Remembering Ireland's Great Famine
A review of Black '47 a soon to be released film about the famine in Ireland
Croidheain, Caoimhghin O
Date Written: 2018-04-13
Publisher: Dissident Voice
Year Published: 2018
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX22480
The Irish film, Black 47 (Director Lance Daly) is about the worst year of the catastrophic Irish famine and is set in the west of Ireland in 1847. The story centers around an Irish soldier, Feeney (James Frecheville), returning from serving the British Army in Afghanistan only to find most of his family have perished in the Famine or An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) as it is known in Gaelic.
The English and Irish terms for Ireland's greatest tragedy are infused with different ideological approaches to the disaster. By emphasising the failure of the potato crop only, the impression is given that there was no food to be had on the island when the opposite was true – there were many other crops which did not fail but were not accessible to the vast majority of the people – hence, the Great Hunger.
In Black 47, the colonised fight back as Feeney puts the skills he has learned abroad with the British army to effective use in Ireland. He kills or executes the various people involved in the British colonial system he blames for the starvation and death of his family: from the bailiff to the judge to the colonial landlord. Moreover, Feeney goes a step further as he refuses to speak English to those in power before he kills them, reflecting back to them an immediate understanding of the powerlessness of those without the linguistic tools to negotiate compromises (as was seen in the film when a monolingual Irish speaker gets tough justice for 'refusing' to speak English in court).
Back in the late 1980s a book entitled 'The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures'  showed how the language and literature of the empire, English, was used by colonised peoples in the creation of a radical culture to aid their resistance to the hegemony of imperial power. However, now with many of his family dead, Feeney has ceased to be a Caliban profiting on the language of his masters and becomes a powerfully drawn hero who is uncompromising in his insistence that the Irish language and culture will be a respected equal to the imposed English language and culture of the colonists.