"The Wind That Shakes the Barley" Sends Revisionists Yapping at History's Heels (Film About the IRA)

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Ken Loach's 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley', currently enjoying huge success at the Irish box office and the winner of the 2006 Cannes Palm d'Or winner, continues to stir up strong passions. The film depicts the struggle between the IRA and British forces during the Irish War of Independence and the civil war that followed the Anglo Irish Treaty of 1922.

In Britain, The Sun called Loach's film "the most pro IRA ever". Ruth Dudley Edwards, an Irish historian, asked in the Daily Mail why the "Marxist" film director Ken Loach "loath[es] his country so much". Many critics of the film cited the work of one historian in particular, Peter Hart. I must declare an interest here. In the Irish Times letters pages in the summer of 2006, Hart claimed that I "misrepresent" his work, accusing him of stating that "ethnic cleansing" directed at Protestants was a feature of IRA actions. In fact I I did not state any such thing, though, had I done so, it would have been an accurate observation since Hart did use precisely that phraseology. The historian misrepresented himself and forgot his own history. Had he consulted his university department web site under "research", before putting pen to paper, he would have seen that he researches "ethnic conflict and cleansing" in Ireland. ( The correspondence is online at indymedia.ie.)

Indeed one strand in the criticism of Loach's film is that it does not deal with alleged IRA sectarianism toward Ireland's Protestant community. In writing a largely favourable review in History Ireland (Sept-Oct 2006), TCD historian Brian Hanley commented briefly on the absence of such a treatment in the film. Ireland's leading 'revisionist' historian, Professor Roy Foster of Oxford University, [a Waterford man who achieves the amazing feat in his standard history of Ireland of suggesting that the Great Famine of the mid-1840s somehow didn't really occur, Editors] invoked Peter Hart in his swipes at Loach. The relevant text here is Hart's The IRA and its Enemies (1998). Hart concluded that the IRA was sectarian and that the Irish War of Independence was a battle for 'ethnic supremacy'. Hart argued previously, (though he's now trying to haul his foot out of his mouth), that the headline-provoking phrase "ethnic cleansing" could be used to describe certain actions by republican forces. In disagreeing with cultural critic Luke Gibbons' rejection of the term, Foster agreed with Hart and, by way of example, cited the "murder" of the Protestant Pearson brothers in Offaly in 1921.

While giving one source for his view, Alan Stanley's I Met Murder on the Way, Foster omitted an alternative account by Offaly historian Patrick Heaney. Heaney indicated that the Pearson brothers were combatants who shot at and hit IRA members, were themselves sectarian in their Protestant ascendancy outlook, and contacted British authorities in Dublin Castle to inform on IRA activists. After the IRA weighed the evidence, they decided to execute the Pearsons and then did so. Heaney wrote on this subject some years ago, prior to Stanley's account, which itself fails to address Heaney's work. Heaney updated his account with corroborative material from the newly released files from the Bureau of Military History in early 2006. Pat Muldowney wrote on this subject in Church and State magazine (Winter & Spring 2006), and it was released also on the Internet, on Indymedia.ie. Perhaps Professor Foster was unaware of these sources of information, a consistent pattern of evasive behavior within 'revisionist' historiography, as we shall see. From his academic perch Foster dismisses those he deigns to term "local"--albeit unnamed -- historians, who presume to criticize Peter Hart, about whom there is in fact plenty to criticize. The historians Brian Murphy and Meda Ryan have charged him with bias and distortion. How, Ryan asks, can Hart claim to have interviewed an anonymous veteran of the famous November 1920 Kilmichael ambush in Cork six days after the last veteran died. She has not received an answer. Four of six issues of History Ireland in 2005 were devoted to coverage of the views of the antagonists. The BBC has covered the debate (BBC radio, BBC online and BBC history magazine), and the controversy has featured in Ireland's main newspapers. The History Ireland debate is online at historyireland.com and it has been given extensive coverage at indymedia.ie. ...

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