AN IRISH WEEKEND
What better time than now to look at a TV mini-series about The Irish Easter Rebellion and its aftermath appropriately called Rebellion currently on Netflix.
Ireland and England have a long and complicated history, mostly one of exploitation of Ireland by Great Britain. Much like the Brexit debate going on today in the United Kingdom, there were great debates in 19th and early 20th century England about what should be done with Ireland - should it be allowed Home Rule, that is, the right to make laws for itself, or should it remain part of the British Empire? The problem was that the Northern part of Ireland, centered in Belfast, was predominantly Protestant while the rest of Ireland was fiercely Catholic. Of course, the differences were not only religious, Protestants were usually originally British and more prosperous. That doesn't mean they were any less Irish - W.B. Yeats, Ireland's great poet, was Protestant.
Rebellion takes up the story on the eve of World War I in August, 1914. The War aggravated the problems since many Irish thought it would be the perfect time to rebel. Rumors were rife that the Irish rebels were making deals with Germany, England's greatest enemy in the war.
Everything came to a head in April 1916 at Easter. The Irish rebels planned to take over Dublin. While they were greatly outnumbered by the British soldiers, they planned on being reinforced by rebels from the west of Ireland who were scheduled to receive a large shipment of guns from Germany.
There is a rich store of people and events that make the Easter Rebellion a treasure trove of amazing characters and incredible drama, but, instead, Rebellion centers on a few fictional families in Dublin.
The Butlers are wealthy Irish. Their two children, a young man who is a wastrel and a daughter who is caught up in the rebellion, show two sides of the Irish attitude toward the rebellion; many Irish were unwilling to support the rebellion. At the other end of the spectrum, the Mahons are more typical of Dubliners at the time, poor and living in a tenement. The man of the house, Arthur, has been drafted and was fighting the war in France when he is given leave and arrives in Dublin just before Easter. His brother is one of the leaders of the rebellion and the Mahon family ends up as torn to shreds by the rebellion as Ireland, itself.
Then there is the British high-ranking administrator who has fallen in love with his Irish secretary. When his wife shows up just before Easter, the problems that ensue make the Irish question a very personal one for him.
The Rebellion did not go as planned. While the rebels were able to control parts of the city, they never had a chance against England and its formidable army that had tanks and other armoured vehicles. In the end, the IRA suffered 82 deaths, the British forces 143 while the civilian toll was much heavier with 260 killed and over 2200 wounded.
The second season of the show is called Resistance and was written by the same author as Rebellion, Colin Teevan. It centers around "Bloody Sunday" in 1920 when the IRA sought to kill many spies the British had in Dublin. The IRA assassinated about 20 Brits and in reprisal the Brits murdered about 19 IRA members. Again, the emphasis is on personal stories, highlighting the betrayals and family divisions caused by the Irish fight for freedom.
In Ireland, this series has caused an uproar with many taking umbrage at the inaccuracies they claim in the facts depicted in the series. Of course, if you are looking to brush up your Irish history, TV series are probably the last place you should look. On the other hand, the fictional characters of this series are not half as interesting as the real ones. Teevan gives a prominent place to women in the rebellion and it is true that women did play a significant role, but, also, he uses some very trite circumstances to bring them into the story when none were needed - they were there from the beginning.
Sadly, this series does not do justice to the Irish War for Independence. Neil Jordan, almost 25 years ago, tried to tell the story in his movie, Michael Collins. He failed, too. There is planned a third series that looks at the endgame of the Irish Rebellion when a dubious peace is made, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the island and keeping it British. This led to decades of battles between the IRA and Britain. With the Good Friday agreement in 1998, peace came, finally, to Ireland. But, now, with Brexit, it is possible that it will start all over again as Ireland is part of the European Union, but if Great Britain leaves, then the hard border with North Ireland will be back. No one knows what that will mean for peace in Ireland.