Identity is a funny thing. Or not. Contentious issues like religion and politics can be polarizing, as is often the case in Ireland. Irish writer and journalist Fergal Keane appropriately begins his dialogue against a stormy Irish coastline, sea crashing against rocks, with the premise that Irish identity has always been less insular and more international than commonly believed. Historically, the ocean was easier to traverse than overland journeys were; many peoples landed on the island, ultimately creating a complex cultural heritage.
"The Story of Ireland" is an intelligently written narrative, beautifully filmed, and deftly presented by Keane. Ancestors are mentioned: the Uí Néill, Brian Boru, Aoife MacMurrough, Richard De Clare (Strongbow), among others. Many if-onlys are explored: if only the Spanish and Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, had united effectively in 1601; if only the French had landed in County Cork with Wolfe Tone in 1796 ("We were near enough to throw a biscuit ashore," wrote Tone in his diary); if only Michael Collins had lived in 1922 instead of the prude-sycophant Èamon De Velara, who, as Keane points out, commiserated with the Third Reich via his condolences after Hitler finally committed suicide. Even the premise that the Irish are a defiant people is scrutinized, strong in confronting challenges from without, but then facing abuse from Church authorities. The advent of ultramontanism in the mid-19th century laid a foundation for later corruption under De Velara's government, with no division between Church and State.
Keane moves from the lyrical myth of St. Patrick, to the near past; recent ghosts haunt. Accompanied by a survivor, he visits an infamous orphanage where a forgotten class of the young, vulnerable, and poor were thrown-away into horrific facilities. It has been shown that these industrial-grade, autocratically run bureaucracies were bastions of abuse. He and Keane wander through a graveyard filled with the poignant gravestones of those victims who didn't make it, their humble grave-markers adorned with plastic saints and rosaries. What a grievous irony that this occurred in a land whose unique Irish Gaelic Christianity produced wonders such as The Book of Kells, gentle spiritual leaders like St. Columba, theologians like Adomnan of Iona, and those who preserved treasures of Western civilization in monasteries and abbeys. In any case, this series is an informative tromp through Ireland's tumultuous stories.
Two disks feature five hour long episodes, all with helpful subtitles (for those of us who have trouble hearing sometimes!): The Age of Invasion, The Age of Conquest, The Age of Revolution, The Age of Union, and The Age of Nations.
You also may enjoy the music of the: High Kings: Memory Lane.