, something the commentators mention. The jumping/hip toss/takedown chains continue, and nothing separating the two. Test of strength, dueling kicks, dueling pinning attempts and Sabin gets a bit of an advantage with a drop-kick. Prone abdominal stretch, Shelly to the ropes. Shelly dodges a corner charge, dumps Sabin out, but then misses on a springboard crossbody and then eats a big tope. Nice sequence, and the first time the crowd has been interested.

Sabin hung up on the ropes, and Shelly with a springboard leg-drop to a big reaction. Dueling chops, Sabin down, and Shelly gets two off a Lionsault. Abdominal stretch, eventually Sabin out, discus forearm, but then Shelly with a big reverse overhead suplex, but Sabin up very fast (too fast) with a big kick. Both men down. Up at a count of eight, more dueling shots, dueling corner clotheslines. Sabin to the apron, and lands a big Tornado DDT off a springboard, but only two. Sabin up for another one, but countered into an crossface. Sabin rolls out of it quick enough though. They point out that Sabin is already a four-time X-Division Champ but Shelly has never been, and you’d think they would try and work that into this match, which has been well-worked so far.

Shelly going for his own Tornado DDT, but countered into a neckbreaker by Sabin, than a double-underhook Tiger Suplex bridge for two. Shelly back with a big clothesline, Air Raid Slam, only two. Shelly to the top but intercepted. Sabin looking for a Frankensteiner, but Shelly holds on. Shelly with a powerbomb, back to the top, but knees up on a splash. Sabin to the top, but Shelly dodges, Shelly to the top and hits a splash to the back, then back to the top for a splash to the front, and after that bit of overbooked silliness it was only two. “This is awesome” chant though. Shelly laying in the strikes, but then gets floored by a huge clothesline, Cradle Shot but Sabin only gets two and 99/100th. I mean, that ref was a millimetre from a “You fucked up” chant.

Sabin sets Shelly up on the second rope, looking for an Avalanche Cradle Shock, but Shelly out. Super-kick, Sliced Bread, only two. “TNA” chants, and I’ll admit that this one is pretty good. Sabin with his own super-kick, goes for another Cradle Shot, Shelly out and going for the Sliced Bread but Sabin out. Shelly suddenly clutching his right foot, ref checking, Sabin comes over and Shelly with the roll-up. That’s it in just over 16 and a half.

Winner (and new TNA X-Division Champion): Alex Shelly, that sneaky sneak.

Verdict: They faced an uphill battle with this one, but they got the crowd going with big moves. It had a feeling of being spot spam, but there was a decent story of waiting for the first guy willing to resort to heel tactics. Shelley winning the best choice.

Sabin not too pleased looking, but shakes Shelley’s hand regardless.

A very sudden, amateur cut backstage to Cornette with Jeremy Borash. I mean, I’ve seen early 80’s promotions do it better. LOLTNA (5). Still no sign of Rhino. Even worse, they outline that Kevin Nash is in hospital with a blood infection, so he’s out of the main event. Mick Foley shows up, ahead of his in-ring TNA debut, doesn’t accept Cornette’s excuses, and demands the six-man main event go ahead, with it either a handicap match or with the MEM getting a sub. Nash had a legit staph infection, so can’t really blame TNA for their second injury-induced change to the card.

West and Tenay run down the rest of the card for tonight, minus the women’s match which presumably they had no time to make a graphic for. We also get a video package for the next match, which involved Sheik Abdul Bashir beating up TNA ref Shane Sewell. When Sewell had the temerity to defend himself after repeated assaults, Cornette fired him. LOLTNA (6). Eventually Cornette relented and gave Sewell this match. OK then.

Sheik Abdul Bashir vs Shane Sewell

Bashir is Daivari for anyone who isn’t aware, a guy shamefully underused in WWE. Sewell is a guy who has wrestled here and there, especially in Puerto Rico, but best known as a ref. Ref’s being put into matches routinely results in disasters, ala Earl Hebner vs Nick Patrick, but Sewell at least is trained.

Bashir taking a powder but Sewell throws him into the ring. Elevated punches and then a head bite, and we go to the outside. Slamming Bashir into the barricade and the apron, and Hebner, the ref, has to pull Sewell off. Sewell with a roll-up for one, shoving match, Bashir with a slap and Sewell back with an arm drag. It appears he can go. Bashir with a shoulder charge but Sewell straight back with a crossbody. Bashir taking another powder and they brawl on the ramp. Bashir crotches Sewell on the barricade, then demands Hebner count Sewell out. Sewell back in at a count of eight.

Bashir laying in a beatdown. Neckbreaker, mounted punches, elbow drop, two. It’s been basic but OK so far. The Sheik with strikes and chops, but Sewell gets pumped and rallies back with his own strikes and chops, but then walks into a spinebuster for two. To the rest-holds! Sewell out of a waist-lock after a while, and lands a big running elbow. Sewell with shots, then a back body-drop, then an elbow drop to the groin area (maybe too low), then a bulldog, but only two after that not insignificant sequence. Sewell to the top, another crossbody, but only two. Sets up Bashir, and to the delight of the Charlotte crowd puts on a Figure 4, but Bashir to the ropes quick enough.

Bashir fights back with a flapjack onto the ropes. Hebner stops him from laying in a series of constant strikes, Bashir gives him a shove, and goes for a clothesline. Hebner ducks, gives Bashir a slap, and when Bashir chases after him he walks into a clothesline from Sewell. Sunset flip, and that’s it in just under ten and a half.

Winner: The world’s bestest ref

Verdict: A competent affair. The idea that Bashir can assault any ref that he pleases but if they fight back they get sacked is a bit dumb.

Sewell beats a hasty retreat, and gets mobbed by celebrating refs. He would go on to have a limited run as a competitor I think. We cut from that to yet another Cornette vignette backstage, this time in the parking lot with Booker T and Sharmell. Sharmell insists that Booker doesn’t know anything about Rhino, and Booker eventually gets annoyed enough to grab Cornette by the coat, which Corny sells terribly. The refs, including Sewell, arrive to break it up, and Booker is annoyed enough about this to challenge Sewell to a match, for his “Legend’s Championship”. I had completely forgotten that was a thing. I presume said match occurred on an episode of Impact. Anyway.

A promo for the tag title match follows, and here’s some bullshit: “The TNA Tag Team Titles, the most desired set of bling in tag team wrestling today…teetering on the brink of extinction for nearly a decade, tag team wrestling has been returned to prominence by TNA”. Wow, that is a McMahon level re-write of history. You’d think this match coming up was TLC II the way they are going on.

Black Machismo and Consequences Creed (c) vs Abyss and Matt Morgan vs Beer Money Inc (James Storm and Robert Roode) w/Jaqueline (TNA World Tag Team Championships) (Three Way Match)

Looking at these six, who would have thought Creed would go on to make the biggest success of his career? And here’s “the Blueprint” Matt Morgan, whom I haven’t seen any bit of since 2005. Machismo is, of course, Jay Lethal, still mired in this Randy Savage pisstake character. Lethal and Creed only won the title a few days ago on the back of a Feast or Fired cash-in, Beer Money get a re-match but Abyss/Morgan are already #1 contenders, hence triple threat. Given what was said pre-match, this better be nothing less than the Young Bucks somehow travelling back in time to insert themselves into the 2000 tag title scene in WWF.

This is under silly “two men at a time, anyone can tag in” triple threat rules. Storm and Creed to start, and Storm begs off early after a shoulder charge. Jumping, flip and whip chains, and then Creed maintains the advantage with spinning kicks and clotheslines, but only two. Machismo in, and Storm flees to tag in Bobby Roooooooode. The future Glorious One carrying a knee injury apparently, and quickly gets back body-dropped. Lethal to the top for a double axe-handle for two. Creed back in for the double-team, and Abyss/Morgan just chilling out on the apron.

Jacqueline in to try and break up Creed beating down on Roode, but Machismo/Creed maintain the advantage, and get Abyss in for a bunch of corner charges to a sandwiched Beer Money Inc. This ends with the three falling in what I will only  call a “suggestive” position, and it’s as stupid as it sounds. Jackie was an Attitude Era Champion you jackasses. LOLTNA (7). Beer Money dumped out, and Lethal/Creed with stereo baseball slides and then stereo topes, beautiful sequence. Morgan to the top for a plancha to the guys at the outside.

Somehow out of that Abyss becomes the legal man, and starts tossing Beer Money around. Storm/Roode back with an awkward double bulldog, and now they start working over Abyss, which is no easy task. My hot-take on Abyss: he could never really get away from the feeling he was just TNA Kane, but he was a very good asset for the company for a very long time. Creed able to tag in and starts tossing Beer Money around, including a Double DDT for two. Beer Money, with the ref totally happy for them to just both stay in the ring for as long as they like, respond with a cool-looking double swinging uranage for two.

Creed the face-in-peril I suppose as Beer Money commence a second act beatdown. Rest-holds, Roode with a spinebuster and Storm taunting Lethal. Creed dodges a Bronco Buster shortly after, and Lethal in to clear house. Big reaction off a few flips from Machismo, who accounts for Beer Money easily enough, closing with the Lethal Combination. To the top, but Morgan gets the tag and goes for the pin, no good. Abyss with a press slam to Machismo, then a backbreaking chokeslam. Gets floored by a missile drop-kick from Creed straight away, before Creed eats a “Carbon Footprint” from Morgan, which looks like a slightly botched scissors kick. Beer Money with a double Backstabber to Morgan. Awkward spot where Beer Money try to get Morgan up for another double-team move, but Storm and Morgan sort-of combine to send Roode flying?

Roode with a Blockbuster to Morgan for two, Jackie distracting the ref, and somewhere in there Abyss has one of the title belts. Goes for Roode, a duck and Abyss nails Morgan. Morgan caught on camera with his eyes open after that shot, rapidly closing them. Roode going for the pin but Jackie still distracting the ref even though it doesn’t make any sense for her to be doing so. LOLTNA (8). Lethal with the diving elbow to Roode but no ref to count. Jackie is dismissed to the back, Storm with a Last Call to Lethal, throws Roode on top of a still motionless Morgan and that’s it in just under 15 and a half.

Winners (and new TNA World Tag Team Champions): Beer Money Inc, because an awesome tag division is one where the titles are hot potatoed.

Verdict: Hmm, a bit overbooked really, and the ending was very messy. Morgan made to look like a chump.

The ring announcer is interrupted in the middle of his announcement by needing to hand the titles to the ref. LOLTNA (9). Roode aggressively being given a middle finger by a guy at ringside, which is hilarious to me. In the ring Morgan suddenly isn’t knocked out cold, he and Abyss remonstrate, but who cares because we have to go backstage, where “JB” is with Kurt Angle. After threatening to physically assault a receptionist – a reminder that Angle would be legit arrested for stalking a female member of the TNA roster later in 2009 – Angle confronts Cornette. He says Cornette should be more concerned about Jeff Jarrett, whom Angle plans to cripple in a bit. Angle admits that the MEM beat up Rhino earlier in the night because suspense is for losers, and stalks off. What is the point of all this?

ODB, Roxxi and Taylor Wilde vs the Kongtourage (Raisha Saeed, Rhaka Khan and Sojournor Bolt) (TNA Knockouts Championship #1 Contenders Match)

In the middle of the first entrance Tenay and West insist they can’t possibly talk about the women without talking about the situation with Angle for a bit. I suppose this match, where the first person to score a fall becomes #1 contender, is a bit throwaway. TNA’s women’s division was a bit of a mixed bag at the time, with a few standouts, a few divas and a few who had no business anywhere near a ring. Saeed is better known as Melissa in Shimmer or Mariposa in Lucha Underground, and is currently saddled with a niqab-based gimmick.

Wilde and Bolt to start, Wilde with lots of pinning predicaments on her and Saeed when she comes in. Roxxi in and now she knocks Khan around, locking in a sort of reverse octopus for a bit. ODB in, and she’s the crowd favourite for sure. Saeed able to strike her away and in comes Khan, whom ODB fondles for a bit for some reason. LOLTNA (10). Lots of quick tags here, and one wonders why anyone is making a tag seeing what the rules are. Wilde dragged out by Saeed and Bolt and beat down on the outside. Rolled back in and Khan gets two.

Wilde the face-in-peril, and worked over with a surfboard from Saeed, then an elbow drop from the top from Bolt. Kneeling crossface as an “ODB” chant gets going. Wilde gets Bolt down with a face grab spin, and ODB gets the hot tag. ODB cleans house with clotheslines and Scoop Slams, with a Fallaway Slam to Khan. Powerslam to Saeed, but the pin broken up. Things breaking down with everyone in the ring, some awkward-looking brawling. Wilde with a plancha to Khan on the outside. In the ring ODB rolls-up Saeed OUTTANOWHERE in just under eight. Tenay could not sound less interested.

Winner (and new #1 Contender): ODB, something you could see coming a mile off.

Verdict: Actually decent enough given it was thrown together last minute. The heel teams needs some more work. You can tell that Wilde was someone TNA valued, but I understand she retired from wrestling just a couple of years after thus.

Out comes Kong, who remains the best thing TNA’s women’s division ever had. A face-off with ODB, and a brawl breaks out. Some awkward back-and-forth, and the heels emerge on top. Kong gives ODB a chokeslam and stands tall. All standard stuff.

Still around half the show to go and only three matches left. Jarrett’s got enough of an ego that I can see his match going a while. Backstage Cornette is with Sting, and man I guess Jeremy Borash is just following him around. Cornette wants to know why Sting is putting up with the MEM’s tactics. Sting says he doesn’t condone what the MEM does, he’s here to defend the title, and it doesn’t matter to him if Rhino shows up or not. OK then. Why is Sting in the MEM?

A video package for Angle/Jarrett follows. Jarrett is meant to be retired (ha!), but has been goaded back into a match with Angle. I think TNA wants Angle/Jarrett to be there Rock/Austin, but epic-level it ain’t. Apparently Al Snow was involved in this feud? According to Wiki he turned up for one night to screw Mick Foley over when Foley was special reffing a match between Angle and Rhino where if Angle won he got a match with Jarrett, and man that whole set-up deserves a LOLTNA (10). These two have had some pull apart brawls apparently, but I’m just not feeling it: Jarrett is a legendary asshat, and Angle, being frank, never seemed like he was giving TNA 100%.

Kurt Angle vs Jeff Jarrett (No-DQ)

Commentators hyping this up like it’s the biggest match in years for TNA, and a reminder that there are two matches after this, one of which is a World Title match. Jarrett storms to the ring and the two exchanging shots immediately. Jarrett on top, hard whips into the corners sees Angle bounce to the mat, but up quick enough to lock on an early sleeper. Jarrett with a big low blow to get out of that, then an Electric Chair Drop that Angle basically no-sells. Angle clotheslined to the outside.

For reasons I will never understand at all, we cut to the locker room area, where Rhino has, shock of shocks, turned up and is trashing the place for some reason. This is one of your main events! LOLTNA (11). After that interlude we’re back to JJ throwing Angle around on the outside, and squirting a fan’s water bottle at him to boot. Angle back in, and knocks Jarrett into the barricade when his opponent tries to re-enter the ring. Beating up Jarrett with the help of the ring steps, back in and this crowd is red-hot right now, Snap suplex gets Angle two. Stomping the head, backbreaker, two count and to a rest-hold. Jarrett trying to rally back, but walks into a picture-perfect belly-to-belly.

More rest-holds, and even at this stage it’s clear Angle is running out of steam a bit. Tries to get Jarrett up for an Angle Slam, but JJ out of it, only not really: he just basically fell when Angle had him up, and I’m not sure who was at fault. Could have ended badly. There follows a huge back body-drop to Angle that see’s him vault out of the ring, land on his feet and fall to his side, and my own knees are sore watching that. That’s followed up with a crazy bad looking tope from Jarrett, who can’t clear the ropes properly and looks like he just avoids his head hitting the floor first. You’re not a tope guy JJ! Angle up first and flings Jarrett over the announce desk, but not before nearly slipping on something. Danger of this becoming a right botch fest.

Angle grabs the ring bell and gives Jarrett a nasty shot with it, and West reacts like Mankind’s just come off the cell. The camera sticks on Angle just long enough for Jarrett to blade, and Angle helps him along with some strikes. Fighting up the ramp, and Jarrett lands a DDT in desperation. That gives Kurt the time to blade, and then Jarrett is flinging Angle around the stage. Another botched spot for sure where Angle is teetering on the edge of the stage, falls too early to a lower step and just hops back up and repeats the spot like nothing happened. Lands an Angle Slam off the stage second later, through a table that really wasn’t that far down, but the crowd popped big. West selling this hard, describing it as “life and death”.

Dueling chants as both men crawl slowly back to the ring. Takes a while though. Back in, dueling strikes for a bit, Jarrett gets the advantage with a few clotheslines and then hits a “DDT” that is clearly just a Pedigree for two. One thing to note here is that both commentators are describing everything that’s happening to a fine detail, which is distracting, there’s no “colour”. Jarrett looking for the Stroke, countered into the Ankle-Lock. JJ to the ropes, dragged back to the centre, and Jeff rolls through and sends Angle out. Kurt grabs a chair, Jarrett dodges, lands a drop-kick through the chair, then the Stroke, but only two. Angle set-up on top, Jarrett looking for a superplex, knocked off, missile drop-kick from Kurt, Angle Slam, but only two. Some nice sequences here, but West’s rehearsed announcing is very distracting.

Angle looking for the Ankle-Lock again, Jarrett pushes out, then dodges a corner charge. Jarrett grabbing the guitar, but Angle avoids the shot with a low blow. Asks for the crowds opinion about whether to go for the guitar or the chair. Unprotected chair shot to Jarrett, but only two. A frustrated Angle remonstrates with the ref, then slaps on the Ankle-Lock again. Jarrett thinking about tapping, but then counters into a roll-up for two. Angle going for another Angle Slam, countered into a DDT. Jarrett going for his guitar but at some point the handle got broken off, so that spot is out. Chair shot again, but at least Angle gets his hands up. Jarrett very slow to go for the cover, at two Angle counters into a crucifix, and that’s it in just over 22.

Winner: The Godfather (geddit?)

Verdict: A frequently sloppy affair that devolved into soulless big move spam. Crowd and announcers played their part, but I think this one is pretty over-rated.

Angle grabs the chair again and commences a beatdown of Jarrett, focusing on the ankle, before stalking off. Trainers see to Jarrett while we cut backstage to see Cornette trying to convince Rhino to back out of his match tonight. Rhino refuses. We then cut back to Jarrett being stretchered away, and if that isn’t a LOLTNA (12) worthy bit of editing I don’t know what is. Tenay and West are acting like they’ve seen someone killed in front of them, and I’ll admit the replay of Angle destroying Jarrett’s ankle is effective enough as far as it goes. Tenay, with little enthusiasm, intros the recap of the main title feud.

Basically Rhino has been set-up as the leader of the “Front Line”, the face reaction to the MEM. Rhino, who got this match with a non-title pin over the champ, has no problem personally with Sting, but can’t abide that he’s chosen the wrong side in this war. They say war a lot, Sting says this is about respect, Rhino is going to gore his way to victory, etc. Perhaps I would be more into this story if it wasn’t a re-hash of angles long since done to death in WWF, and positively ancient history in WCW.

Sting (c) vs Rhino (TNA World Heavyweight Championship)

Jeremy Borash out for the introductions. He does one for Earl Hebner, and hilariously Earl gets boos. A big Montreal population in Charlotte it seems. Rhino out bandaged. Sting out to the bigger reception. Rhino attacks before Sting has his jacket off, and we’re quickly brawling at ringside. Sting sent into the barricades, then dodges a charge from Rhino. Sting now laying in the offence, slaps Rhino’s head on the announce desk and we go back in. Rhino has bladed at some point. Sting walks into an elbow and Rhino to the top, but shoved off before he can do anything.

Takes a while for Rhino to get back in, and when he does we get a bear hug spot, a battling out spot, then another bear hug spot and with that any momentum the match has is as dead as can be. After a few minutes of this Rhino battles out again and an actual match can resume, and Rhino lands a flying clothesline. Corner spear, belly-to-back, only two. Both up, a few counters, and Rhino lands the Gore, only it’s really a spear, and Sting rolls to the outside.

Eventually Sting back in, Rhino to the top, goes for a splash and, predictably, nobody home. No idea why Rhino is doing high-flying moves at this stage of his career. Sting puts in the Scorpion Death-Lock, Rhino to the rope, pulled back to the centre, Rhino gets to the rope again. Not a bit of actual selling, and it was a rubbish-looking Deathlock to boot. Sting goes for it again, pushed off and Rhino hits another belly-to-back. Goes for the Gore again, Sting dodges and Rhino is just so slow on the charge that it looks abominable. Sting hits the Scorpion Deathdrop and that’s it in just under eight and a half.

Winner (and still TNA World Heavyweight Champion): A very not-bothered Sting

Verdict: Awful. Rhino can barely go at this point and Sting looked lethargic so three quarters of the match had to be dedicated to bear hugs, dull ringside brawling and rubbish submission spots.

Despite his nominal heel status, the crowd cheers Sting’s win, and he’s got his belt and is out of the ring fast.

God this show feels long. Jeremy Borash is backstage with the Smackdown vs Raw-esque random pairing of A.J. Styles, Brother Devon and Mick Foley ahead of the main event. Foley is returning to the ring following his limited final run with WWE, and man isn’t he just the classic example of a guy who just can’t stop, even though he mocked the idea of coming back over and over again in his books. Styles says the Front Line like being underdogs and is going to win tonight for Samoa Joe, absent tonight because of his newborn son. Devon up next, and what a wonderful script moment it is when he says, about his tag partner absent through MEM shenanigans: “Brother Ray wasn’t my friend, he was my brother”. LOLTNA (12). Foley wonders which one of his personas is going to show up tonight, and I really hope it’s Dude Love.

Video package for the main event. The MEM are the bad guys. The Front Line are the good guys. Lots of people screaming. You know the drill by now.

The Main Event Mafia (Booker T, Scott Steiner and ???) w/Sharmell vs the Front Line (Mick Foley, Brother Devon and A.J. Styles)

Introduced as “the last main event”, yeesh. The MEM theme music sucks big time. Steiner looks in bad shape. Booker on the mike to remind us that Kevin Nash isn’t here tonight, but they’ve found an “exceptional replacement”. And it’s…”Cutie Zhip”? You see, for this part of his TNA run Booker’s gimmick is a “King of Africa”, so he’s got a bit of an accent. Who he actual means is Cute Kip, the latest incarnation of Billy Gunn. But because of the way they introduce him, the crowd is totally dead when he comes out, and Tenay has to scramble to cover. What a needless botch. LOLTNA (13). Kip onto the mike to try and save this, listing his titles from WWE, and give me a break. Runs down the local sports team for the cheapest possible heat and it’s a relief when the faces start coming out. Tenay says Foley is wearing “the flannel of Brother Ray”, but isn’t that what Foley always wears?

The six men pair off and the brawling begins. I’m guessing we’re going to see a lot of this. Foley left with Kip in the ring, and sends him out with a Cactus Clothesline. Brawling at ringside, Foley to the second rope, and the MEM scatter before Foley blows out his knees with a dive. The Mafia taking a powder for a bit. “We want tables”. But of course. Styles starting with Kip. Flipping/jumping chains – and it is Styles doing the jumping – and Styles with a drop-kick. Booker and Devon in, Devon laying the punches. Foley in, and hits a running knee where he barely gets the required height on the knee. Tag to Styles very quick.

Kip in to work over Styles, but Styles takes out the MEM on the apron and gets a roll-up for two. Kip floors him with a kick, and here comes Steiner for some basic offence. Styles firmly designated the face-in-peril as he takes chops, kicks and stomps, then the same from Booker, then the same from Kip, who as I recall is only a few months from the end of his TNA in-ring run. Kip going for the Famouser, but Styles dodges out for a Pele Kick. Hot-tag to Foley, and he awkwardly clears house. Foley’s mobility issue is so obvious, and it’s a mercy when Steiner floors him.

Thinks break down into brawling at ringside, the ref is counting and he gets to ten. The bell rings, they announce that “there is no winner”, but even TNA wouldn’t be that LOLTNA. Here comes Jim “Everyone look at me” Cornette to announce that this match must be restarted. Booker complains, Mick says Cornette doesn’t have the authority to restart the match, but he does, and this is now a hardcore match. What a mess of booking this is. You know what, it does deserve a LOLTNA (14).

Steiner with a trash can straight away and nails Devon. Styles drop-kicking Booker on the inside, while Foley brawls with Kip on the ramp. Can shots for all! “We want tables” and I’m sure they are coming. Three separate brawls now so a bit hard to follow, but Booker back body-drops Foley onto the announce desk before Foley gives Booker an Atomic Drop onto the barricade. The mikes barely pick up Foley getting the “Get the table” line. Devon obliges and sets one up on the outside. Foley onto the top of the announce table setting up a leap onto a prone Kip, but gets low-blowed by Booker. That gives Styles the chance to nail a splash onto Kip, through the table, from the top, but of course the camera angle misses the impact live. LOLTNA (15). A replay gets it at least.

In the ring Steiner has Devon set-up on the top but pushed off, and Devon lands a flying headbutt. Booker nails an axe-kick to Devon, then gives us the Spinarooni. Foley in with “the sock”, Mandible Claw locked in but Steiner with a can shot breaks it up. Brawling, Steiner with a chair and gives Foley a shot to the back. Booker looking for another Axe-Kick, Foley dodges, then lays in some of his own chair shots. Booker takes an unprotected shot to the head, then Steiner takes a DDT onto the chair. That’s enough to bring this to an end in just under 16 all told.

Winners: The Front Line. Someone check on Foley’s knees, please.

Verdict: A poor effort. Steiner and Foley can barely go, Kip has no impact, and the rest had little to work with. Had one stand-out spot, that TNA botched the presentation of.

The Front Line celebrates, and that’s your lot. LOLTNA Count: A record-shattering 15.

Man, this was a long ass show. Let’s finish up.

Best Match: I suppose Shelly/Sabin impressed me the most, those two made the very best out of a difficult task.

Best Wrestler: Styles was so committed to this company that he took a crazy bump in a forgettable mess of a main event.

Worst Match: All three of the main events are up for this, but have to give it to the title match. Too short, Rhino was a mess, bearhugamania was running wild.

Worst Wrestler: Jarrett had two scary moments of sloppy technique, but at least he was only in danger of hurting himself.

Overall Verdict: For the first five matches this was a perfectly acceptable show, but once we hit main event territory it turned into a mess real fast. That was a consistent TNA problem really, with the upper-card frequently getting out-wrestled by the mid and lower equivalents. Too much Cornette, too much overbooking. Give this one a miss.

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

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Review: The Boys In The Band (2020)

The Boys In The Band


Things are about to get awkward.

I had only a very small amount of knowledge of this property, a somewhat famous off-Broadway, then on-Broadway, play from the 1960’s, that was adapted for the screen in 1970. I knew that it was one of the standout examples of gay theatre at the time, considered an unflinching look at the lives and culture of homosexuals in New York in the late 60’s. But that was pretty much all I knew. The Boys In The Band was not something I had ever sought out before, until Netflix put this, a new adaptation using the cast of an apparently well-received 50th anniversary revival in 2018, out the other week.

The time has come for me to change that trend. Homosexual acceptance in Ireland has, arguably, never been higher, and the time and place depicted in The Boys In The Band, in that light, may seem like distant, ancient, history. But even as history, it has some worth: a remembrance of a time when the opportunity for liberal lifestyle mixed with a still conservative society at large, with the spectre of the epidemic yet to fully establish itself. This new version of The Boys In The Band allowed me the chance to tackle my own general ignorance of that time, and this property, and to do it with a hell of a cast to watch to boot. Was The Boys In The Band the enlightening production that I hoped it would be? Or a relic better left in the late sixties?

Somewhat repressed Michael (Jim Parsons) hosts a birthday party for his friend/rival Harold (Zachary Quinto), inviting his own boyfriend Donald (Matt Bomer), promiscuous Larry (Andrew Ranell), Larry’s more conservative lover Hank (Tut Watkins). flamboyant Emory (Robin de Jesus) and amiable Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington). When two unexpected guests – “Cowboy” (Charlie Carver), a prostitute “gift” for Harold, and Alan (Brian Hutchison), a friend of Michael’s from college with a desperate need to speak to him about something – arrive, it sends things rapidly into an alcohol-fueled spiral.

The Boys In The Band is a really great movie: it was one where I was enthralled from beginning to end, for a lot of different reasons that I hope I get to outline coherently below. It’s great on a lot of different narrative and production levels. But perhaps its greatest accomplishment is the way that it rolls back the curtain and allows us a look into a sub-culture that, for me, a straight white male from a middle class background, is decidedly alien, in its culture, in its language, in its demonour and does so in a manner that allows for it to become very understandable, relatable and sympathetic by the time that the credits come up. I’m coming into this a short time after Howard showcased a man living in the same time and place with the same orientation, but this film goes several steps farther, so far that it can almost seem alienating.

I mean, at first The Boys In The Band was very hard to grapple with for me, solely because of the amount of slurs being thrown around by the characters on-screen. It took a while for this to not be the distraction it started off as being, for my mind to temporarily suspend its revulsion and accept that, like other words in other contexts, it was the people using them that was the most important barometer for its acceptableness. This is just an example, but perhaps the most important one, of the somewhat secret world I was being allowed to bear witness to, one with its own terms and behaviors. Once you have come to accept this – and man, acceptance is very important to this story – The Boys In The Band instantly becomes a much more engaging thing than it initially started off as.

That’s the verbal backdrop, with The Boys In The Band proceeding as a sort of multi-faceted character study, with most of the characters in question all facing a very awkward and intense emotional crisis as the “party” goes on. Michael, repressed and a very mean drunk, is caught between his sexual orientation, his religious views and his need to drag everyone else into the maelstrom of self-hate with him; Donald is trying psychiatry as a solution to his mental unease, and is caught in an awkward relationship with Michael; Larry and Hank are a living, walking, debate on the merits and demerits of monogamy; Emory’s outward joie de vivre masks some serious insecurities; Bernard’s friendly nature belies an easily led man prone to accepting racial slurs as a matter of course; and Alan, well, Alan is a man in crisis the moment the film starts, and he’s turning to the worst man at the worst possible time for support.

And there are the two I have not mentioned there, namely Cowboy, a prostitute whose lack of intelligence paradoxically makes him seemingly the least hung up mentally, and calm, cool and very much collected Harold, who seems to act as some kind of watchful overlord of proceedings, unaffected by them and commenting as he pleases (the weed helps, I’m sure). They’re friends, but one feels the very real sense that they are so more because of their shared sexuality than actually liking each other. Some of them are downright nasty to the others, in a way that cam be quite off-putting from an engagement perspective.

Quinto’s Harold is the very picture of calm incisiveness.

There is so much to unpack in The Boys In The Band that I feel I can only brush against some of it. There’s the acid back-and-forth between Michael and Harold, “frenemies” in the truest sense, and it’s amazing seeing all of Harold’s takedowns from top to bottom. There’s the dread in seeing Michael, having briefly given it up, getting drunker and drunker, with predictably dire results. There’s the intrusion of Alan and all of the tension that it brings, from Michael’s stuttering efforts to maintain a facade of normality to the later confrontation between the two on Alan’s possible homosexual history. There’s the metaphorical elephant in the room in the form of Cowboy, who tends to pop up randomly in scenes as a stunning reminder that prostitution is part of the plot. There’s the various monologues on the nature of being homosexual, on living with such an orientation in such a society. And then there is the party game.

As I said, I’ve never gotten the chance to take in the stage version of The Boys In The Band, but I understand that Michael’s demented party game, wherein everyone present is challenged to call someone they love and declare it to them, basically takes up most of the second act. It’s an utterly brilliant set-piece really, driven by Michael’s intense desire to show everyone around him up, and their sometimes begrudging acquiescence to be led. One by one they all make their calls, always prodded by Michael, ignoring the others trying to talk them down. Some are regretful afterwards, others not so much. Alan, confronting something about himself that he does not want to confront, is pushed almost to the point of violence by Michael, and the end result is an horrific confrontation. Only Harold is left to gaze, unaffected, by everything that’s happening, happy to issue a verbal smackdown on Michael when the drunk host gets a bit too free. The conclusion of the party game, revolving around a drunken breakdown and some very harsh truths coming to light, makes for a brilliant finale.

If there is a flaw in the narrative, it might be the unreality of it from a character standpoint: that some of these men would actually engage in Michael’s cruelty, or wouldn’t just leave the apartment when things get as heated as they do, or even would be friends at all. I need to emphasise how utterly devastating the second half of the production is to get this point across: it’s the kind of set-up that would have people coming up with fan theories that the nine men are actually all in hell if it was first released today, trapped and unable to escape. Of course, I realise that this is the point, considering the time and place that the film is set-in, but it still rankles. In that respect, the direction that The Boys In The Band takes can be a little hard to accept, in line with the aforementioned slurs (that aren’t limited to the homophobic variety either).

This kind of thing would only really work if the cast is up to the challenge, and and it fair to say that the cast of The Boys In The Band was. They are obviously very familiar with the material from the stage shadow, and I dare say that the real-life background of the actors – all “out” homosexuals, to a man – undoubtedly helps as well. Still, having to switch from delivering the material on the stage to in front of the camera is still a big step. Despite this, it’s a brilliantly acted production in nearly every respect. Parsons must be considered the standout, bringing us through Michael’s various monologues, his change in demonour when the alcohol starts flowing, his aggression, rudeness and regret, with a skill that makes a mockery of the pigeon-holing he was subject to with The Big Bang Theory. Quinto, an actor I have not seen too much of lately, is similarly great, exuding an aloof old-school cool in every carefully orchestrated move, word or put-down, a chessmaster of verbal sparring who is always several moves ahead. Hutchinson must also get a special mention, as his Alan is in emotional turmoil from the moment he first appears on-screen, and is the man who must veer from pole-to-pole in an almost scene-to-scene manner. None of the supporting cast gives a bad show at all, but I will refrain from calling them all out individually for praise. It’s an ensemble that is confident in the material and in their ability to bring it to life.

Of course the script is an astounding, alive, slap-you-in-the-face-and-laugh kind of affair, that requires the very best of the acting craft to deliver. There is one instance of physical violence in the film, a brief horrid thing, but other than that the blows that are inflicted and the blood that is drawn is the metaphorical kind, undertaken by powerful and cutting words. The repartee has to be up to the task, and it is. There’s Michael’s continued refrain about the nature of closeted or repressed homosexuality, the syndrome of “Boy was I drunk last night”. Harold’s slow, quiet yet thrilling warning to Michael not to push him too hard at “the game” he’s playing with his words because “I’m the only one who’s better at it than you are.” There’s the outrageous humour that fills up the production, like the admonition of “Show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse.” And there is Michael’s final, horrible revelation, that life as a homosexual wouldn’t be as difficult “if we didn’t hate ourselves quite so much”. The script is able to get across how these men are a support for each other in a pre-Stonewall age, while also being adversaries in a very real sense, perpetuating that self-hatred among the others. The words are all that of the original author, the recently deceased Mart Crowley, and they are very well made.

Joe Mantello, who directed The Boys In The Band for that 50th anniversary show, is the man behind the camera. Obviously putting a man more used to the stage in that position can be a dicey affair – there is a long list of failed adaptations with such directors, who couldn’t transfer what worked on stage to working on-screen – but Mantello does a good, nay, great job. With 95% of the thing taking place within a few rooms of Michael’s apartment, it is a controlled enough production visually, but that doesn’t mean that Mantello, with the assistance of Bill Pope, can’t get a bit inventive. There’s obviously opportunities for close-ups, for focused camerawork that didn’t exist before, but there’s more than the obvious. I talk of the slow-motion intro to the Harold character, or the way that the space of the living room is used to the fullest extent while also feeling extremely claustrophobic when the need is required, or a very effective montage sequence at the conclusion that I can only presume was not possible in the stage version. Michael’s apartment is a very well-constructed place, awash with decorative lamps and a needlessly fancy staircase, lived-in yet with a detached air. It adds nicely to the ambiance of the film, a space awash with signs of a liberal, free lifestyle, yet still, at its heart, insular.

The Boys In The Band can only be described as a mesmerising experience. It’s truthful, heartfelt, real, in so many different ways. It’s script sparkles with every neat touch, flourish, insult or tear-jerking moment. The cast is uniformly great. At times it may struggle a bit with what it is trying to get across, and a modern-day audience may need to put a little work into it to make it past the outward use of f-bombs, to get to the meaning behind the words, or the idea that these men could tolerate each other’s presence for two hours believable. But if they do, they will find a film adaptation that is a really meaningful effort to bring what was era-defining on the stage to the big-screen once more. I do think that the world could do with a few more features of this subject and about this era, lest we slip into a convenient fantasy that gay people only existed in public in the last twenty years. The Boys In The Band is as good a place as any to start the education. Strongly recommended.

Yeah I don’t get the title either.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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Ireland’s Wars: Bloody Sunday (1921)

The events of this entry, and the events of the next, crossover rather directly with the culmination of the truce negotiations, which form an important backdrop to both. I will come to the truce in a few weeks, but felt it better to cover some of those events happening in the rest of the country first, as the truce is the historically designated end of the conflict, and so should take its place as such in this series.

We move now back to the quagmire that was the north, and more specifically Belfast. We covered, to a degree of detail, the situation in Ulster throughout the first half of 1921, wherein the violence was ever increasing, along with the accompanying death toll. The conflict between the IRA and Crown Forces, the activities of the “Specials” in carrying out their role, and the more general sectarian violence between rival mobs in certain areas were all things in the mix. Belfast remained a hotbed of such tensions and, in the dying days of the War of Independence, that tension exploded, resulting in one of the bloodiest days of the conflict.

It was violence that was far from unprecedented, even when talking purely about the days and weeks leading up to it. The violence that began on the 10th of June and continued for several days was actually bad enough on its own. This saw its Genesis in that rare thing: a successful urban ambush of the Belfast IRA, a unit that remained somewhat passive in the eyes of GHQ, that operated more as a loose defensive organisation dedicated to protecting nationalist areas more than being an offensive force. On that day, a three-man group of RIC, patrolling in the heavily nationalist Falls Road area, were ambushed. One, a Constable James Glover who was suspected of being involved in extrajudicial sectarian killings, was fatally wounded.

Reprisals began very soon afterwards, leading to counter-reprisals soon after that. Numerous civilians were killed in rioting, house burnings and shootings, and and some of them were at the hands of RIC, essentially executing Catholic nationalists out of hand. After three days, the violence simmered down again, but 14 people were dead. For much of the next month, in the lead up to always volatile region of “the Twelfth”, shootings and killings continued in a tit-for-tat manner, with one gun battle between RIC and IRA Volunteers especially notable on the 8th July. The day after that, news from the south inflamed the situation once again.

On the 9th, the news broke that a truce had been agreed in Dublin between the Crown Forces and representatives of the Republic. It was due to come into effect at noon on the 11th. The news invoked horror in unionist circles, who saw the move as a sell-out of their cause. At the same time, it invoked an obvious sense of triumph in northern republican circles. The mixture of feelings could only be described as a powder keg. On the night of the 9th, a mobile RIC patrol was ambushed on Raglan Road, with one killed and two wounded. This patrol had been done from an armoured car, but the emboldened IRA group had certainly not been put off. However, the killing seems to have been the last straw, or the nearest excuse, for others, and was the final move ahead of the largest bout of sectarian violence to engulf the city in some time. A local GAA club was burned down that night, almost certainly by police.

The 10th was a Sunday, and it was then that things got completely out of control. As I have stated before, it is not really appropriate to call this a military event. IRA Volunteers were certainly involved of course, but the majority of people now fighting each other could not be described as military in any sense. For the most part it was just civilian groupings attacking others, though that should not be taken to mean that arms were not involved either. Border areas between unionists and republican communities were suddenly riddled with gunfire, with houses and shopfronts used as positions. Groups from either community advanced into others, burning houses and attacking anyone from the other “side” that they could find. Hand grenades were thrown, petrol was draped and there were even reports of machine gun fire. Public transport, like trams, were fired upon.

The area between the Falls Road and the Shankill was particularly brutal, with the Falls essentially blockaded for the duration of the violence. Members of the RIC and “Specials” were accused by numerous witnesses of contributing to the violence as opposed to stopping it, firing indiscriminately in Catholic areas. Children on both sides of the divide were among the victims, which eventually numbered 16 dead. Around 200 homes were destroyed. On both counts, Catholics were the victims disproportionately. Far more people were wounded, flooding local hospitals. In the absence of military intervention – apparently the locally based regulars had been explicitly ordered not to get involved, owing to the truce terms – chaos reigned. A brief local truce was agreed on Sunday night between leading elements of the RIC and the IRA Belfast Brigade, with the police returning to their barracks.

It was not to last. The larger truce came into effect on the 11th, but was ignored to a large extent in Belfast a very short time after its implementation. Three more people were killed in Belfast that day, one of them a Volunteer. But again most of the violence was not being carried out by the IRA, or seemingly orchestrated by them: IRA officers were among those to complain later about Catholic “mobs” that could not be controlled. In this, they were often referring to the old familiar enemy of the Hibernian order, who despised the IRA and took active part in looting and rioting at the time, to the extent that members of the order had to be forcibly exiled from the city by republicans. The situation was also, of course, even further complicated by the fact that regular RIC and the military were more pre-disposed to respect the truce and treat with the IRA, but the Specials were not: the Crown Forces left hand did not know, and often did not care to know, what its right hand was doing.

Remarkably, the annual “Twelfth” parades appear to have passed off relatively peaceably on the day in question. This was probably the result of both an enforced curfew, and also the actions of the larger IRA, with Eoin O’Duffy sent to the city to liaise with British authorities on means with which the truce could be maintained. He was able to hammer out a loose agreement whereby the IRA was permitted to maintain law and order in predominantly Catholic areas, and in return would only act in self-defence when it came to the aggression of outside forces. In many ways this was to be the apogee of the Belfast IRA, who would become very isolated the following year when the larger organisation split over the Treaty. In the moment, however much they may have tried to prevent it, violence resumed after the 12th, with O’Duffy struck by the accumulation o civilian gangs on numerous streets and the constant sound of gunfire. By the end of the week, a further nine people had been killed, for a total of 28.

It did not take long for the violence of the 10th to be dubbed as “Belfast’s Bloody Sunday”, media attempting to tie it in directly with the events in Dublin in November of the previous year. But in truth, while the extent of the violence on that particular day was significant, it was just the latest in a series of multi-day disturbances with fatal consequences, and it would also not be the last: for the rival communities of Belfast, as with many other parts of the north, the larger truce meant very little to their daily lives. Protestant fears of a nationalist takeover, and Catholic demands for better lives in line with what was perceived as a republican “victory” in the war, would produce continued conflict in the days, weeks and months after the truce.

A survey of 1921’s Bloody Sunday from a military perspective is largely pointless, other than to say that the weak and under-resourced Belfast IRA was hardly in a position to put a stop to what was happening, and that the police, whether they were RIC or Specials, at best were ineffective in the course of seeking the same goal, or at worst actively worked to stop it from happening. These factors would re-occur again and again throughout the next twelve months, but the death toll for July 1921 in Belfast was alarmingly high.

We are now in the final hours of the War of Independence. Before we go to the details of the truce and how it came to fruition, we must take one final break away from the larger national picture to focus in on one of the last engagements of the war while it still officially continued. This was to take place in County Kerry, where nine men from either side would live long enough to hear of the truce announced, but would not live long enough to see it come into existence.

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

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

NFB Watches Wrestling #23: World Class Championship Wrestling (11/12/1982)

Going into the long, long ago with this one. It’s the 11th December 1982 (filmed on the 7th) and we’re in the Sportatorium of Dallas, Texas for an episode of World Class Championship Wrestling! Your main event tonight: King King Bundy vs Kevin von Erich in a non-title match.

WCCW was the Von Erich promotion, owned, booked and starring them. Based around Dallas, it featured a number of people who could be considered stars of that era, and revolved around a succession of devious heel champions that the faces – typically the Von Erich’s themselves – would be endlessly chasing. The early 80’s, before Vince McMahon brought it all to an end, was the boom period for WCCW, with them routinely selling out large arenas and getting in big viewership through this nationally syndicated TV show. A big part of the NWA at the time, the promotion would go through booms, falls and numerous controversies before its final form was wound up in 1990, with these shows bought up by WWE to be part of their library: much like others, they often featured guys who would go onto be huge in the Fed, hence the attraction.

It’s old school graphics and booming horns in the brief opening titles. Bill Mercer on commentary. We’ve got a six-man tag coming up, but we’ll have to wait to see the participants. Fritz Von Erich and Ric Flair will also have a “video confrontation” later. But first, King Kong Bundy, looking a bit odd in a polo shirt. He calls out American Champion Kevin Von Erich, and says that when he wins tonight he wants a shot at that title. We actually get an on-screen run-down of the card after, and we have three matches coming up. And first…

Jose Lothario vs Spoiler Singles

The announcer makes sure to let us know that this match is officially sanctioned. Good, I was worried there for a sec. Lothario is a little-remembered guy who had a brief WWF run in 1996. Spoiler not much different, a luchador who had a run with the Fed a couple of years after this.

Lock-ups, wrist-locks, head-locks in a slow start. Exchanging shots in the corner, Singles takes over for some basic offence, until Lothario gives him a big right. A side-mare from Singles is followed by a head-kick from Lothario for the move of the match so far. More lock-ups and this is dull even for the era. Singles knocking Lothario down with a shoulder charge, eats another big right in response, but it’s just brief moments of light in-between head-locks and ambling around the ring. Spoiler trying to drag Lothario out of the ring, but stopped by the ref. Awkward moment where Singles goes to the top but then hops down because Lothario is too far away. Dueling shots and I’m not sure Spoiler has ever been taught how to sell. Lothario floors Spoiler with a sweep kick. Messing around on the apron for a few spots, exchanging kicks and out of nowhere the bell rings for a double count-out in around six-and-a-half. I didn’t even hear the ref count.

Winner: No one, and that’s as it should be with this bore.

Verdict: Ugh.

Freeze frame as the two guys look set to go at it again, but then to commercial. When we’re back Mercer talks about an upcoming title bout between Ric Flair and Kelly Von Erich. It’ll be a cage match, and for some reason they’re doing a public vote on who gets to ref the match, because of some recent shenanigans. This is all run-up to “Star Wars” at the end of the year, which would feature one of the era’s most famous heel turns on the part of Michael “Freebird” Hayes, who has won the vote to be the special referee for that match. Bit weird to see refs, in casual dress, being interviewed like this.

Moving on to the next match. Gary Hart, I think the booker at the time, is with his chosen three men for what is apparently a six-man tag team tournament. He gets interrupted by King Kong Bundy who has his own team, and Hart apparently has a dog in both camps and can’t lose. Or something. Al Madril is with his team, and compares six-man tags to battle royals, and that’s just wrong. “Bugsy McGraw” gives a Savage-esque promo trying to hype up this match, but not sure he’s really getting it across.

Magic Dragon, the Checkmate and the Great Kabuki vs Al Madril, Bugsy McGraw and Brian Adias

Man, this looks like it could get messy quick. Magic Dragon was a AJPW guy, Checkmate was a Welsh wrestler nearing the end of his career at this point, Kabuki would be around for a good long while yet. As for the faces I could barely tell you anything, other than that McGraw was a WWWF guy in the 70’s.

Adias and Kabuki to start, and Adias is super-over with this crowd. Starts with an arm drag, then gets stuck in a wrist-lock. Out of it with a drop-kick, then his own wrist-lock, but Kabuki flips him out of it. Head-lock takedown from Kabuki, and Magic Dragon in. Strikes, and Madril in to hit a bunch of rapid shots to the head. McGraw floors Dragon, then the heel takes a back body-drop for two from Madril. In comes McGraw with a snapmare and some hulking up before there was hulking up. Crowd rabid for this face offence. Adias back in, and floors Dragon with a drop-kick when his tries to get something going.

Adias floors Dragon with a shoulder charge, but Checkmate still able to get the tag. Adias now getting worked over, with submission spots practically under the ropes. Someone in the crowd has a whistle, which is distracting. Kabuki in for more beatdowning, and suddenly everyone is in the ring with the ref basically just shrugging. After a brawl it’s back to Kabuki and Adias, and Kabuki floors Adias with a big boot, looked sweet. Checkmate in for a leg-lock, and Adias can’t get the tag just yet. Adias rallying back with strikes, but momentum stopped dead with a snapmare.

Kabuki takes a kick to the face, and hot tag to Madril, who goes toe-to-toe with Kabuki. Floors him with a flying shoulder charge, then McGraw in against Dragon. Exchanging shots, McGraw bottled up in the heel corner, and now everyone is in again for brawling. Actually a decent rhythm to this now. Dragon floors McGraw with an awkward kick that barely makes contact. McGraw taking some shots, but rallying back a few years before Hogan would make it famous. McGraw too powerful for the heels, who beg off, while we continue to take awkward cuts to look directly at the people in the front row.

Checkmate working over McGraw, but Bugsy just won’t go down. One punch sends McGraw going on a big spin, and then Adias just comes in without a tag but it’s apparently OK? Kabuki working over Adias again, and the faces just can’t seem to figure out which of them should be in the one in-peril. Adias gets in a sunset flip for two. Dragon trying to give Adias elevated corner punches, but just falls off awkwardly. Adias whipped towards the heel corner, Kabuki off the top with a knee strike OUTTANOWHERE, and that’s suddenly enough for the 1, 2, 3 in just over 11 minutes.

Winners: The super heels

Verdict: Was pretty decent for the time and place. Clearly there was a lot still to be worked out regards the proper tag formula, and the heels winning clean was odd, but this was enjoyable.

Fritz Von Erich and Ric Flair’s confrontation is up. Flair, NWA Champion, apparently had a bounty out on Kerry Von Erich, but the Nature Boy denies it. Fritz has little time for Flair’s denials. Flair is annoyed that Kerry was called “the uncrowned champion” and starts ranting at Fritz. Von Erich, putting on his Batman voice, says if he and Flair were in the same room Flair would no longer be a contender. Flair goes mental about having to defend his title in a cage. All very over the top, and feels a bit weird with them not being in the same room, but it works. Flair gives us a woo, and things break-up. The main event is up next, with Kevin Von Erich saying that Bundy has a big mouth to go with his big belly. Burn!

Kevin Von Erich vs King Kong Bundy (non-title)

This crowd hates Bundy, that’s for sure. Circling and lock-ups, lengthy lock-ups, never-ending lock-ups. Kevin trying to lay in the strikes in the corner, but Bundy powering out, and lands a big corner charge. Von Erich rallies back quick enough for some whips to the corners and more strikes, and the crowd gets absolutely rabid when Kevin goes for some elevated corner strikes. A rake to the eyes puts Bundy back in charge. After waiting for a resthold spot to come to an end Kevin gets some licks in and Bundy flees to the outside, and the crowd is ready to lynch Kong.

Bundy back to pushing Von Erich into the corner, then locks in a bear hug. Von Erich eventually fighting out of it but Bundy retains the advantage with chokes, strikes and a Scoop Slam for two. Back to the rest-holds. After another lengthy wait Von Erich gets out of it, he and Bundy exchang whips and somewhere in that Von Erich hits the ref who goes flying over the top rope like Shawn Michaels against Hulk Hogan. Von Erich dumped out too, and gets hit with a big suplex from the apron when he tries to get back in. The ref isn’t so bothered that he can’t count a fall off of that, in just around ten minutes.

Winner: King Kong Rest-Hold

Verdict: As boring as it really was, the crowd’s reaction sort of made it better than it deserved to be viewed as.

We get a replay of the ref bump as Bundy walks off, and this crowd is pissed. After a break Bill Mercer sums up the show and that’s it after the credits.

Best Match: I suppose the six-man tag was entertaining enough.

Best Wrestler: Hard to say, but Kabuki had the best move of the night with that top rope knee, so I’ll give it to him.

Worst Match: The opener was painfully dull.

Worst Wrestler: Bundy isn’t in the worst shape, but his move set is so very obviously limited.

Overall Verdict: I can see why WCCW was so popular: big personalities, no squashes on TV, very excited crowds. The wrestling could be a bit dull though, even by the standards of the day. Still, I bet these Von Erich’s have a future!

Quick Thoughts On NXT Takeover 31

Priest/Gargano: Really liked this one, these two brought out the best in each other. Priest gets better every week. Must watch.

KUSHIDA/Dream: Liked the story for this one, and followed through with a powerful performance from KUSHIDA. Him as a sort of ruthless arm-snapping face would be interesting. Dream I can take or leave at this point. Watchable.

Escobar/Swerve: Great to see cruiserweights featured prominently on a PPV card, and this was good, despite some kick-out spam. You do wonder how much legs Escobar’s faction has without him as champ. Swerve might be on his way up soon. Really good.

Shirai/LeRae: Not as good as when they tore the house down on Takeover before, but decent. LeRae has proven herself really good as a heel, but one wonders if they will ever be willing to put the belt on her. Not while Shirai is around anyway, or Storm, or Moon. Engaging.

Balor/O’Reilly: The stilted ending took away from this one, but up to that point it was a stiff-as-hell technical fest, though it perhaps went a bit overboard with the holds.

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

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Review: Enola Holmes

Enola Holmes


Yes, she does say “The game is afoot”.

A new Holmes property! It’s been a while since I was suitably impressed by Ian McKellan’s turn as the famous detective in Bill Condon’s Mr Holmes, and one of the world’s most adaptable franchises will always find new ways to get on-screen, whether he’s taking on Jack the Ripper or travelling through time. But of course, it isn’t “he” this time, but rather “she”: an adaptation of Nancy Springer’s novels, focusing on the hitherto unseen younger sister of one Sherlock (and Mycroft) Holmes.

There was a lot about this that I was excited about. There was the cast, and I don’t mean Henry Cavill or Helena Bonham Carter or Sam Claflin, but instead Millie Bobby Brown, one of the most exciting young actresses around, who is at least 50% of the reason that Stranger Things is as good as it is. Having whet her beak in features with an acceptable showing in the otherwise forgettable Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, here she has the lead and the chance to really make her mark on a burgeoning franchise. It was also a proper feature debut for director Harry Bradbeer, mostly known so far for his extensive TV work, so that was exciting too. And I do love a good twist on the Holmes story, whether he’s appearing on the Enterprise holodeck or teaming up with Batman, and this property has a very period-appropriate twist: putting the mystery-solving emphasis on the other gender, with Sherlock as a support. Enola Holmes had some kudos from me before minute one, but was it worthy of it?

Enola Holmes (Brown) lives a carefree life with her mother Eudora (Bonham Carter) in the country, keeping an eye on the famous exploits of brother Sherlock (Cavill). But her idealistic existence is shattered when her mother disappears one day, leading Enola to embark on her own quest to solve the mystery and find her mother, over the objections of traditionalist elder brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin). On the journey Enola will discover that there was much her mother was preparing her for, but some things she wasn’t able to: not least the charming noble runaway Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) the threat on whose life Enola also finds herself trying to solve.

Well, I am happy to say that Enola Holmes is a rip-roaring triumph, at once a unique ode to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime-solving vision, and a stunning effort to introduce modern feminist themes to the entire idea. This is proper Holmesian fiction, whatever the first name of the main Holmes character, and I loved nearly every minute of it. And right at the heart of it is that lead performance.

I might have said it a few times about different people over the years, but it is worth bringing the old descriptor out of retirement: Millie Bobby Brown has the potential to be huge. Not since, perhaps, a younger Saoirse Ronan have I seen a female actress of this age demonstrate the skill to this level. Brown jumps into the role of Enola Holmes and makes it her own from minute one, with a delightful scatter-brained monologue ruminating on the meaning behind the backwards spelling of her name, and carries it all the way to the triumphant tone of her closing narration. She was apparently a driving force behind bringing this book to studio heads’ attention (she and her older sister are producers), so it’s clear she’s into the idea.

Shakespeare-like, she breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience like we are her imaginary friend along for the adventure, with a deviousness in her eye that like something out of Richard III. She brings effervescent joy at moments, the pits of despair at others. She can pull off a good fight scene, she can play the bashful teenage girl caught up in an unexpected quasi-romance, and she can sell us on the idea that she is a young woman with all of the same gifts as Sherlock Holmes, with just the needed polish missing. Brown really could become one of the A-Listers of the industry, if she was so inclined.

And around her is a really brilliant supporting cast. Cavill makes the most of his few scenes as the famous detective, letting out a little bit of emotion that sometimes is alien to the character, but is fitting here, coaxed into existence by the impact of his sister. Claflin gives a nice villainous spin to Mycroft, as a very out-of-touch arch-conservative, whose battering of his sisters place in the world reaches truly monstrous proportions late on (a scene where he takes money from Enola is truly revolting as an example of misogynistic control of women). In this Enola Holmes becomes a great examination of a dysfunctional family, with Mycroft – the most traditionally successful, but least gifted of his siblings – holding a very obvious grudge with his mother. Bonham Carter could have done with more time, but is fine as Eudoria, Frances de la Tour is able to steal a few scenes as an elderly matron, Susie Wokoma gives the cast some needed diversity as a jujitsu teacher and Burn Gorman is suitably threatening as the hired assassin out to ruin Enola’s plan. But it is Louis Partridge who is the best of the rest really: an utterly charming young man who proves a great foil/assistant to Enola, one half of one of the best executed teenage romances I have seen on-screen.

Brown and Partridge have a very entertaining back-and-forth here.

Bradbeer and writer Jack Thorne have given Brown and the others plenty to work with, in hand with their performances. In Enola Holmes there is the central mystery – where oh where has the Holmes matriarch gone? – the secondary mystery – why does someone want the charming young Viscount dead? – and then the main point of the exercise: Women can do this detective thing to, and a lot of other things as well. The puzzles of Eudoria Homes and the Viscount Tewkesbury are both great independent of each other, allowing the space for investigations, elaboration and a suitably engaging culmination, wherein both becomes intertwined with the other. Deductive reasoning in the Holmes fashion is something that has been played out in lots of different ways on-screen, but in Enola Homes it is as engaging as ever, in every code deciphered, in every chemical composition identified, in every aside direct to the audience and in every overheard conversation in the past that becomes very relevant to the future. It’s a family film, an adaptation of a young adult novel, but it never dares to talk down to or underestimate the audience.

More importantly feminist depth is found throughout Enola Holmes. It’s more than just the fact that the main character is a young woman trying to make it in a man’s world. It’s in Eudoria Holmes’ ties to some manner of militant suffragette movement (an under-filmed movement; it seems like a long time since the not-so-great Suffragette); it’s in Wokoma’s private school to teach women how to defend themselves; it’s in every scene where a woman stands up and shows herself more than just the preconceived notions of her sex, and those are many, up to and including absolutely brutal fight scenes; it’s even in the stepping stone of vital electoral reform, the chance for which forms a critical backbone of the whole experience.

At times it can become a little over-the-top – some of Wokomo’s lines around the middle of the second act cross the line between commentary and audience-targetted lecture – but there is no getting beyond the theme. “The future is up to us” is the film’s rallying cry, uttered repeatedly by different female characters: Enola’s entire journey, from her past training with her forward-minded mother to her final triumph over the boorish Mycroft, encapsulates that phrase, in her physical strength, in her moral choice to be a protector of others and in her ability to stand apart and succeed doing it. In this Victorian world, time’s up. This makes Enola Holmes critically engaging alongside being vastly entertaining.

Bradbeer, with Giles Nuttgens beside him, directs a beautiful film (a big improvement for Nuttgens here, whose work at last took in in the uninspiring The Fundamentals Of Caring). It’s easy, and perhaps natural, for Holmes films to veer towards the dark, the grungy, the smoky, what with the Victorian setting, but Bradbeer goes the other way: this late 19th century London might be sooty, but it still has sparks of colour and richness that draw the eye in every scene. The English countryside is a gorgeous verdant green in scenes set there, and this beauty is actually tied into the plot rather critically, in a manner I found rather smart. Crucial scenes see skips in time in terms of flashbacks to Enola learning under her mother, and while other directors and writers might end up with a jumble because of this, Bradbeer and Thorne craft something appealing, that seems properly kinetic and teenage-esque frantic, as opposed to confusing. Costumes and cast presentation is top-notch, and Enola Holmes is careful to give weight to the idea that a persons clothes are potentially as much an unorthodox weapon as they are a statement of fashion.

The score, from Daniel Pemberton, is also a delight. I find it rarer and rarer that I actually enjoy the scores of films these days, or at least find them worth giving special consideration. Pemberton, a man who hasn’t quite flown under the radar to this point but is still perhaps looking of a seat at the top table of composers, crafts a bouncy, energetic score for Enola Holmes. The whimsy coming off of it is almost palpable, matching much of the narrative’s helter-skelter presentation: you could almost imagine an early-era Beatles tune being set to some of it. Even in action-heavy moments that sense remains: one fight scene has what almost sounds like a washboard-esque backing to it, with an additional synth layer, and in another the screeching of violins is melded expertly into a train whistle, in an effect I can only describe as hauntingly memorable, and immensely clever. It reminded very much of the sort of score you might find in a Wes Anderson film with the airy, almost unreal nature of it, and it certainly left an impression.

Enola Holmes is, well, bloody brilliant. It could so easily have been a forgettable young adult adaptation, made on the cheap and saccharine to a fault. Instead, it exhibits an intelligence and a creativity that I was honestly not entirely expecting, leaning in hard to its premise and the potential that it has. It gives us a new film icon of feminism in the title character, whose actor is giving the performance of her young career. The supporting cast is fantastic, the film looks amazing, and it skillfully weaves together the varying strands of twin mystery, feminist narrative and an unexpectedly decent romantic plot. Enola Holmes slots easily into the expanded Holmes canon, and is hopefully the first of more to come from this franchise. Highly recommended.

Now for a Moriarty…

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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Ireland’s Wars: Carrowkennedy

The war had less than two months to run at the beginning of June 1921, with the process of getting to the point of a truce already well underway. But the actual warfare was continuing, and in certain areas it was actually being carried out with greater fervour than ever before, a sometimes grim reversal from previously quiet periods of little to no IRA activity. In the summer of 1921, the war had suddenly exploded in the area of West Mayo, one of the most isolated parts of the country, in which several key, and larger-scale ambushes were to take place in the final months ahead of the truce. Today, in what will be one of the last posts to look at a specific ambush for the War of Independence, I want to take a closer look at the largest of these ambushes, whose death toll came as an unpleasant surprise to the Crown Forces, and served as a suitable redemptive moment for the IRA involved.

The man at the heart of it was Michael Kilroy. Born in Newport, County Mayo in 1884, Kilroy had been brought up, like so many others, in an environment with a heavy emphasis on Irish nationalism, not least in his education. A blacksmith by trade, the heavily religious Kilroy had become involved with the Volunteer movement early, and also the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and thus was a key figure in the movement in West Mayo right from the start. The accounts are a bit confused about in what role Kilroy served with the West Mayo IRA, and when he held certain positions (not unusual: GHQ is on record as not knowing who was leading the North Mayo Brigade in this same period), but what is clear is that he was in a leadership role of the brigade in 1921, certainly after the arrest of the previous, part-time, holder of the position in January of that year.

He inherited an unenviable job. The IRA in Mayo in a general sense had not been at the same level of activity as other units in the country. There was many reasons for this, not least the sparse population, but perhaps more important were highly localised divides, with nationalists in towns arraigned against each other on a wide variety of issues, whether it was the primacy of agrarian agitation, arguments over performance in the Easter Rising (or lack there of: Castlebar’s surrender of arms that year was a highly controversial topic) or even older divisions involving the Hibernians and American-based nationalist organisations, and even the Parnellite divide. There were also relatively less arrests in the area in the aftermath of 1916, and thus less opportunity to gain access to republican networks and radicalisation in places like Frongoch. The east of the county saw its IRA units beset by ill-feeling and ill-discipline, successfully attacking only one RIC barracks in the entire war, and the north and south were only a little better.

That left the west, and it was there, in the areas closest to the Atlantic, that Mayo found its primary contribution to the conflict, but even there it took a long time to arrive. There, as elsewhere in Mayo and Ireland, there was often dissension between and older, more cautious, cadre of leading officers, and the younger, more eager, rank-and-file. The IRB naturally favoured the later, and the killing of a magistrate in Westport in March 1920 was probably carried out by members of that organisation without orders, and similar actions were to take place in the area over the following year, often carried out by the youngest of the brigade members. By the following Spring, GHQ was adamant that Mayo, and West Mayo, had to be more active.

So pressured, Kilroy started to organise columns and ambushes, but with decidedly mixed results initially, and that’s using the term in the most generous manner. A short exchange of fire near the townland of Carrowkennedy in early May was prelude to a more formal ambush enacted at Islandeady, roughly halfway between Westport and Castlebar. The intended target, a mobile RIC patrol, did not take the expected route and avoided the ambush altogether, and then surprised a group of IRA cutting the road on the reverse journey, killing two and capturing two.

Mishap turned to tragedy a few weeks later at Kilmeena. On the 18th May two attacks had taken place aimed at RIC barracks in Westport and Newport, where one RIC member was killed. The small-scale strikes were meat to lure the Crown Forces out of the towns and their barracks, and in this they succeeded in their aim. The following day, a force of RIC traveled through Kilmeena as part of the British response, and fell into the ambush zone of a sizable IRA force of over 40 men, led by Kilroy himself. They had been waiting all day for their quarry, and had actually been on the verge of giving up when the convoy arrived. That was as far as things worked out for the IRA though: the leading lorry forced its way through the ambush position, which was not properly blockaded, and the other two, warned, stopped short, and thus they were able to bring their considerable firepower advantage to bear while negating the IRA advantage in position.

The subsequent firefight and IRA withdrawal was a bitter affair: five Volunteers were killed, and seven injured, and another killed when a safehouse was attacked later. There were accusations of Volunteers fleeing the scene in a blind panic, and the bodies of those killed were later dumped on the streets of Westport by the victorious Crown Forces. Leaving aside this bit of unnecessary brutality, the British were rightfully able to trumpet Kilmeena as a massive success for their counter-insurgency operation, taking no casualties themselves.

A badly stung Kilroy, himself the subject of criticism owing to unhappiness with the Kilmeena ambush site, determined to both try again, and to gain a measure of revenge for what had happened. A column of West Mayo men, of a strength of around 50, remained in being, and on the 2nd of June, they got their chance. That day, Kilroy was informed of another RIC patrol travelling between Westport and Leenaun, which had been forced to stop owing to cut roads. Kilroy knew that other roads and bridges had been similarly cut, so the return journey of the same patrol would have to go back on the route they had already taken. As such, the IRA had a great opportunity.

Kilroy rapidly moved his men into an ambush position along the road, near Carrowkennedy again. He subsequently divided them on company basis: Wesport men placed on high ground overlooking the road, Newport men to the west of them, closer to the road and with the cover of a wood and Louisbergh men on the other side of the road on another height overlooking a nearby junction (that was the plan at least, but some accounts claim this last section never got the chance to get into position). Kilroy, having learned at least one lesson from the disaster at Kilmeena, hand-picked the best shots in the column for the vital task of eliminating the drivers of the convoy vehicles quickly.

Things went even more in the favour of the IRA before a shot was fired. The Crown Forces – a mixture of “regular” RIC and Black and Tans – were indeed forced to travel the expected route, and suffered a car breakdown, which then subsequently had to be towed by one of the lorries, which would have reduced its speed significantly. Worse, the overall commander of the RIC detachment, a District Inspector Edward Stevenson, broke regulations to serve as the driver of the lead lorry, when he should have been in the back of the trailing one. Finally, they gave the IRA ample time to prepare for their arrival, by stopping into a pub on the way for “refreshments”.

The ambush began late in the evening, with a scout signalling to the column. As the lead lorry entered the kill zone, Stevenson was shot dead by Jimmy O’Flaherty, a Volunteer who had once been a member of the Connacht Rangers. Somewhat ironically, both men were veterans of the First World War. In an instant, half of the convoy had become immobilized and the overall force had lost its commander. The second lorry was similarly incapacitated further down the road, drifting into a roadside ditch. The remaining IRA opened fire on both vehicles from both sides of the road.

The trapped RIC men had few options. Most of those in the first lorry disembarked as well as they were able and took cover behind a nearby embankment, seeking to bring their Lewis Gun to bear on the enemy, but to little effect: without sufficient protection, any man who tried to use the gun became an easy target, and several of the RIC may have been hit in the process of trying, unable to defend themselves from the IRA on the heights. At the same time, the men of the second lorry disembarked and ran into a nearby thatched cottage, to the alarm of its civilian occupants. Too late, they realised they had left most of their ammunition in the lorry, and they used up their own limited supply firing ineffectively at the Volunteers, who had decent cover behind stone walls. They were unable to support their comrades further up the road, and seemingly thought they were surrounded, as they attempted no withdrawal themselves.

Efforts by the RIC to break out of their positions or to flank the IRA were futile, and the only way they could have safely extracted themselves would have been with the arrival of reinforcements. Foe two hours, the firefight went back and forth, with the RIC attempting to make use of a special rifle grenade launcher. In the end, this weapon proved ineffective, and ultimately disastrous: when Volunteers made a move on the first lorry, a mis-aimed grenade landed in the RIC perimeter, killing one man and wounding another.

This was the signal for what was left of the first lorry to raise a white flag, much to Kilroy’s relief: he too was running low on ammo, and with night falling had begin to consider his options. The Volunteers immediately requisitioned the captured Lewis Gun and trained it on the occupied cottage. Having used up most of their ammunition and with nowhere to go, the RIC there quickly surrendered also. Eight of the overall RIC force had been killed or fatally wounded, and several others injured. The prisoners were rounded up, but not harmed, despite GHQ directives and the feelings of some of the Volunteers, who would have vividly remembered their own previous defeats and the treatment of the bodies of their dead comrades. The IRA distributed the substantial amount of captured guns, set fire to the lorries, and dispersed. They had suffered no casualties.

Carrowkennedy was a total IRA success, and a dismal Crown Forces failure. The Volunteers had been able to herd the target effectively by cutting roads. They had chosen a suitable ambush site, with elevation and cover for the attackers. They had eliminated the Crown Forces’mobility and leadership in the opening shots. They had silenced the enemy advantage in firepower with the first lorry, and isolated the men of the second lorry. They had kept the enemy pinned down until surrender was inevitable. They had made casualties of most of the enemy force, taken none of their own, and made off with more than enough guns and ammo to fight the war for another year if they had wanted to. As such, redemption for previous failures was well and truly achieved, and Kilroy would now have a level of notoriety he was probably not expecting when he took over the Brigade.

On the British side, proper convoy procedure had not been followed, and the RIC had blundered into an ambush without requisite care. In the ensuring ambush, they had allowed themselves to become pinned down in two different areas, and proved unable to better their situation through a breakout attempt or a flanking attack. Given that the Kilmeena ambush had been held up as a great counter-insurgency success, Carrowkennedy must have come as an almighty shock.

The West Mayo column was on the run for the rest of the war, evading several British search parties until the truce came into effect. Their success at Carrowkennedy undoubtedly contributed somewhat to British pivots to embrace a political solution over a military one, as yet another example of the IRA continuing to inflict damage when they were supposed to be on the backfoot. Ultimately many of the guns captured there would be used in the Civil War, where the West Mayo column would split apart: some of the men at Carrowkennedy would end up killing the others within a year.

While there would be plenty more deaths before the war came to an end, Carrowkennedy constitutes the last major ambush of the conflict in terms of casualties, bar one that I will discuss in a few weeks. But it remains somewhat of an exception: as noted, the war in Mayo was not a terribly active one, events like Carrowkennedy aside. But where the war was extremely active, and in fact would remain so after the truce, was in the north. There, in July of 1921, another explosion of sectarian violence would occur, and it is this violence, dubbed the second “Bloody Sunday” of the war, where we go next.

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

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