Posts Tagged David Kerr

Buried Lives: the Protestants of Southern Ireland

buriedlivesBuried Lives: the Protestants of Southern Ireland

Robin Bury, The History Press Ireland, Dublin 2019.  20.00

ISBN: 978-1-84588-880-0

Robin Bury, a member of the Church of Ireland, who grew up in East County Cork in the 1950s and 60s, has examined the long and troublesome experience of the Protestants in what he calls ‘Southern Ireland’. He uses this term rather than the ‘Irish Free State’, or the ‘Republic of Ireland’ as he covers the period from before the foundation of the independent Irish state until the present day.

What was it that turned the once strong and thriving southern Irish Protestant community into an ‘isolated, pacified community’ living an isolated parallel existence from mainstream society?  How did the section of Irish society that produced some of the nation’s greatest writers; Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats, J M Synge, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett; international brands like Guinness, Jacob’s Biscuits and Jameson whiskey decline from 10% of the population in 1911 to less than 3% in 2011? What happened? Was this decline natural, or was it helped by human intervention in some way?

The decline began to accelerate in the period 1919 – 1923. Bury examines carefully the statistics from this period in his first chapter taking into account the number of people directly or indirectly connected with the Royal Irish Constabulary and the British armed forces, those who died in the Great War and the postwar Spanish flu epidemic and natural decrease.  Excluding the approximately 64,600 people included in these categories, Bury estimates that 41,856 southern Irish Protestants left the country; whether by direct intimidation, or their own apprehension and fears of being trapped in what was quickly becoming a conservative, Catholic, Anglophobic state.

The newly formed Irish Free State certainly had no policy of driving the Protestants out.  This was certainly not the case with the IRA ‘irregulars’ who – in east Cork at least – targeted a large number of Protestants; small farmers, businessmen, shopkeepers and one Church of Ireland clergyman. They were seen as the enemy; ‘land-grabbers’, ‘landlords’, ‘Freemasons’, ‘Orangemen’, ‘Imperialists’, ‘informers’; all to justify their killing.

Things got so bad, that the Archbishop of Dublin and two other leading southern Protestants had a meeting with the Free State leader, Michael Collins after thirteen Protestants were murdered in the Bandon valley. They wanted to know if the Protestant minority should stay on in the county. Collins assured them that, “the government would maintain civil and religious liberty”. However, Collins wasn’t in much of a position to do much to help. IRA irregulars assassinated him a few months later.

This is a period that many people, especially in today’s modern Ireland would wish to bury; hence the title, Buried Lives. The author is meticulous in his documentation of this tragic, overlooked, and often deliberately ignored aspect of Irish history. The second chapter records some survivors’ harrowing stories; many given as evidence to the Southern Irish Loyalists Relief Association and the Irish Grants Committee to try to win some compensation for their loss. These personal stories show the genuine terror these survivors experienced.

Bury shows how southern Protestants adapted to life in DeValera’s Free State by living quiet, but largely separate lives, rarely socialising outside their own communities; they ‘kept their heads down’ and got on with things in a virtual parallel universe. Until recent times, the mainstream Irish attitude in the South was deference towards the Catholic Church and a romantic rural nationalism. The Protestants survived because they became an insignificant minority.

Bury also looks at the influence of the infamous Ne Temere decree issued by Pope Pius X in 1907.  Before 1926, only 6.1% of Protestant brides were marrying Catholic men; by 1971 the figure was 30%. Today, it’s closer to 50%. Children of couples married since Ne Temere are brought up in the Catholic faith, further contributing to the decline of the Protestant communities in the State.

Bury looks at the notorious Fethard-on-Sea boycott of 1957 where all Protestant-owned businesses, farms and even individuals were boycotted after the marriage of a local couple broke down and the Protestant wife, Sheila Cloney, took her children away from the Co Wexford town. The boycott was organised by the local parish priest, Fr William Stafford and lasted for nine months.

Happily, the Southern State has changed a lot in the last sixty-odd years since the Fethard-on-Sea boycott. This is not due to the silent minority – the marginalised Protestants – but people, mainly women, brought up in conservative, Catholic Ireland – who said, we’re not going to put up with this anymore.  Strict censorship has gone; Article 44 of the constitution, which gave a special place in society to the Catholic Church, was removed, divorce and contraception were legalised, homosexuality was decriminalised. There is still a long way to go, people are still assumed to be at least culturally Catholic, but perhaps the Southern Protestants may yet find a place in the sun. The rise of Sinn Féin electorally in the Republic may stymie this; it may not. Time will tell.

This book is a useful introduction to a difficult and painful period in Irish history. It has an appendix on the victims of the Bandon valley massacres and extensive notes and a bibliography for further research for any reader wishing to examine the author’s case in detail.

Reviewed by David Kerr


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Chaika: First Woman in Space 

chaikatheSpace on North Bridge – Argyll Theatre
14:20, 18:20
Aug 22-24
50 minutes
Suitability: 12+ (Guideline)
Group: Acting Coach Scotland

The “Chaika” of the title was the codename given to Valentina Tereshkova, who became the first woman in space on 16 June 1963 and is Russian for seagull.

This play brought to us by Acting Coach Scotland is both informative and entertaining and tells the story of her life from a young girl who lost her father to war, had her schooling delayed by the war and who as a young woman went to work in a factory and became an avid parachutist in her free time, a path that was ultimately to lead to her trip into space.

The all-female cast takes turns at telling Tereshkova’s story with a Russian Cyrillic Velcro name badge being at times passed from actress to actress and Nikita Krushchev is even briefly depicted as the ultimate arbiter of which of the female cosmonauts will go on the mission. Props are minimal and some effective use of lighting techniques helps to take the audience into space with Tereshkova.

Prior to watching this play, I had only a basic knowledge of Tereshkova’s story and the information that I gleaned from this production has resulted in me going on to read further about her. The cast of “Chaika: First Woman in Space” convey real energy and enthusiasm for telling her story and this play is very much worth going to see.

Reviewed by David Andrews
#edinburghfringe2019 #edinburghfringe



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Sketchup: the Exeter Revue

sketchupDates: 8th to 29th (not Thursdays)
Ciao Roma, 64 South Bridge 14:10hrs

Four Exeter University students bring together a mixed bag of original sketches. The team work well together with an impressive pace in switching from one sketch to another. As with all sketch shows, some things hit the spot and others fall flat.

The highlight for me was the one in which an oily self-obsessed politician – possibly modelled on Tony Blair – evasively answered questions from his longsuffering wife. Did you fill the dishwasher? Did you feed the dog? I’m glad she asked him those questions…
This show is part of PBH’s Free Fringe and deserves your support.
*** Three Stars

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Real Japanese Drum Beat: IKKI Samurai Drums

samuraiThe Space Symposium Venue 43
Aug 10th-Aug 23rd, 5:10pm £10.00 (£6.00)

Four slightly built Japanese young people address their drums with relentless energy, so much so that it was quite tiring to watch – but in a good way. The choreography involved was complex but these Samurai drummers never missed a beat. This wasn’t a competition to see who could blatter away the loudest; this was harmony in action.

The accomplished drummers charmed the packed-to-the-rafters audience with their grace and beauty. Sadly, a clamour for more went unheard. Nevertheless, the relationship was sealed at the end of the performance where they all lined up outside the door and presented each one of us with a piece of origami.
***** Five Stars

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Mata Hari: Female Spy

Aug 7, 8, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 30
Mata Hari was shot by the French in 1917 as a German spy. The press at the time claimed that she had been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers. This riveting performance by Katherine Hurst is based on the actual words of the Dutch exotic dancer Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod herself.
Using humour, pathos and a minimum of props: some flimsy veils, a couple of fans and a battered suitcase, Hurst confides in the audience. She recounts in moving detail how Margaretha became the first femme fatale – Mata Hari.

She didn’t have an easy life to start with but she made good. She was wilful. She was promiscuous. She enjoyed the company of officers and she scandalised many by enjoying life too much. That sealed her fate.

Was there enough evidence to convict her in a fair trial? No. Was she guilty? That’s another story. You won’t know the real truth from this powerful one-woman show but you will be drawn in by its narrative.
**** Four Stars
A contemporary eye-witness report of the execution of Mata Hari:

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Film & DVD Reviews: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

I can hear you whisperin’ children, so I know you’re down there. I can feel myself gettin’ awful mad. I’m out of patience children. I’m coming to find you now. Preacher Harry Powell

Night of the Hunter DVD Cover

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As convicted murderer and robber Ben Harper (Peter Graves) awaits his execution he tells his cellmate
Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) about his crime. Harper goes to his fate without revealing the whereabouts of the $10,000 he stole. Preacher Powell is a serial killer who marries and murders widows for their money, believing he is helping God do away with women who arouse men’s carnal instincts.
As he is only in prison for car theft, he is soon released. He heads off to meet Ben’s widow Willa (Shelley Winters) in the hope of getting his hands on the loot. The handsome preacher hides his true fearsomeness and his evil nature to win Willa’s heart and to marry her. He doesn’t realise that Willa has no idea where the loot is hidden. The secret is known only to her two children, nine-year-old John and four-year-old Pearl.

Preacher Powell breaks her down with his oily superficial charm, Bible quotations, sermons and hymns, and she agrees to marry him. On their wedding night he reveals his true evil sense and his hatred and disdain for women with their sinful, ensnaring ways and his determination to get his hands on Ben’s loot at whatever cost. It’s too late for Willa but the children still have a chance to get away.

This has to be one of the scariest chase movies in film history. Stanley Cortez’s dreamlike cinematography heightens the sense of horror and suspense in this truly frightening film. Mitchum’s Preacher has to be one of the most memorable screen villains in cinema history with his perfect mix of charm and menace.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Film & DVD Review: Watchmen

GRAPHIC violence, a healthy dose of female and male nudity and a fairly torrid sex scene gives Zac Snyder’s Watchmen its 18 certificate. Fair play to Billy Crudup who seems to have gone all the way through the entire film as Dr Manhattan wearing nothing but a coat of blue paint. Now that’s suffering for your art!

Watchmen DVD cover

Click on image to buy DVD

With the exception of Batman, most comic superheroes have superpowers. Superman flies and has X-ray vision, Spider-man can shoot webs out of his finger tips and the Fantastic Four have a variety of special powers. That’s not the case with the masked and costumed superheroes in Watchmen. They were basically just a bunch of vigilantes. The one exception is Dr Manhattan who possesses some extraordinary godlike powers.

Watchmen is based on Alan Moore’s DC Comics graphic novel. Moore has rarely been happy with film adaptations of his stories. He notoriously hated The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta. True to form, he had his name removed for the credits of Watchmen.

One nice touch was that the film was set in an alternative 1980s where America won the Vietnam war and Richard Nixon became president for a third term. This set a strong background of tension between the US and an unreformed Soviet Union which takes the world to the edge of full-scale nuclear war.

In the midst of all this tension, someone is killing off all the former superheroes starting with The Comedian who is flung through a high plate glass window. These crimes are investigated by Rorschach another former superhero turned private detective.

The use of a virtual scrapbook and a number of flashbacks provide the fascinating back story to this confusing if slightly familiar alternative reality. Some of the superheroes turn out to have unsavoury histories quite at odds with their public images. Others are struggling with their relationships and their own sense of identity in a world that had rejected them.

This film is magnificent in its scope. It’s well acted and scripted with believable special effects. The superheroes have the endearing quality of being people just like us and even those with problems tend to have super problems. It all hangs together well.

You will need to pay attention, though or you’ll become confused. I was, but I’d be prepared to watch it again on DVD to pick up on the details I’d missed in the fast-moving story. I have no idea how true it is to Moore’s original story. If you’re a fan, go see it and make up your own mind. If not, the story stands well on its own. It’s one of the best movies of the year so far and bound to attract a hardcore cult following.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Film & DVD Review: Psycho (1960)

Certification:Finland:K-16 (uncut) (1969) / Finland:K-16 (cut) (1960) / Finland:K-16 (cut) (1965) / Chile:14 (re-rating) / Chile:18 (original rating) / Iceland:16 / Germany:12 (re-rating) (2006) / West Germany:16 (original rating) / Netherlands:12 / Brazil:14 / South Korea:15 / Portugal:M/12 / Argentina:13 (re-rating) / Argentina:16 (original rating) / Australia:M / Canada:13+ (Quebec) / Canada:18 (Nova Scotia) / Canada:PG (Manitoba/Ontario) / France:-12 (re-release) / France:-16 / Israel:16 / Norway:15 / Norway:16 (1960) / Peru:14 / Spain:13 / Sweden:15 / Switzerland:16 (re-release) / UK:15 (video rating) (1986) / UK:X (original rating) / USA:Approved (original rating) / USA:M (re-rating) (1968) / USA:R (re-rating) (1984)

Running time: 192 minutes

Reviewed by David Kerr

Psycho DVD Cover

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Psycho. is credited as the movie that made horror respectable again. In the fifties horror and fantasy films were the stuff of ‘B’ movies; second features to the main film on the bill. They were not taken seriously. Psycho. changed that!

Psycho . was director, Arthur Hitchcock’s first horror picture. He was always the master of mystery and misdirection. Hitchcock always left cinema-goers guessing as to what was going to happen next. In Psycho., he completely misled the audience for the first half hour.

We think we are watching a straightforward crime story. Embezzler Janet Leigh runs off with $40,000 of company cash that she was supposed to lodge in the bank. Heading off to join her lover in California, she stops for the night in a quiet slightly rundown motel. This wasn’t her wisest move, especially when she decided to take a shower…

Hitchcock really piles on the suspense in Psycho. He had it shot in black and white deliberately so as not to fall foul of the censors. Bernard Herrman’s score is pefectly crafted to heighten the exhilaration of the chase as Leigh runs off with the cash and the suspense and menace that awaits her in the Bates Motel.

Anthony Perkins excels as the quiet, shy mummy’s boy motel keeper with a dark secret. Norman Bates and his mother have a special surprise for any guest unfortunate enough to stop for the night in their somewhat off-the-beaten-track motel.

Avoid the ill-advised sequels and the recent remake. Hitchcock’s original, now available in DVD, is the only one worth bothering about.

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Film & DVD Review: Some Mother’s Son

Reviewed by David Kerr

This film is a very powerful and emotional portrayal of the hunger-strike crisis of 1981 as seen through the eyes of two mothers whose sons take part in the death fast. The film makes no attempt at balance. According to its world-view the IRA are freedom fighters, and their struggle was fully justified. While the IRA are universally heroic and noble the British are manoevring for position amongst themselves and are invariably cunning, evil, debased and conniving. The Loyalist and Protestant community might as well not exist. The only intimation that they are there is during the Fermanagh and South Tyrone bye-election campaign when someone in a speeding car throws a jar of piss in the face of Helen Mirren’s character! At the election count a row of police and soldiers separate singing and shouting supporters of Bobby Sands and Harry West, who is described as the “Unionist and Conservative Party of Great Britain” candidate. In fact West was the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, but this film gives the misleading view that West was the candidate of some GB-based party rather than the oldest indigenous political party in Ulster.

Much is made of the attempt at ‘criminalisation’ of IRA volunteers, for which the Thatcher government is blamed. In a brilliantly propagandist opening scene we see the newly elected Margaret Thatcher recite the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, and the apparent contradiction of British soldiers blowing up border roads and bridges to prevent ordinary folk from moving their cattle from one field to another.

The plain fact is that this policy began in 1976 under Jim Callaghan’s Labour government. At that time the British government was under massive international pressure – orchestrated by the Leinster House regime and senior US politicians – to end internment of Republican and Loyalist terrorists. This was when the Long Kesh internment camp held prisoners from the Official and Provisional IRA in separate compounds. The UVF, Red Hand Commando and UFF prisoners also had their own compounds. As well as the internees, persons who had been convicted of politically motivated crimes were given ‘special category status’. This system worked reasonably well and helped to keep the lid on much of the political violence.

The main cry of of the intenational opponents of internment was that it was a grave violation of ‘human rights’ and that a person should only be in prison if he or she had been convicted of a specific offence. ‘If these people have done anything wrong they should be brought to trial for that, not rounded up like cattle’, was the general cry from the bleeding heart liberals and the Provo groupies in Britain, Eire and North America.

Internment had actually been introduced by the old Stormont government in 1971, and the British government was acutely embarrassed by it. Labour phased out the internment gradually, replaced Long Kesh internment camp with HMP Maze and sought to appease the international criticism by fighting the IRA insurrection as if it was some kind of giant crime wave. Any person convicted of offences committed after March 31st 1976 was sent to the H-blocks in the new Maze prison. IRA and loyalist volunteers refused to wear prison uniform as it marked them out as ‘common criminals’. That was the real background to the situation which Margaret Thatcher inherited in 1979, at the beginning of the film.

I thought that the film captured much of the atmosphere of the 1981 hunger strike crisis well. Helen Mirren excels as the liberal middle-class school teacher Kathleen Quigley who is shocked when her IRA son Gerard is captured in arms. Gerard and his comrade, Frankie Higgins, refuse to wear a convict’s uniform and go on the “blanket” protest. As things escalate they take part in the “dirty” protest and join Bobby Sands on his death fast.

As the protest grows, Kathleen draws closer to Annie Higgins, a bitter republican who is the mother of Frankie, the notorious Provo gunman. Annie provides a bit of comic relief when she refuses to sit under a portrait of Queen Elizabeth when she and Kathleen go into a pub for a brandy.

It is all compelling stuff. The scenes in the prison when Bobby Sands and some of his comrades die is truly moving, as is the treatment of the funeral procession after his death. Unfortunately, the murder of a neighbour of mine by rioting Republicans on the morning of Sands’ death as he went about his work as a milk roundsman – and other similar cases – were never mentioned, apart from a scene where a prison officer is shot in front of his family.

It is a well made film, and well worth seeing. With a film biography of Michael Collins due on general release before the end of this year, there is no doubt that “fenianism” is becoming chic.

I have a vision for a screenplay. The story of the 1974 Ulster Workers’ Council strike with Glen Barr as the hero who defies two governments, and a life of Fred Crawford the founder of the Young Ulster secret society and the man who ran the guns into Larne for the UVF in 1914.
Perhaps one day…..?

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