THE Great Irish Famine had a devastating effect on our country and yet this harrowing time has been poorly taught for decades in our schools.
It is talked about in whispers by Irish people whose ancestors died aboard coffin ships or fell to starvation in the confines of a workhouse. It is a subject rarely approached by the arts in any form, but a change is slowly happening.
As national heritage sites are marking their famine past, theatre, art, and literature are emerging, and one film, the first of its kind, is set to make the nation talk more about this, our darkest time.
By 1847, the famine had reached the point of dire straits. Martin Feeney (James Frecheville), a Connemara man, returns home following years serving abroad as a Ranger in the British Army. His demeanour suggests that his exit from the army was not an easy one.
As he rides home through the stone wall-lined fields of the west, he sees the true devastation wrought upon his homeland. Men, women and children, some barely skeletal, use what little strength they have to bury their dead. Others receive no such decency, dying where they fall and left to turn to bone, with no-one left alive to bury them. Their skeletons mark his path.
As he nears home, he finds his mother’s house. The roof is gone and the rooms are now home to pigs. He meets a relative who tells him of his mother’s fate. She has died of hunger. And she is not the only member of his family to die. His brother is also dead.
He is given some relief when he learns that his sister in law, Ellie (Sarah Greene), and her children are still alive.
Finding them is a reprise but seeing the state of life they are reduced to is heart-breaking.
Feeney says very little. Maybe he was never much of a talker or perhaps years in the army have reined in his need for small talk.
He has enough money to bring Ellie and her children to America so that they can all start a new life, but tragedy strikes, resulting in Feeney’s arrest by a local RIC officer, Fitzgibbon (Moe Dunford).
We learn what type of soldier Martin was when he viciously and cunningly uses his training to best several RIC men in the station. He leaves several dead and flees into the night.
Hannah (Hugo Weaving) is a disgraced former ranger and tracker charged with finding Feeney. We then learn that Feeney is a deserter, highly trained and deadly. The British Army want him arrested at all costs and send Hannah, an uppity captain, Pope (Freddie Fox), and a young private Hobson (Barry Keoghan) to bring him back. They end up enlisting a local translator, Conneely, played by Stephen Rea, who gives a scene-stealing performance.
This hunt is not going to be easy. Feeney is on home territory, he is well trained and, to top it all off, he has a history with Hannah and can predict every move he is likely to be made.
Martin, already angered by what happened to his mother and spurred on by a recent tragedy, faces yet another tragedy, this one even worse than the last.
He has nothing but vengeance on his mind and sets about on a bloody crusade to destroy those responsible for the suffering of this family, namely the local landowner, Lord Kilmichael (Jim Broadbent).
Black 47, directed by Lance Daly, needs to be seen. It is a dark subject but this is our history, one that should never be forgotten.
Stripping Black 47 back, we have a vengeance western in its truest form and as that alone, it does a great job. But it is so much more than that. It is not just a film about history, it is a piece of a history. It tells a story long forced into the shadows and does so by never once shying away from the horror of famine or the harsh brutality of life in 1840s Ireland.
Daly manages to do this without overtly pointing political fingers, Keoghan’s character is proof of that.
This is a stark but brilliant film that is marred a little by some issues on the technical side which stops it from reaching its five-star potential.
It is so close to the five stars, however, and any mistakes are easily forgiven. This is an absolute must see, a film that will stay with you for weeks after you see it. Put simply, it is visionary.