Black 47 is a movie set in Ireland in 1847 when people were dying in their tens of thousands, not because the potato crop had failed, but as a result of the creed and inhumanity of the British ruling classes and their native lackeys. It was adapted from the 2008 Irish language short film An Ranger written and directed by P.J. Dillon and Pierce Ryan who wrote the screenplay for the movie.
The film makers did a fine job recreating the Ireland of 1847 and the wretchedness of the starving people, even if they overdid it a bit in regards to the many abandoned dwellings which lay in ruins on the hillsides.
Watching the movie I couldn’t help but think, and I’ll likely be crucified for writing this, that the writers of the screenplay looked to the movie First Blood, if not the book of the same name, for inspiration. The scene in the RIC barracks being one example; especially that knife, where Martin Feeney took out the unfortunate RIC men much in the same manner as John Rambo did with the small-town cops who had arrested him. And similar to First Blood a former Ranger, who had served with Feeney in Afghanistan and who’s life he had saved, was assigned to apprehend him. The reason why his former comrade-in-arms, Hannah, was forced to assist an arrogant British Officer in hunting him down is rather absurd. Hannah had been facing a death sentence for strangling a member of the Young Irelander movement while interrogating him. Eh what? We need dwell no more on that one.
This movie has ‘Hollywood’ running through it: the hero was capable of reloading a musket rifle while running and even fired two at the same time in one scene. He was well armed and had the look of The Outlaw Josie Wales when he first rode in on his horse. Any film in Hollywood’s Ireland has to include a bar full of drinkers even at a time when people were forced to eat nettles to survive. Did Irish pubs have fancy glasses on the shelves and glass bottles of alcohol in 1847? Ireland certainly hadn’t got a rail line from Dublin to Galway because that hadn’t opened until 1851. And there just had to be the fa-deedle-do singing, drinking, ragged Irish man who was able to sit at the same table as a Lord Kilmichael who got the drinks in while they exchanged stories.
The stark points which the film did touch upon was the fact that while 400,000 men, women and children starved to death in 1847 vast amounts of food, including grain, was exported from Ireland. Almost 4,000 vessels carried food from Ireland to English ports during that year alone. Irish exports of calves, livestock (except pigs), bacon, and ham actually increased during the Famine. This food was shipped from the most famine-stricken parts of Ireland.
And there was of course the ‘battle for souls’ which occurred at the soup kitchens, otherwise known as ‘souperism’, whereas starving Catholics had to convert to the Protestant faith in order to be fed. Those unfortunate ‘soupers’ where strongly denounced from the pulpit by Catholic priests because they had ‘taken the soup’ and their souls were damned to hell. Hadn’t they been there already? The Quakers were never associated with this practice and were held in high regard as having ‘fed us in the famine’.
Black 47 could have been all the better had it been more realistic in regards to a man with his heart set on exacting revenge on those who had caused the deaths of his family. John Rambos didn’t exist in 1840s Ireland but they do bring people into cinemas, therefore the financiers want them no matter how unrealistic they actually are.
The Irish language short film An Ranger can be viewed on YouTube.
Thomas Dixie Elliot is a Derry artist and a former H Block Blanketman.
Follow Dixie Elliot on Twitter @IsMise_Dixie