'The Wind that Shakes the Barley'... A 'Must See' Film for Irish and British people

What a film! One of the best and most evocative films that I have ever seen.
The storyline, the production and the acting were first class. The motley group of Iraqi, American and Irish friends that went with me to the movie were emotionally captived by the performances. Huda and my wife Cepta were reduced to tears; my 'green' Irish rebel heart was beating with joy one minute, with anger and sorrow the next. I could see images of my own grandparents and grandcousins in so many of the onscreen roles.

In its portrayal of the 'Irish War on Independence', the 'Wind that Shakes the Barley' brilliantly touched on universal themes that could be placed in any age, in any country across the world that is or was experiencing occupation by a foreign military force. It particularly captured the essential racism and terrorism of all armies of occuption as they try and fight a native guerilla force that is deeply woven into the fabric of a local community. In the film, the British forces carry out classic counter-insurgancy tactics that almost always fail in the end. In response to the successful guerilla campign of the IRA, the British government created what John Walsh of the English 'Independent' newspaper recently called modern Europe's first state-sanctioned terror group. The orders for this army force (the 'Black and Tans')-comprising many criminals and recently released prisoners-was to initiate a reign of pure terror against the civilian population and bludgeon them into submitting to British rule.

In the film as in real life, they left a trail of death and destruction in their wake- burning streets and houses, shooting innocent civilians, torturing prisoners and carrying out summary executions. Their open racist contempt for the natives was shown in the film not just in their brutality but in their verbal abuse and sneering of the Irish and all things Irish. Their words and actions reminded so much of Israelis' comments this week towards the Lebanese; of American GI language towards the Iraqis and formerly the Vietnamese; of the Turks towards the Kurds; of Bosnian Serbs towards the Muslims; of Russians towards the Chechens; pf Sudanese Arabs towards the Darfur negroes... Yet the British atrocities only had the opposite effect to what the their government had hoped for, with support and recruitment to the Irish republican resistence only increasing.
But the movie also admirably showed the underlying tensions and divisions that existed in the Irish republican movement. The scenes that centred on the debates and arguments over the terms of the Treaty brought back by Michael Collins from London were classic! One of my favourite moments though was when a Irish republican court -operated by an almost exclusive all-female (!) judiciary- awarded in favour of a poor woman who was unable to pay the principle and exhorbant interest for a loan that she had obtained from a wealthy Irish businessman. Priceless! But the next scene then showed an IRA unit going in and forcibly releasing the convicted businessman. Why? Because they needed his money to buy rifles and bullets to fight the British! For already the seeds for the divisions and largely social class conflict of the Irish civil war of 1922 were been sown.

The movie also cast light on many other forgotten aspects of this period of Irish history:
-the prominent role of women in the resistance movement
-the refusal of the Irish railway workers to transport British military personnel and weaponry
-the execution of 'traitors' by the IRA volunteers of men they once called friends
-the excommunication by the Catholic Church bishops of anti-treaty republicans
-the racist attitudes of the landed aristocracy towards the native Irish
-the network of farm houses that provided food and lodgings to the IRA
-the excellent guerilla tactics employed by the IRA
-the high level of IRA weaponry that came from raids on British police barracks

The British 'Independent' reporter John Walsh said of the film, "At last a film that brings the truth to British eyes (of British rule in Ireland)". The same could also be said of Irish eyes. Ken Loach has done a great service to both countries

Film on Ireland's 'War of Independence': Obvious comparisons to modern Iraq

Well done to the British film producer, Ken Loach. His film - 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley' - on the subject of the 'Irish War of Independence' has being condemned viciously by the British tabloid press. Which must be a good thing!
'The Sun' and other similar newspapers tore him asunder for exposing the terror tactics of the British army against the Irish population during the War of Independence (1918-1921). But he told nothing but the truth about the British paramilitary units known as the 'Black 'n' Tans' (so called becasue they wore a mix of brown and black uniforms) who committed so many atrocities against civilians- torture, burnings, drunken rampages, murders.... that, as with Cromwell's armies of the mid-17th century, they will live forever as demons in the folklore of Ireland. But for the British establishment today it is embarrassing that people will make the obvious comparision to the tactics of the US & UK occupation military forces in present day Iraq.
Ken is representative of an honourary tradition amongst a section of British society who always had the courage to speak the truth about Ireland and other issues of worldwide human rights and suffered much personal abuse and vilification as a result. People such as Gareth Pierce, Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and Chris Mullins spring to mind.

Irish, Iraqis and Americans 'out on the town' together!
I am going to see the film tomorrow night in the company of my wife Cepta and some friends who happen to be Iraqis and American anti-war activists. They requested me to go with them because of my political views as well as my family's involvement as IRA volunteers in this war of liberation of 1918-'21. But my family were typical of this period-so I hold no special knowledge except that I listened too many a fireside chat when I was a little boy as these old veterans told their stories.

Anyway, our pub conversation after the movie should be priceless!
So I will give you my views on the movie in my next posting

Time for the City Council to Fulfill its Election Promises on Developing a Sustainable Transport Infrastructure

At last! – my neighbourhood can this week rejoice as City Hall contractors began work yesterday on installing a permanent pedestrian crossing and associated traffic-calming devices on the Headford Road opposite Tirellan school. One of the busiest city roadways has for too many years denied safe access to pedestrians and turned the once simple pleasure of walking to the local shop or to school into a death defying exercise!

A Lollipop Lady is on hand at certain times during weekdays to help children cross to and from the school. But that is only for a few hours per day during school term.
So I am frustrated that it has taken so long to reach the construction stage.
I have been leading a residents’ campaign for such a pedestrian facility since 2002. In 2003, we persuaded the roads section of Galway City Council to officially recommend its installation. In 2004 funds were allocated for its construction. However two school years have passed since then. Thankfully though no serious road accident occurred involving pupils walking to this school.
In recent discussions with City Hall, we were also promised that a permanent pedestrian crossing is also now being considered for Bothar na Traobh near the Kirwan Roundabout. But that may take years to materialise (if ever)?
Yet our aims goes much deeper that just securing a once-off crossing. We want the installation of permanent pedestrian crossings on all roads leading onto all city roundabouts in order to facilitate uninterrupted pedestrian flow.

Council’s Roadside Failure
So we are alarmed that this City Council, now in its third year in office, has made no progress whatsoever in this area. For remember, this was the council comprising young new faces with fresh ideas, many from new political parties that promised so much when it was elected in June 2004. It was to herald a new dawn for the people of Galway.
Alas, the councillors' election promises on many critical issues such as transport have still to be delivered. One of the basic tenets of the Galway City Development Board Strategy (which I helped produce) adopted in 2002 is that the city will become ‘pedestrian-friendly, cycling-friendly, disability-friendly and child-friendly’.
The councillors collectively should be ashamed of themselves that they have failed to face up to the ‘roundabouts’ issue and have failed to put in place the basic city-wide infrastructure required to facilitate pedestrian and cyclist flow in Galway’s suburbs. The traffic nightmare that they all promised to prioritise has got progressively worse since they took up office. It is now too dangerous for most residents to contemplate alternatives to car transport even for short journeys to shops, schools or places of worship. This has led to the almost complete extinction of bicycles from the school grounds whereas just over twenty years ago, 30% of pupils cycled.

The Disappearing Walls & Hedgerows of Galway

…and the walls came a tumbling down…
Drystone walls and hedgerows, once the great characteristic features of the Galway countryside, are now being destroyed by the Irish state at such an alarming rate that only isolated rumps will remain within a few years unless decisive action is taken soon.
A combination of ever-increasing roadside housing development, county council road widening and National Road Authority’s (NRA) projects is annually wiping out hundreds of miles of beautiful traditional field boundaries whose origins stretch back millennia.

The blinkered vision of the NRA towards the rich cultural landscape that was Tara is sadly being surpassed by their recent destructive activities in county Galway.
In the construction of the Loughrea By-Pass, the NRA ripped out miles of hedgerows and traditional stonewalls leaving in their place a horrible mis-mash of fences, metal barriers and concrete walls. This will inevitability led to a cancerous continuation of installing these anti-natural heritage intrusions into the surrounding landscape. For these native field boundaries played a critical role in acting as a receptacle for much of our flora and fauna after the uprooting of our native forests by the British military and landed gentry over the centuries. They acted as vital ‘green highways’ for the movement of wildlife across the island.

Sadly the national road agency is being aided and abetted by Galway County Council. It is true that planning stipulations oftentimes require stonewall perimeters for new roadside housing development; but these are of a modern design that bear no resemblance to the older eco-types.
Recently my family had a combined hedgerow and drystone wall bulldozed by the council in a road widening scheme and were told that, for reasons of safety & NRA guidelines, the authority now only install wooden fences or concrete posts/wire perimeters as replacements.

Amazingly the local authority’s Heritage section is undertaking absolute trojan work trying to promote and preserve field boundaries through innovative community-based projects such as the ‘Golden Mile’ competition and the council’s own Heritage Plan 2004-2008. But it looks like a losing battle for the Council’s stronger right hand seems to care little for what the weaker left hand is doing. As a member of the Galway Heritage Forum, it pains me to say so. I hope though I am proved wrong & I have started a campaign to stop this destruction of an important countryside heritage. For Galway with its field walls and hedgerows is like China with its Great Wall, Australia without its Great Barrier Reef or Venice without its canals

Sight and Sound of US Warplanes Reawakens Fear in Galway

While Salthill Air Show organisers waxed lyrically about the tourism monies made and how it was a wonderful joyous occasion for parents and children, the sight and sound of US and UK military aircraft over Galway brought fear and anxiety to at least one family living in Salthill.
“It was frightening to see and to hear the same warplanes that are bringing so much death and destruction in my country re-appear once again over the skies of our new home” said an Iraqi medical friend of mine. His ordinary peace-loving mixed Sunni-Shia family from Baghdad fled their once quiet neighbourhood due to the madness and anarchy unleashed by the American invasion forces.

Innocent civilian relatives, friends and working colleagues of this family died at the hands of trigger-happy gung-ho Americans troops, Western private security mercenaries or local sectarian and criminal elements who now control the daily life of a country that has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic ‘Mad Max’ world. Daily pogroms, massacres, kidnappings and bloodlust have now devastated the lives of everyday Iraqi people while their occupiers live, eat and sleep in their surreal zones of comfort with such euphemistic names as the “Green Zone”.

So what further family-orientated festivals celebrating modern engineering has Mr. McGrath planned for us next? Maybe a festival dedicated to the power of the motorised vehicle complete with a few Black ‘n’ Tan Crossley tenders, SS armoured half-tracks or US Humvees re-enacting their famous drives through civilian areas?
It is a sad day for Irish tourism that we have to glorify the killing machines of brutal occupation armies that are bringing so much sorrow to so many ordinary families.
It is a disgrace too that a Galway business organisation publicly condemns those of us who didn’t attend the airshow as doing a great disservice to the city. Actually, it is the Mayor, local politicians, the GAAW and the rest of us who protested peacefully against weapons of mass destruction who are following the principles of the founders of our state. While it is those that lambast us who are continuing the tradition of what WB Yeat’s called "fumbling in the Greasy Till" at the expense of moral values. It is time to cease funding this annual ghoulish celebration of death’s scythe that dresses itself up as a family event. Or maybe the organisers could do the sensible thing and ban warplanes so that we can all attend? If not, why not?

Police Disrupt Peaceful Anti-War Protest

20 police turned up at the anti-Airshow protest that gathered at the Claddagh Hall in order to confiscate and burst 99 Red Balloons! Not since the dark days of the 1980s has Gaway experienced such blatent political actions by the country's police against anti-establishment and human rights campaigners. This agressive action took place even when the family-dominated demonstration included the Mayor, city councillors and a member of Dail Eireann.

We were told that these 30 cent balloons would interfere with the workings of sophisticated multi-million dollar warplanes! Who are they fooling?

There should be an investigation into who was ultimately responsibile for giving these ridiculous orders to police that turned them into the laughing stock of the whole country.
On a separate note, the presence of so many police at such a peaceful event questions the priorities of the present Minister of Justice while law-abiding residents across the country are screaming unsuccessfully for more community policing in order to tackle rampant crime, drug wars, and street violence in their neighbourhoods.