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Irish Culture As We Understand It

UK Irish CultureThe Irish have always been one of the more colorful peoples in history. They known to be devoutly religious, with most of Northern Ireland divided into Roman Catholics and Protestants. Most of us would probably have more or less the same basic ideas about the Irish. However, there is so much more to them than their religion. Watching movies made by Irish about the Irish is a good way to get to know these people better as well as the beautiful country that has shaped their collective consciousness and identity. In this regard, this paper aims to analyze two Irish movies and from there reflect on how these movies have shaped our perceptions about the Irish, and whether these movies have resulted in a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the Irish people. This paper seeks a different approach by analyzing the Irish identity through two movies that captures their essence as a people.

The first movie is simply titled Michael Collins, named after the esteemed Irish revolutionary leader who lived during the late 19th century up until the early 20th century. The movie was released in 1996, and to date is one of the most successful Irish movies of all time. The movie stars Liam Neeson in the title role. The movie is ambitious in the sense that it attempts to present the life of Michael Collins, who is one of the most influential figures in Ireland's modern history. Collins was the co-founder of the Irish Republican Army or the IRA, an organization which aims to gain Ireland's independence from Britain.

Most of Ireland's history is marked by the struggle against would be invaders, and watching this film, one is better able to understand Ireland and the Irish people. Having seen Michael Collins, we are made to realize that every Irish has a fiercely innate love for their country, and a deep spirituality that goes beyond their religious denominations. They are also zealously clannish and very family-oriented. This love for family may very well be the root of the Irish's great love for their mother land and for their heritage. They are also torn by conflicting social and religious identities which are at the root of the violence in the country.

Similar to Michael Collins, Bloody Sunday is also a film about an actual historical event in Ireland. However, Bloody Sunday tackles a more recent event in history. The real Bloody Sunday took place in 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland where thirteen Irish protesters were killed by the British army at the height of the conflict between the IRA and the British government. The good thing about the movie is that it focuses only on one day but manages to encapsulate the events that lead up to said event. It is like a volcano eruption; so many things have been going on beyond the surface way before the actual cataclysmic Bloody Sunday took place. In a way, the film makers were saying that Bloody Sunday was the result of years and years of tension coming to boil on that tragic day a violence, while indeed tragic, was a long time coming.

The protest was organized to express Northern Ireland's disagreement over detention without trial or the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus. This led to many protests all across Ireland, with Britain showing very little tolerance for such protests. What should have been a harmless, peaceful event morphed into a violent bloodshed. One of the most moving images was when the police was trying to break the protest, the group divided into several and smaller subgroups. The violence ensued when people started throwing rocks at the British, prompting them to open fire, killing half of the protesters, most of which are barely out of their teens. As the crowned divided into a violent and a passive group, one cannot help but feel that the division is a representation of the situation in Ireland as a whole. The violence that continues to siege Ireland is the reason why so many Irish are in diaspora, seeking the peace that they cannot find in their homeland elsewhere.

Both of these films are movies about Ireland made by Irish and acted by Irish actors. That Irish were portraying the characters imbibe the film with greater honesty. Only an Irish who knows what their country has gone through will be able to appropriate the proper emotion without looking so contrived. Indeed both movies capture the Irish identity but in different ways. Bloody Sunday is a raw, in-your-face retelling of a tragedy, while Michael Collins is more deliberate in its style. While there may be differences in how the Irish was depicted, it may be accounted for by the fact that these events happened fifty years apart.

These conflicts are not so much a discrepancy in the interpretation of the Irish people but more a reflection of the differences between the life and times that sets the actual events and two movies apart from each other. In the Michael Collins film, the Irish were depicted as afraid of foreigners, perhaps because they were wary that they may be spies. In Blood Sunday, the Irish were shown as more accepting of foreigners, perhaps as a reflection of a society more open to change and tired of conflict. In Michael Collins the Irish were more traditional and more conservative, but more optimistic about the future. In Bloody Sunday, there was an atmosphere of surrender and despair, as characteristic of the actual time when it happened, at the height of the IRA and British conflict.

All in all, these two different movies were not in conflict in how they depicted the Irish identity; such has remained constant. What changed is the reality and circumstances that surrounded the Irish people. What changed is how they act, but not who they are. Indeed, these movies do the Irish justice and indeed capture the essence of who they are as a people. The Irish identity is the identity of a nation trying to define themselves in the face of many forces trying to tell them who or what to be. And most of these perceptions come from movies about such struggles.


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