REVIEW: At War With The Empire: Ireland's Fight For Independence

At War With The Empire

Written by: Gerry Hunt
Art by: Gerry Hunt
Colours by: Matthew Griffin
Published by: O’Brien Press
Cost: €12.99
Book Summery: “The Easter Rising of 1916, with its Proclamation of Independence, lit the spark that would eventually blaze into a full-scale War of Independence in Ireland.
Though the 1916 Rising was put down within a week, the harshness of the British response greatly increased support for Sinn Fein, the Republican party. By 1918 disaffection with British rule was widespread. When Sinn Féin won a majority of seats in the 1918 election they vowed to set up their own Irish parliament. The first Irish parliament, the Dáil, was formed on 21 January 1919. It reaffirmed the 1916 proclamation with the Declaration of Independence, and issued a ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ that stated that there was ‘an existing state of war between Ireland and England’. On that same day, the first shots were fired in the Irish War of Independence.
This is the story of that war.”
REVIEW: Gerry Hunt’s new book from O’Brien Press deals with the Irish War of Independence and the back and forth between the Irish freedom fighters and The Crown. A sequel of sorts to his critically and commercially successful Blood Upon The Rose which told of the beginning of the revolution to gain Ireland its independence, this book deals with many of the important aspects of the War through guerilla tactics and crippling loss to the families on both sides of the conflict.
What gives this book an edge that couldn’t be provided otherwise is that Hunt has got a vested personal interest in the happenings of the book. He has told me in a previous interview that his father fought under Dev at Boland’s Mill in the Rising and his grandmother was involved in the War of Independence.
Using his vast knowledge of the matter Hunt puts together a linear almost essay like story telling of the War alongside his visuals that deals with some of the most well known events that begins in Frongoch Internment Camp in North Wales where WJ Brennan Whitmore ran the prisoners of war like an army using drills and the like to keep the rebellion prisoners in shape. Among the more notable prisoners at the camp were Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. They hatch a plot to break Eamon DeVelera out of prison and regroup to retaliate after the shambles of the Rising in 1916. Using these events as a launch pad for what would escalate into War, Hunt is able to admirably to tell the story without it coming across as a largely pro Irish treatise. It can be difficult to sympathize with the British in these events no matter what side you fall on but as events escalate into larger and bloodier incidents the line becomes somewhat blurred between the two in terms of blood spilt as each side one ups each other in response to the prevailing action. Never more is this more shocking than the reprisals shown by the British when the widespread help given to them by the general Irish population is beaten down mercilessly.
One aspect of the War that I was never really aware of that Hunt touches on in the book is the somewhat lack of leadership that Dev is responsible for when he is in the US raising funds for the efforts at home. Hunt subtly broached the subject on occasion that Collins could do with his advice in very tense situations and has to work very hard politically where his obvious strengths are in the military side of things.
Hunt’s long career as an architect is telling here as his backgrounds and structures provide a fantastic backdrop to the story being told in the foreground. His art style has gotten a bit tighter since the days of Blood Upon The Rose. His line work and figures display a more clear style than before and fit with more ease with the astonishing line work of his buildings and backgrounds than they have before. He displays the brutality of what happened at numerous events with a visceral straightness that doesn’t hide anything from the reader. Hunt is helped out on the book by colorist Matthew Griffin from County Clare, (who astonishingly I found out while looking up info on him, that I live about 200 meters from him and never knew!). The colours mesh with Hunt’s pencils with ease and Griffin’s uses of reds and muted browns play their part in portraying the struggles with the grimness that the story serves.
Hats of to O’Brein Press and Gerry Hunt for another winner. Books like this play an important part in educating a young populace of the struggles entailed by our forebears to give us our freedoms today. I said it with Blood Upon The Rose, books like this belong in every school and library in Ireland to teach us very important aspects of our recent historical past. A winner on every level.