Resistance to a sanitised view of our history

It isn’t often that a TV series can press a button in my long-term emotional memory.

When that happens it means that I’m probably watching a piece of high-quality drama.

Consequently, I would commend the RTE drama series “Resistance” to you.

It is a five-part series that deals with the War of Independence in Ireland.

The drama skilfully weaves a story around real people like Michael Collins with fictional characters.

At the moment the five episodes are available on RTE player and will be available to viewers in the UK next month.

When I finished watching the final episode (no spoilers) I revisited some difficult family discussions of over 40 years ago.

I remember being in a relative’s house down the country in the immediate aftermath of a successful IRA operation in the Six Counties.

The basic tenor of the exchange across the kitchen table was that “the Old IRA would never have done that!”

I respectfully demurred.

That the exchange was happening a few miles from the bend in the road at Carrowkennedy made it all the more ironic.

The previous day a Brit patrol had been lured into an ambush outside of Cullyhanna.

It was the work of competent soldiers.

A few years later I was grateful to my comrades in the Sinn Féin Publicity Department for getting this out.

It was a perfect riposte to the Partitionist mentality that was around at the time in the 26 Counties.

In fact, I wish that I had it in my pocket that day in Mayo!

Back then the “Old IRA” were venerated as fierce dacent fellas who had bate the British fair and square and not like those bad Provos in the North.

So West Mayo Flying Column good, South Armagh ASU bad.

Of course, it was bollox.

The IRA that my grandparents were part of took on a global superpower.

It is not hyperbole to state that the Irish Republican Army that emerged from the ashes of 1916 and had graduated from Frongoch POW camp had perfected a new form of warfare.

The revolutionary is an improviser and invention was a basic requirement for survival.

This RTE series revisits that conflict with a siúl eile for the 21st Century.

I particularly liked how it evoked the paranoid tension of operating right under the nose of the enemy and the centrality of women to any successful intelligence operation.

Neither did it spare the viewer the squalid reality of killing at close range.

It wasn’t nice in Belfast in 1980 anymore than it was in Dublin in 1920.

The series concludes with the start of the split that would lead to the Civil War.

Just in case the viewer didn’t get the message the anti-Treaty Republicans go to an arms dump in a graveyard.

There are other themes explored in the series like the power of the Catholic Church and their state-approved role in policing the sex lives of women.

This was a harbinger of what would happen in the Free State for generations.

Moreover, the contribution of women to the struggle was airbrushed from the official narrative.

It is worth noting that Cumman na mBan was the first Republican organisation to reject the Treaty.

The overall message of “Resistance” is the human cost of taking up arms against an empire.

Ordinary people do not do that unless they have a really good reason.

Whether it was at Carrowkennedy in 1921 or Cullyhanna 40 years ago, a risen people usually have the verdict of history on their side.

In “Resistance” there are great performances by Brian Gleeson and David Milmot.

However, Simone Kirby smashes it out of the park as Ursula Sweeney.

As ever my perspective comes back to the writing and Colin Teevan has produced a gem here.

These very fine actors working with an excellent script.

The “Good Old IRA” did some awful things and what was the worst of it all was that there was no real alternative back then.

The British chaps in Dublin Castle made sure of that.

Watch “Resistance” if you get a chance.

Highly recommended.

Discover Phil’s dramatic play Rebellion