The General - a grotesque myth
BY ART Mac EOIN
This Friday sees the release of The General, John Boorman's film
about Dublin's former criminal godfather, Martin Cahill. Despite
an excellent line up of actors including Brendan Gleeson as
Cahill, and Adrian Dunbar, the film is a major disappointment.
The General turns the truth of Martin Cahill's career on its head
and peddles a grotesque myth that Cahill was really a Robin Hood
type figure who espoused socialist principles and spent his life
fighting injustice and authority and looking after the interests
of others, particularly the poor.
The reality of Cahill's brutality to others is blurred to the
point of making his victims look stupid and his violence seem
quaint. Even the most vicious acts such as the cruxifiction of a
young heroin addict and the maiming for life of a forensic
scientist are treated in a comic fashion. Their cases have been
presented in various newspaper articles this week and it is clear
that they find the film particularly offensive when they are
still suffering the effects of their injuries.
A particularly disgraceful aspect of the film is the manner in
which Dublin's anti-drugs movement of the 1980s is portrayed as a
mere tool of the IRA, invented for the purpose of targeting
members of Martin Cahill's gang because the IRA wanted some of
Cahill's stolen loot.
To distort the truth about a genuine people's movement, born out
of the horror of Dublin's heroin epidemic in the 1980s, for the
purpose of endowing victimhood on the very people who flooded the
streets with heroin, is an insult to the people of Dublin.
According to Boorman Cahill ``regarded the IRA as just another
aspect of authority''. But Cahill was no anti-authoritarian hero
of the marginalised and oppressed. He was the ultimate in
authoritarianism and individualism, and was an oppressor to
people of his own class who he used, abused and brutalised in
order to fulfill his own selfish ambitions. Cahill had no
altruistic traits. His motive was pure, unadulterated greed. He
despised the collective will of the people and community
empowerment and demonstrated this through his actions against the
Concerned Parents movement.
Faced with the people power of the CPAD Dublin's drug dealers
could no longer threaten or intimidate with impunity. Martin
Cahill's response was to establish the `Concerned Criminals'
group. Gangsters, under Cahill's direction, targeted the homes of
anti-drugs activists and threatened people who involved
themselves in marches and pickets. Masked gunmen shot an
anti-drugs activist, Joey Flynn, in both legs.
Apart from the celebrated robberies, the hallmarks of the Cahill
gang were extortion, drug dealing, intimidation and rape.
Boorman's film totally ignores evdience of the Cahill gang's
involvement in the heroin trade. In the book on which the film is
loosely based Paul Williams attempts to gloss over the same issue
but admits that Cahill personally put up £50,000 for his
brother-in-law Hughie Delaney to import a shipment of heroin.
In 1993 one of Cahill's associates was arrested and charged with
raping and buggering his own 14-year-old daughter. Cahill
personally embarked on a sinister campaign of intimidation to
stop the terrified young girl giving evidence.
The ruthlessness of Martin Cahill's gang, the fear they
instilled, the grip they held through intimidation, their access
to weapons, their penchant for extreme violence and the fact that
Cahill had never been convicted, led much of the public to
believe he was `untouchable'.
Cahill himself began to believe the myth and felt safe enough to
initiate contacts with loyalist death squad leaders with a view
to using their contacts and networks to meet his own needs, in
particular to off-load priceless paintings from the Beit
collection which Cahill had stolen from Russborough House.
Cahill's gang became closely associated with the Portadown unit
of the UVF led by Billy Wright, the infamous King Rat. Following
a number of meetings Wright's group undertook to offload the Beit
paintings, a number of which later surfaced in Britain and Turkey
and led to the arrest of a number of loyalists.
King Rat and his Portadown UVF, one of the most active and brutal
elements in the UVF structure, were well known to be heavily
involved in drug dealing and criminality and to have widespread
criminal contacts both North and South of the border. Such
criminal contacts were used to finance their campaign of
At the time of Cahill's death in August 1994 the Portadown UVF
had been responsible for the murders of some 30 nationalist
civilians. These included some of the most brutal sectarian
outrages of the past 30 years. In the months prior to Cahill's
death King Rat's gang carried out the slaying of 76-year-old Rose
Ann Mallon, the murder of two nationalist youths in Armagh city
in May, the slaughter of six people in a pub in Loughinisland as
they watched the World Cup soccer match in June and the brutal
shooting to death of pregnant mother of five Kathleen O'Hagan in
Tyrone that August.
Two months prior to the Cahill execution the UVF attempted to
bomb the Widow Scallan's pub in Dublin and shot dead IRA
Volunteer Martin Doherty. It was widely speculated in media and
other circles that the UVF attackers had received assistance from
criminal elements in the city to carry out the attack. The manner
in which the attack was carried out, the spot where the car used
by the killers was abandoned, and other features, indicated a
fairly high degree of local information.
There were some sinister elements in the Dublin underworld who
had deep contempt for the Republican Movement, in particular over
Sinn Fein support for the anti-drugs movement and the refusal of
Sinn Féin activists at a community level to be intimidated by
criminal gangs who attempted to exert control in some of the more
deprived working class areas.
The IRA had for some time been concerned with evidence in their
possession that loyalist groups were increasing their contacts
with criminals in nationalist areas of the Six Counties and with
a number of gangsters south of the border. Such increased
co-operation was being fuelled by the huge profits to be made in
the illegal drugs trade. As a result of this development it had
been learned that information on republicans was getting into the
hands of the loyalist death squads. The IRA had detailed
information regarding Cahill's involvement with the UVF who were
escalating their campaign in the North and were now extending it
to Dublin. They decided to act.
At 3.15pm on Thursday, 18 August 1994 Martin Cahill, `The
General', slowed down at the junction of Charlestown Road and
Oxford Road, close to his house in Swan Grove, Ranelagh on the
southside of Dublin city. An armed IRA Volunteer, posing as a
traffic planner, stepped from the pavement and shot Cahill at
point blank range.
In a statement claiming responsibility the IRA made clear that it
was Cahill's ``involvement with and assistance to pro-British
death squads which forced us to act''.
Despite an appalling script the General has some very good acting
from Glesson and Dunbar. Good preformances also by John Voight,
Maria Doyle Kennedy, Angeline Ball, Eanna McLiam and Sean
There are two other films about Martin Cahill in the pipeline.
Let's hope they will do greater justice to the facts of his life
and death than Boorman's shoddy and irresponsible effort.