Volunteers bring flying columns to TV screens

A fascinating documentary features 12 modern-day volunteers who, reality TV-style, trained to emulate the men in the renowned flying columns of Ireland’s 1920s War of Independence.

Volunteers bring flying columns to TV screens

A fascinating documentary features 12 modern-day volunteers who, reality TV-style, trained to emulate the men in the renowned flying columns of Ireland’s 1920s War of Independence.

The documentary The Brigade, which runs over two one-hour episodes, will air on RTÉ1 on Thursday nights, June 13 and June 20.

The programmes will feature a dozen volunteers, aged between 18 and 30, who were carefully selected from a group of 60, following a special open day for casting at Clonakilty GAA complex last February.

Successful candidates were given similar training to that undergone by members a real-life flying column.

It was a dedicated body of men from different units of the West Cork Brigade brought together with the aim of ambushing the British military.

“We put a call out on local media and on Facebook for men aged 18 to 30, around the same age as the guys would have been 100 years ago when the flying columns were established,” said Clonakilty-based local and sports historian Sam Kingston, the driving force behind The Brigade.

“They were generally made up of guys in their early to mid-20s.

“The successful candidates were chosen on the basis of their fitness and an interview before spending a week training as a flying column in locations in Kilbrittain, Enniskeane, and Kilmichael.

“Basically, the men had to learn and understand what life was like for the real-life flying column members 100 years ago; they had to learn how to live on the run, march, drill, stage an ambush, and launch attacks.

The young men of 2019 basically lived, as their ancestors did, on the run, and wearing 1920s-style clothing, said Mr Kingston.

He has previously made documentaries on ice hockey in Canada and the origins of the Cork GAA jersey and is currently working on a documentary about Cork’s GAA double in 1990.

The training started at a West Cork secret adventure centre in Kilbrittain before moving to locations directly associated with the original flying column training.

The week culminated in an ambush scenario at the Michael Collins Centre in Castleview near Clonakilty.

The volunteers on the march during filming for The Brigade

The volunteers on the march during filming for The Brigade

Meanwhile, in a second strand of the project, a group of students from the University of Essex spent a week travelling around West Cork discovering the region’s War of Independence history by meeting local historians and descendants of the original brigade.

They heard the stories of brave men and women from the area and the dangers they faced, as well as stories about the notorious Essex Regiment, which was based in West Cork.

“The regiment would burn down houses, including Michael Collins’ home place,” said Mr Kingston, noting that the British regiment was also involved in the torture of Tom Hales and Pat Harte.

“They made people homeless. They would shoot randomly at innocent civilians, such as farmers working in the field.”

The documentary was produced by Abú Media with funding from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, RTÉ, and Cork County Council.

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