By Javier Ruiz Gomez
Lance Daly has done it, and he has done it right. Not many Irish would be able to tell a story about the Famine without jumping to the conclusion that the English were to blame.
As a history major, I would like to cover a few aspects of the movie that are historically accurate but might appear in conflict with what is being taught in schools.
The first fact is Irish people joining the British army. This was common during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in families of farmers, mainly, because they had a reduced income. A son from the family would fight for the crown in exchange for a wage, which part of would be sent home to the family. However, the Irish would have joined for other reasons throughout history.
The reception at home for those who went to fight for the British is exaggerated in the movie. At the beginning Feeney’s nephew calls him a “deserter” and it is even narrated that they were “seen as traitors by many people.” Taking into consideration that they were farmers, and not part of the middle class who were concerned about politics. This situation becomes unlikely because to most farmers of the time, having a steady income was more important than the independence of Ireland.
This brings us to the following facts that Lance Daly acknowledged in the movie and he deserves praise for this. As Feeney travels through Connemara we see him killing and threatening different people. One of them is the rent collector, an Irishman, who had allowed the Feeney family to be evicted because they could not pay rent.
Another takes place during a rainy night. In this scene we find a Catholic priest outside a tent trying to convince his followers not to go into the tent. Inside, there is a Protestant priest who agreed to give soup to all Catholics who would convert to Protestantism. As is expected, Feeney makes a scene and ends up letting everybody have the soup, grabbing both priests by the neck outside the tent.
I have pointed out these two scenes because they are in conflict with what is taught in schools. Yes, Protestant priests did try to buy followers in this way, and indeed many people converted during the Famine. This was socially accepted. However, after the Famine finished, when they did not depend on Protestant priests to be fed, they converted back to Catholicism.
The second must be read between the lines. When Feeney grabs both priests by the neck it should make the viewer understand that, during the Famine, it did not matter if you were Protestant or Catholic. If you were withholding goods, you were the enemy, regardless of your social status.
Even though I would like to nit – pick Daly’s work further, I will finish by appreciating the fact that he kept the Irish language in the movie. Many times, we see Anglo – Saxons travelling around the world and having conversations in English with the natives without a struggle.
I would like to thank the Pálás cinema in Galway for facilitating me a ticket for one of the screenings for Black ’47 and allowing me to take notes during such.