By Lisa Marie Griffith
The first of TG4’s new series ‘Rapairi’, an examination of Irish outlaws from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, aired last night. The opening show made ambitious claims. The show aims to look at 6 outlaws, tories and raparees as they were referred to in the proclamations of the day, their lives and to establish the reality behind the folklore. It also aims to examine why Irish people are disrespectful to the law. As a social historian of the eighteenth century I have often come across ‘tories and raparees’ in my research. These are men who are on the run, have skipped a court hearing, have escaped from jail and who are known and wanted criminals. Many of these men went into hiding, escaped to rural Ireland and lived like bandits and the term basically described villains and criminals. TG4, however, chose to focus on the raparee heroes of early modern Ireland- gentlemen who had been pushed outside the law because of some injustice that they had suffered.
I will have to admit I was a little bemused by TG4’s twenty-first century version of a raparee; the Rossport 5. Interspersed with their attempt to explain what an early-modern raparee was the programme had clips of the Rossport 5 outside court and anti-Shell-protests. The Rossport 5 were supposed to symbolise these heroes outside the boundaries of the law and the natural impulse that Irish people have to rebelling against legal authority and court rulings. The simple explanation for our temptation to resist the law was of course that for centuries the Irish had resisted and rebelled against British rule in Ireland.
I abhor attempts to try and explain away historic events or actions by an over-simplified comparison to what the producer sees as a twentieth century equivalent.While I understand that the producers were short on time (just thirty minutes to cover all of their above-stated aims) simply omitting comparison in favour of an actual definition of a raparee would have been the more sensible option. Indeed, an explanation of how a raparee differed from the medieval and sixteenth-century Irish who defended their land holdings from the encroaching colonising English would have been helpful.
The opening programme focused on Douglas Costello, an anglo-norman descendent who had been granted lands in Mayo. Costello’s family had, over the previous decades, lost more and more of their land to the neighbouring gentry-family, the Dillons. When the 1640 rebellion broke out Costello defended and fought for Charles I, leaving for the continent when the Confederates fled. During the restoration Costello returned to Ireland with ambitions of having his lands restored only to discover the remainder of his land in Mayo had been given to his local enemies the Dillons.
The programme does not explain, however, that Costello was not the only spurned man in Ireland when the land commission sat in the early 1660s. Indeed, the lord lieutenant, the Duke of Ormonde was heard to have claimed you would need ten Ireland’s to appease all of the people who had been promised land in Ireland. This is seen as a major betrayal and victimisation of Costello when it was in fact a common problem across the country.
The programme ended by upholding the highly dubious story of Costello’s second generation, his son smuggled to Ulster Costello junior was apparently a skilled hurling player- can this be right?
The programme was informative in points but lost a lot of credibility by the twenty-first century comparisons which as far as I am concerned were a waste of time and fed into the producers own political interest rather than being of any real relevance.
It remains to be seen over the course of the next 5 weeks if they can add any thing to the argument of why twenty-first century Irish people are not law abiding other than ‘we were once a colonised nation…’
Rapairi continues on TG4 next week, Thursday 19th, at 10.00 pm.