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ENGENDERING THE STATE: NARRATIVE, ALLEGORY, AND MICHAEL COLLINS LUKE GIBBONS One of the best moments in the innovative RTE television show Nighthawks, set in a fictive trendy night-spot in Dublin, featured a set piece in which de Valera would emerge from a fridge in the background, interrupting whatever real-life interview was taking place among the barroom conversations. On one occasion, as he was about to leave, the barman shouted: “What are you having, Dev?” “A Mick Collins,” came the reply. “A Mick Collins?” the bewildered barman inquired. “One shot—and hit the road,” said Dev, with a dry smile that even Alan Rickman would find difficult to emulate. That the irreverence and black humor of this joke is possible at all shows perhaps the distance that has opened up between contemporary Ireland and the troubled memory of the Civil War. Yet, at another level, that Irish audiences—including those attuned to Nighthawks’s postmodern formats —were expected to be in on the joke and to know its precise reference, suggests that the distance may not be so great after all. De Valera’s frequent apparitions as the iceman cometh may indicate that, for some, Ireland is still frozen in time; but in the case of the gag in question, it is difficult to know whether the joke is at his or at Michael Collins’s expense. The question is important because of the tendency among certain critics in Ireland to treat Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins as a turning point in contemporary Irish culture, in which the ghost of the Civil War has finally been laid to rest. For Fintan O’Toole, the film signaled a rehabilitation of the tarnished legacy of the Free State, a recognition that it had finally secured its place in the sun: The Free State, so long regarded as a dour and grudging surrender of romantic destiny to contingent pragmatism, acquired through Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins, its own astonishing glamour, its own myth of origin in NARRATIVE, ALLEGORY, AND MICHAEL COLLINS 261 which the stolid burghers of Cumann na nGaedhael suddenly became Hollywood stars—sexy and heroic. (O’Toole 1) Certainly the characterization—or caricature—of de Valera in the film lends credence to this response, although it is tempting to speculate whether the sexy and heroic glamor of Cumann na nGaedhael would have been as apparent if W.T. Cosgrave rather than Collins were pitted against him. Be that as it may, there are still a number of problems with unduly optimistic readings of Michael Collins—readings that see the film as drawing a line over the past, in effect conferring epic stature on the ill-fated and limited provisions of the 1922 Treaty settlement. First is the obvious problem that the film itself does not have a happy ending, and that Collins himself —the charismatic embodiment of the “victory” of the Free State—does not come through the ordeal. More than any other aspect of the film, it may have been the absence of this “feel-good” factor that contributed to its lack of success in the United States, both critically and at the box-office. Heroes do not die in Hollywood films with affirmative messages, as can be seen from the earlier Sam Goldwyn version of the Collins story, Beloved Enemy (1936), in which unfavorable audience response to the death of the Collins figure—Dennis Reardon (Brian Ahearne)—persuaded Goldwyn and director H.C. Potter to revise the ending, to have the wounded hero turning to his Lady Lavery-inspired lover and exclaim: “It’s all right darlin’; I’m not going to die. A good Irishman never does what’s expected of him” (Curran 69).1 The morose, downbeat ending of Jordan’s film—with its powerful dirge-like accompaniment of Sinéad O’Connor’s rendering of “She Moved Through The Fair”—has important consequences for its purported “vindication ” of the Treaty settlement. At a narrative level the film suggests that Collins fell short of his desired objective of state formation, and that the torch—or poisoned chalice—passed instead to de Valera. Though much commentary has focused on the hostile and astringent depiction of de Valera...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 261-269
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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