Category Archives: Irish

Omagh (2004)

 “We would like to call into account the security forces and the police and the politicians in London, Dublin, and Belfast who have promised us so much but have singularly failed to deliver.”

Omagh is a made-for-television film directed by Pete Travis that examines the story behind the Omagh bombing that took place on August 15, 1998. The bombing–carried out by the Real IRA (a splinter group of the provisional Irish Republican Army)–killed 29 people and left approximately 220 wounded. The bombing took place in the middle of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

omagh1In October 1997, the Real IRA or True IRA formed after splintering from the Provisional IRA and its ceasefire agreement. On August 15, 1998, the organization placed a 500 lb bomb in a stolen car that was parked in a busy downtown market area of Omagh. Bomb warnings were then called in, but in spite of the telephoned warnings, civilians were actually redirected closer to the bomb.

The film Omagh charts the bombing and its after effects on the families of the victims and concentrates its story on the family of Michael Gallagher, whose only son Aiden was killed in the blast. Once the bombing was over, both the British government and the Provisional IRA were determined to continue with the peace process, but the families of the victims wanted those responsible for the bombing to be caught and punished.

At first the families are shown trying to seek arrests through the accepted channels. One Omagh resident patiently keeps writing letters to Tony Blair expecting to get some sort of personal response, but as time goes on, no one is caught and charged with the crime. Omagh residents become increasingly frustrated. A town meeting results initially in frustrated name-calling, but then Gallagher emerges as the chairman of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group.

But after all the official waves of sympathy passed away, the residents, survivors and families of victims were still left with nothing. Referring to British politicians, one resident concludes that “as long as the bombs stay out of London, they don’t give a damn.” In spite of the fact that the names of those involved in the bombing were known on both sides of the border, no one was charged with the crime. Mobile phone call records yielded names of prime suspects, but still no one was charged. And this is when the victims and their families get sick and tired of waiting for results and begin to do some legwork of their own. Amidst stories of multiple advances warnings from British agent Kevin Fulton, the entire Omagh episode becomes even murkier.

Omagh underscores the idea that the IRA and the splinter Real IRA are just as inaccessible, institutionalized, remote and largely disinterested as the British government. And as for the Real IRA members who carried out the bombing, this action proves the argument against using violence to further a political agenda. If the Real IRA were ‘counting’ on the British Government and the local police to warn the residents, we can see just where that illogical sort of reliance and trust led–right into the toilet. It’s a bit pathetic when you think about it. Here you are–the Real IRA devoted to kicking the British out of Ireland, and the best you can do is plant a huge bomb and then expect the police and the British government (institutions the Real IRA supposedly abhors) to do the honorable thing and warn the people. The British government wants one thing, the IRA wants another, but ultimately the people of Omagh were screwed. Was the Omagh massacre the result of police incompetence or was this a disaster that was allowed to happen in order to further a political agenda? Well watch this well-acted, riveting and eloquent film and decide for yourselves.

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The Mighty Celt (2005)

Irish coming-of-age tale

I tend to avoid films that focus on a child as a central figure, but decided to watch The Mighty Celt directed and written by Pearse Elliott for its subject matter.

Set in Ireland, the story concerns Donal (Tyrone McKenna) a 14-year-old boy who lives with his single mother, Kate (Gillian Anderson). While they share a good relationship, there’s something lonely and solitary about this boy. Donal has a passion for animals, and this passion is manifested in his pet ferrets and also in his job working for the sadistic Good Joe (Ken Stott)–a man who keeps a number of racing greyhounds.

The film begins with Good Joe tossing the body of yet another murdered greyhound into a nearby lake. To Joe, the greyhounds are not pets–they’re “tools.” And as tools, he keeps them when they work well (that translates to them winning races), and then he murders them if they lose. When Donal persuades Joe to purchase a greyhound with the understanding that the lad will train the dog, well, you just know that this won’t end well….

The Mighty Celt (and that’s the name of Donal’s dog, by the way) is a quiet film that succeeds on many levels. Although the film’s central figure is a small undersized teen, there’s little time wasted on sympathy for this character and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the film. Donal is remarkably solid and confident in his opinions, and while this is in some ways a coming-of-age tale, Donal isn’t really shaken in his belief in the adult world. Instead his foray into dealing with cruelty and betrayal reinforces his recognition of right and wrong.

The story is played out in a modern Ireland with its adults still reeling from the aftereffects of violence. Kate, for example, lost her IRA-connected brother, and O (Robert Carlyle) an old beau returns from prison. Kate harbours a great deal of anger about the “troubles” but O simply lives with regrets. O voices the realization that he never thought he’d be capable of violent acts, while Good Joe despises O as a “sellout.” Good Joe has connections with the “Real IRA” and to him the fight isn’t over.

While many films chose to sentimentalize children, The Mighty Celt doesn’t take that route. Donal is a hard nut, but not overtly so. He’s a product of his violent environment–canny, wary, introspective, and ultimately very interesting.

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A Love Divided (1999)

“You can’t fight the whole Catholic Church.”

A Love Divided is an effective Irish film set in the 50s and based on a true story. Sheila (Orla Brady) is a protestant woman married to Catholic Sean Cloney (Liam Cunningham). They are very happy together and have 2 small girls. While Sheila goes to a protestant church with her father and sister each Sunday, Sean takes the two little girls and joins the swelling Catholic congregation. Sheila and Sean’s family and friends all accept this marriage of mixed religions, but their problems begin when it’s time to send the eldest girl to school. Sheila agreed to raise the children as Catholic, and when she made the promise, it didn’t seem to be a hardship. When it’s time for little Eileen to go to school, Sheila decides to send her to the small village school (where the teacher is, incidentally Catholic), but the local Catholic priest, Father Stafford (Tony Doyle) almost blows a circuit at the news. He demands that Eileen attend the local Catholic school.

As far as Sheila is concerned, her promise to bring up the girls as Catholic is fulfilled and doesn’t extend to which school they attend. When Sheila resists with the argument that it’s up to the parents where the child goes to school, the Priest puts the screws on Sean, and it soon becomes an issue of Sean not being able to ‘control’ his wife. Sheila doesn’t recognize the priest’s ‘authority’ over her life, and she enrolls Eileen in the village school. The enraged priest literally removes the child from the village school.

A crisis occurs. And while on one level, it’s a crisis about just where this little girl is going to be educated, in reality, it’s much more than that. Sean, as a Catholic is quite happy to bow to Father Stafford’s wishes–especially since it’s implied that he’s lost ‘control’ of his wife, and in the natural scheme of things, Sheila is supposed to bow to Sean, Sean is supposed to bow to the priest, etc. So Sheila’s disobedience throws perceived chains of authority into total upheaval. As the situation worsens, Sheila grabs the girls and goes into hiding in Scotland.

Meanwhile all hell breaks loose in the village. While the Catholics claim that their goal is to get the girls back, they manage to create wider divisions between Sheila and Sean. Soon it’s no longer about a man battling to get his kids back, it’s about which religion is dominant over the other. As the legal battle rages, a solution becomes more difficult to achieve. Under the auspices of “getting Sean’s girls back” the priest whips up the locals into a frenzy of hatred against the Protestant villagers. The community is wrecked as the Catholics boycott Protestant businesses, and vandalize their shops. But things turn even uglier….

Sheila’s father is a kind well-respected man in his community, and yet in the months after Sheila’s disappearance, he is reviled by those he’s helped. As Sean notes, the hatred was always there, and only just kept in check, and it’s just the excuse of the girls that whips up the hatred. Still, it’s chilling to see how quickly things disintegrate in this small, once peaceful village. This really is a remarkable portrayal of bigotry. The villagers all worship the same god, and yet the actions of the Priest illustrate the corruption of religion and also symbolize the conflict in Ireland. The only character who retains his sanity in this mess is the town’s sole atheist who serves as both the local undertaker and the pub owner. As an atheist, he remains outside of the religious conflict and serves as the voice of reason amidst encroaching bigotry. From director Sydney Macartney.

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