THE Banshees of Inisherin is a masterpiece of modern filmmaking with splendid performances by every member of the cast. It has already won accolades for Colin Farrell and producer Martin McDonagh and will earn itself a place at the pinnacle of Irish cinematic achievement. It is billed as a dark comedy but is so much more. It is beautifully shot on the Aran and Achill islands along the Wild Atlantic Way with an intriguing soundtrack by American composer Carter Burwell.
The story is an exploration of isolation and loneliness; the dangers of ignorance and the futility of conflict. It is a reflection on the failed socio-economic model of post-Famine Ireland and a grim warning about the consequences of political collapse. The civil war 100 years ago, which is the backdrop for the movie, set families and friends against each other, embedded partition and sowed the seeds of the Troubles which exploded five decades later with equally devastating consequences. The Free State government executed 77 Irishmen – many more than the British regime it replaced.
Sinn Féin leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill talk about the legitimacy of ‘armed struggle’ and how it was somehow honourable in comparison to the gangland violence which plagues modern Ireland. They seek to write the victims of Irish brutality out of our history. The whitewashing of the role of the Provisional IRA is the ultimate goal of this nationalist cadre.
The harsh reality is that the ranks of the Provisional IRA included racists, bigots and psychopaths who set about murdering their neighbours because they would not bend to a vision of Ireland which is outdated and unachievable. They were willing to intimidate and torture people from their own communities and turned upon former comrades who came to see the reality of such misguided violence. Sean O’Callaghan and Eamon Collins had the courage to write about their experiences at the hands of these persecutors.
Thirty-five years ago I was working in Glasgow when I learned of the no-warning bomb that killed 12 people at a Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen. My first thought was for my sister and brother-in-law and their neighbours who I feared might have been at the cenotaph. Among the dead were a teacher, a nurse and a pharmacist. Just 15 miles away at Tullyhommon a second bomb had been planted and its target was a parade by children of the Girls’ and Boys’ Brigades. It is a merciful blessing that another massacre did not happen. It is widely believed a local farmer’s tractor accidentally cut the command wire.
Every time I walk the streets of Omagh I think of the terrible day 24 years ago when another no-warning bomb took the lives of 29 people among them a woman pregnant with twins; children as young as 18 months and a little boy on holiday from Spain. I cannot pass along the main Dublin to Belfast road without recalling the day I was sent to cover the explosion which killed Judge Maurice Gibson and his wife Cecily – two pensioners on their way home from holidays. Recently I found photographs of Sir Norman Stronge which came from our family home in Aghadowey county Antrim. He was a frail 86-year-old in a wheelchair when an IRA gang burst into his house to shoot him and his son.
Jean McConville did not deserve to be branded an informer, kidnapped and killed and her ten children forced to wait 30 years for the body to be given a Christian burial. Good people are still searching for the remains of Columba McVeigh who was just 17 when he was taken from his family, accused of being a tout and ‘disappeared’. Patsy Gillespie was a father of three seeking to protect his family when he was chained into a van packed with explosives and forced to take it to an Army checkpoint where he died alongside five soldiers.
Every section of British and Irish society was affected by the IRA’s ruthless tactics. They killed Protestants, Catholics, nationalists and unionists, rich and poor alongside their so-called ‘legitimate targets.’ Lord Louis Mountbatten, 79, and Lady Brabourne, 83, were on holiday in Sligo when a bomb killed them alongside teenagers Nicholas Knatchbull and Paul Maxwell. Tim Parry was 12 and Jonathan Ball just three when a blast took their lives in Liverpool.
Garda Jerry McCabe, a father of five, was shot dead during a raid on a post office in Limerick. One of his killers, Pearse McAuley was returned to jail for stabbing his estranged wife 13 times with a steak knife. Brian Stack, the chief prison officer at Portlaoise jail, was shot in the neck after leaving a boxing match in Dublin and died later. It was years before the IRA admitted responsibility for his death.
The targeting of children, pensioners and civilians cannot be excused as unfortunate accidents of war. Those who sought to kill them cannot be heroes in any civilised Ireland. Their actions were not those of freedom fighters in a just conflict. They represent the warped morality of butchers bent on a blood feud.
Dealing with the past is one of the most difficult issues facing Ireland today and history tells us it will haunt us for generations to come. Yes, unionists discriminated against Catholics and nationalists in the six counties. Yes, the British state committed or colluded in dreadful crimes. Yes, loyalists were responsible for the killing of innocent people in acts of vengeance and naked hatred. But Sinn Féin and its leaders must accept that war crimes were also committed in the name of republicans by the Provisional IRA and its fellow travellers, that there can never be any excuse for such evil deeds. Denial and the glorification of murder inflicts great pain and anger and prolongs the difficult process of building a lasting peace.
In Irish folklore the banshee is a harbinger of death. Without honest acceptance of wrongs past she is condemned to cry in the night forever more.