By Jim Gibney (for the irish News)
There is a very simple yet powerful and time honoured message in Ken Loach’s new film about the Irish people’s struggle for independence - the futility of British military occupation.
The Wind That Shakes The Barley goes on release in cinemas across this country this weekend.
It is a political film which sides with those fighting against the oppression that accompanies British occupation.
The issue at its heart is legitimacy - the illegitimacy of British occupation versus the legitimacy of IRA resistance.
Loach is in no doubt where he stands on this crucial question. Occupation rests on one principle only and that is military might and is therefore wrong.
It is not a pro-war film. It portrays the brutality of war whether it is perpetrated by the IRA or the Crown forces. There is a particularly heart-rending scene where a young IRA volunteer who has betrayed his comrades is executed by an equally young IRA man.
After the execution the young man in despair throws away his gun temporarily and exclaims: “The country we are fighting for better be worth this.”
It is unlike most other films dealing with the struggle for Irish independence because it focuses on an unknown group of IRA volunteers in a small village in Cork. The big names of the period do not feature, de Valera and Collins nor Tom Barry, who created the IRA’s flying columns, which did so much damage to the British Crown forces in Cork and adjacent counties.
Instead the film examines the personal impact of the decision by a group of young people to go to war.
Their youth is emphasised at the start of the film with the opening sequence a scene from a hurling match.
Youths at play with wooden hurls are quickly shown using the same hurls as mock rifles as they take part in military training in the mountains overlooking their village.
Loach’s treatment of how this group decide to go to war is very well captured in a passionate exchange between those in the IRA trying to convince the film’s lead character, Damien, that he should join them.
Damien, played by Cillian Murphy, has a bright future ahead of him. He is a medical student on his way to university in London to study to be a doctor.
In his village he witnesses the brutality of the Crown forces as they humiliate local people. They kill his friend from the hurling club because he gives them his name in Gaelic and refuses at their insistence to translate it into English.
Damien argues with his IRA friends that the British military are too strong, that resistance will make matters worse and anyway, what has it to do with him?
He wrestles with the dilemma of what to do with the consequences of occupation which he sees all around him.
Should he risk his life, put it on hold, go to war in defence of people who cannot protect themselves or pretend he does not see what his eyes are telling him?
The same dilemma has faced every generation of republicans for at least the last 200 years of Britain’s occupation of Ireland.
How should people react - especially young people because it is they who fight wars - when confronted by soldiers of occupation wreaking havoc on their neighbours?
Do they cross over to the other side of the road and turn their heads away from a challenging incident?
Do they ignore the raid on a person’s home in their street and pretend it is not happening?
History teaches us, in Ireland and elsewhere in the world, enough people are not intimidated by military occupation.
They do what is expected of them. They fight.
Forced to retreat by the IRA, the British withdrew to the six counties, split the IRA, provoked a civil war and 80 years later we are still dealing with the effects of occupation.
However, the big difference between 1919, 1970 and today is the opportunity to credibly oppose that occupation without using armed force.
In part, that is due to those republicans who fought and died opposing occupation then and now.