Review: Part two of The Limits of Liberty, RTÉ1

Contributed by Adrian Grant

(Review of part two of The Limits of Liberty, broadcast on RTÉ 1, Tuesday 8 June, 10.15pm.)

The second instalment of The Limits of Liberty started off by looking at the massive project that was the construction of the Ardnacrusha hydro-electric dam in County Clare. Here, Ferriter rightly commended Cumann na nGaedheal for what was a great achievement. There was no mention of the striking workers on the scheme though. However, it appears that this second part of the programme had another axe to grind and Ardnacrusha was an excellent way to begin the programme. This was a symbol of a new Ireland, a self-governing Ireland that could compete on the world stage. Ardnacrusha provided the electricity for 87% of the national grid. Ferriter then gave the information that allowed the viewer a glimpse of where the film was going next. The national grid only covered 10% of the population. In 1945, only 2% of rural Ireland had electricity, at a time when Denmark had 85% coverage and the Netherlands 98%.

Rural Ireland was central to this instalment of The Limits of Liberty and Ferriter made some very good points. The account of poverty on Tory Island could have come from any of the rural areas of the western seaboard in the 1920s but the point was well made here. The islanders did not pay taxes, they received no services, and they were ignored. The reality of Irish life was very different from the image of the new dam on the Shannon. The council in Macroom that threatened not to function was also ignored. Local democracy, it appears, was not a priority for either Cumann na nGaedheal or Fianna Fáil.

This brought the programme firmly back to its primary argument about the centralisation of power. The contempt for local government was shocking, especially Sean MacEntee’s comments about people who couldn’t look after their personal hygiene not being able to govern themselves. Ferriter’s response to this, standing outside a large house and saying, ‘but Sean MacEntee lived here’, had a great effect. There was also a very interesting piece of archive footage of Todd Andrews commending Cumann na nGaedheal for the Local Appointments Commission and ‘an incorruptible civil service’. The administrative successes of the local government reforms were then contrasted with the lack of success in actually improving the lives of ordinary people.

The examination of three grassroots interest groups was very interesting in how it demonstrated that people could not rely on central government to make things better for them. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for people who find themselves in a sorry situation today. Highlighting the role of women from the Irish Housewife’s Association and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association in modernising Ireland will be enlightening to many. The part on the Credit Union movement showed the class divisions that are often papered over in nationalist historiography. Banks were for businessmen, large farmers and professionals. Credit was not forthcoming to people outside of these occupations and many, who already lived in abject poverty, were forced to turn to money-lenders who charged extortionate interest rates. The Credit Union movement was one of the most important grassroots groups of the twentieth century and it is encouraging to see it get the recognition it deserves here. It appears that the concluding part of the series will be quite different and look at the second half of the century when the next generation was fighting for individual rights and freedoms.

Adrian Grant is in the final year of a PhD at Magee College, University of Ulster. His thesis, which is entitled ‘Irish socialist republicanism, 1909-36’, examines the Irish Labour, republican and communist movements in the period. You can read his review of part one of The Limits of Liberty here.

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4 Responses to “Review: Part two of The Limits of Liberty, RTÉ1”

  1. anarchaeologist Says:

    Ferriter has done a great job in bringing this sort of history to the television screens of the country and, without the clichéd use of actors shuffling around in period costume (or indeed presenters driving around Newry at 4.00 in the morning in army jeeps). Also notable was the absence of the usual recapitulation of the previous segment of the programme after the ad breaks; hopefully RTÉ will spare us that in the future.
    Without forcing the issue (or indeed compromising the sense of historical objectivity that the average punter expects) he’s also succeeded in demonstrating how class war has been successfully waged by the State against the great mass of the population since its very inception. This is a very useful exercise in a country, which despite everything that has happened recently, still clings to the old Civil War narratives and supposed divisions.
    I also liked the way he used the sources themselves, suggesting their very accessibility and moreover showing how and why history matters.
    Bring on Part III!

  2. Frank Says:

    I thought the second programme was better edited and much more informative than the first. The reference to Tory Island spurred me to consult the Irish Times digital archive where I was intrigued to learn that a dispute concerning the appointment of a nurse to the island in November 1927 was resolved by Richard Mulcahy, then Minister for Local Government and Public Health, who obtained the money required to secure the appointment from a private source as the Tory Islanders paid no rates at this time. Thus, at least one member of the government wasn’t entirely without concern for the Islanders. De Valera visited the island in July 1947 and, replying to an address, said that “his visit to Tory and other islands had provided him with a picture of the difficulties peculiar to such places, and he would give consideration to any schemes submitted to help the lot of the people”. Perhaps while visiting the island, he was also reflecting on the time he had spent as a teacher on Tawin island in 1912 where he first met Roger Casement.

    Sadly, despite the success of the Credit Union movement, the moneylenders are still with us and the recession has only served to further increase their stranglehold on the poor and vulnerable.

    The use of comparative statistics showing how much we lagged behind other European countries in terms of electricity provision was most welcome. Indeed, more cross country comparisons should be considered when examining other aspects of our country’s development between the 1920s and the present. How interesting it would be to organise a series of programmes where a more fully European approach is taken so that we can gain a deeper appreciation of how we addressed the problems we faced especially in those first few decades after independence. More specifically, these programmes could provide us with a social history of Ireland from 1922 onwards but feature Irish and European scholars drawing links/comparisons/distinctions between Ireland and other European countries along the way as we prepare to commemorate our state’s centenary.

    One of the major strengths of both programmes was the frequent reference to primary sources such as newspapers and official correspondence and I also liked the way in which the National Archives and National Library were featured so prominently in the first programme. Hopefully this will result in more people using these fine institutions for research purposes thereby enhancing their argument for increased funding when our economy begins to pick up.

  3. Review: Part 3 of The Limits of Liberty, RTÉ1 « Pue's Occurrences Says:

    […] Adrian Grant is in the final year of a PhD at Magee College, University of Ulster. His thesis, which is entitled ‘Irish socialist republicanism, 1909-36’, examines the Irish Labour, republican and communist movements in the period. You can read his review of part one of The Limits of Liberty here, and his review of part two here. […]

  4. Review: Part 3 of The Limits of Liberty, RTÉ1 « Pue's Occurrences Says:

    […] You can read his review of part one of The Limits of Liberty here, and his review of part two here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Review Lesson: Limits and ContinuityCongressional […]

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