Of Prohibition, Paddy’s day, Leprechauns and the AOH

After watching the first 6 episodes of the excellent Boardwalk Empire (Sky Atlantic, Saturday 9pm) a few well established truisms are reassurignly reinforced.

Firstly, just about everybody can do (and does) an Oirish accent but just about no one can do an Irish one. Secondly, given that the Irish do so love a drink, it was not very clever to impose Prohibition on a population so heavily represented by our goodselves. Thirdly, just as in fashion and style the Italians do crime so much better than we do.

The show, set in Atlantic City in 1920, is, apparently, not historically accurate. But the throwing in of well-known Italian mob leaders not only makes you acutely aware of who the winners are going to be in the unfolding turf wars but also adds to the feeling of authenticity – and although its a bit of puzzler why Executive Producer Martin Scorsese had to go all the way to Kirby to find a suitable Al Capone – Stephen Graham, as the diminutive Daddy of all Godfathers is excellent.

The central character is Irish American Nucky (appropriately pronounced Nookie) Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi a veteran of the Sopranos (both shows were created by Terence Winter) and like James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, he plays the part brilliantly and convincingly as he smoothly accomodates public condemnation of the demon drink whilst making a hefty profit from its distribution.

Cute-hoorism clearly runs thickly in the Irish blood.

The fifth episode, has the full compliment of PaddyWhackery and should therefore prove popular with the Unionist Irish – traditionally not best pleased with Irish America for its role in our violent disputes with the British – they will find plenty of ammunition for negative comment.

Focussing on the run up to St Patrick’s Day, the episode has green beer, real life leprechauns, corrupt Irish politicians and political in-fighting by men wearing green sashes (rather than orange ones) with a healthy dose of anti-British rhetoric within the municipal setting of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

This is a, so far, thoroughly entertaining series and although there is some obvious playing to wider audiences, like the (revisionist?) use of the black mobster, played by the also excellent Michael K Williams (Omar in ‘The Wire’) seeking retribution for past race crime and much delicious and bare (female) flesh -even if you are not Irish, or Italian or Black, it is well worth a look.

Alternatively perhaps you think (even without seeing it) that it is just another formulaic, over budgeted and predicable Yankee production?

Or perhaps you just won’t have a Murdoch about the place – for either financial or political reasons?

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  • “The show, set in Atlantic City in 1920, is, apparently, not historically accurate.”

    Sammy, you seem to have been contaminated 😉

    “should therefore prove popular with the Unionist Irish – traditionally not best pleased with Irish America for its role in our violent disputes with the British – they will find plenty of ammunition for negative comment.”

    Do you mean Catholic Irish America? I take it you mean ‘militant Republican’ when you refer to ‘our violent disputes’, disputes which led to the targeting of not just UK military forces but also Unionists and fellow Nationalists.

    You’ll probably find a few similarities between the Mafia and the Rafia.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Nevin,

    There has been long standing and proud tradition of support for Irish insurgencies amongst Irish Americans including those of Protestant background for a considerable period – not just for the last insurgency at the end of the 20th Centrury.

    The term Irish Amercia, as used above relates to those who are happy to define themselves as Irish and generally those with an allegiance to Irish Nationalism.

    As I understand it the term has become fairly synonymous with this political allegiance because many/most Ulster Unionists were unhappy to be classified as Irish American
    (presuambly for both racist, sectarian and political reasons) and preferred to be called Ulster Scots or Ulster Irish.

    But I suppose the term Nationalist supporting Irish America would be more appropriate (it is a bit long winded) and although Catholicsm would clearly be the pre-dominant religion of that group it is their politics rather than
    their religion which is relevant here.

    Anyway have you caught any of the shows?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Being Irish and a lifelong non drinker……in my day that was actually possible….Im not against Prohibition in itself….or raising the drinking age to 30.
    I only watched the first two episodes on the urging of American friends…..I found it extremely disappointing. And clichéd. Rather like the accent, nobody in Hollywood really gets the Irish psyche right (I blame Maureen O’Hara myself) but that makes me wonder about how Hollywood portrays Italian-Americans (Sopranos) or Jewish-Americans (Seinfelldt etc).
    All Hollywood including the Western effectively a 20th century response to the Civil War aftermath is perhaps a good genre but historically inaccurate.
    The recurring theme of many westerns for example is that people from north and south can unite against a common enemy “injuns” and “mexicans” but despite the mass migration of blacks west…….there are entire westerns without a black face.
    Likewise “The West Wing” is about how politic SHOULD be. The story is sold round the world……..a liberal and ethical President in the White House while the real country is run by George Bush and the unlovely people around him.

    A triumph of myth over reality.
    Although Boardwalk Empire takes liberties with history, it is too closely modelled on real life Atlantic City…..Enoch Johnson is clearly the model for Nucky Thompson. But I dont like the curious mix of reality and fiction.

    But one thing?
    Per Mr McNally there are……”Real life Leprachauns”.

  • I’ve not seen any of the shows, Sammy. Thanks for tidying up the spillage!

    You can see from Washington’s labelling back at the time of the Revolution that many of his stalwart supporters used the term Scotch-Irish. Nelson McCausland, unsurprisingly, will point to the number of US Presidents with Scotch-Irish roots. Mind you, the double association with whiskey might not be to his taste 🙂

    According to family history research, one of my ancestors was Elizabeth McKinley of Conogher in Co Antrim. Her brother Frank was hung in Coleraine in 1798 for his alleged part in the UI rebellion and President William McKinley’s ancestors were from the same townland.

    My ancestors have been mainly Presbyterian for the past six generations at least. It would appear that my kith-and-kin who emigrated to the US a century ago would have called themselves Irish and some of their descendants have Irish passports. They’re essentially American but with a great love for their Irish roots and most probably indulge in Paddywhackering on March 17! A UUP friend of mine, a former MLA, does a nice little line in Paddywhackery!!

    Musically, I’m very attracted to the Transatlantic Sessions – available on YouTube.

  • Mark

    Being a real life Leprachaun like myself … I can understand just how hard it is for Hollywood / Bollywood or indeed Holywood to portray a true Irishman ……

  • Rory Carr

    I must admit that I am a fan of the show which has the blessing and oversight of Martin Scorcese.While it is no more or no less ‘historically accurate’ than most other pieces of fictional period drama which is spiced up with portrayals of ‘real’ historical characters, in this case Capone, Luciano, Rothstein and other Mafia characters the central character ‘Nucky’ (pronounced as spelt and certainly not as ‘Nookie’) Thompson is based on the real-life Enoch ‘Nucky’ Johnson who did indeed behave in much the way that his fictional counterpart here does. Johnson was a Republican who succeeded his father as Sherriff of Atalantic City and also served as Treasurer (as the fictional Thompson does) and while he is known to have had a strong influence over the important Black vote in Atlantic City I can find no evidence of any Irish connection whatsoever which aspect appears to be nothing more than dramatic licence and nothing wrong with that at all in principle and in practice highly entertaining I find.

    Most portraits of the cultural aspects of any ethnic group or sub-group (including Yankee Brahmins and English aristocracy) will always be a little bit hackneyed (the ‘Guinea-Wop’ mobsters are more than a wee bit stagey as well) which is not to say that it is either intentionally or unintentionally offensive. There are those who are over-sensitive to such portrayals and then there are those who are always on the lookout, ready to be offended on behalf of all their race and culture back to the beginning of time at the drop of a hat.

    Although I admit to having had a bit of a sensitive chip on my shoulder in my youth, today I fortunately do not find myself belonging to either group and perhaps for that reason am already looking forward to Saturday night’s episode. But then again, perhaps I am merely biased by the inclusion of so many scenes including delightful vignettes of what E.L. Wisty liked to call “nudie ladies”.

  • Banjaxed

    I’ve had the good fortune of seeing all 12 episodes of the first series and can’t wait for the next. Without saying too much for those who haven’t seen the remaining 6, I think can safely mention what I perceived to have been an anachronism in that Paddy’s Day do to which Sammy refers. The word ‘Brit’, which was used with abandon at this shindig – I’m almost sure its use, either perjoratively or affectionately (depending on your prejudices, of course!), didn’t come into common parlance until the 1970s. I could be wrong of course but I’ve been around a long while and hadn’t heard it used in any sense other than when refering to the army – until Colin Welland uttered it when collecting his Oscar for Chariots of Fire, ‘The Brits are coming’.

    That said, I couldn’t recommend this series highly enough. It’s not perfect – for instance, one of the central characters, Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody, is a bit wooden, to say the least. Nonetheless, the storyline, sets and costumes are quite stunning in concept. Most definitely worth a looksee!

  • JAH

    The Americans have of course done a survey on people’s origins.

    The 2000 survey (http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/c2kbr-35.pdf) has those classified as Irish as the second largest group (10.8%) after the Germans. But look on down the top 15 list and there amongst the Scandinavians and Scots are the Scotch Irish with 1.5% of the population.

    So the separate awareness of identity seems to have survived over 200 odd years. Nothing changes!

  • JAH

    Banjaxed

    I’d agree that Brits out came into vogue in the early Seventies. Of course in loyalist communities it always was taken as a politically correct way to say Prods Out without appearing sectarian…

  • Banjaxed

    JAH

    It might have been ‘taken’ as such by loyalists but it was not factually correct to do so. The term ‘Brits’ was never directed as the Protestant/Unionist/ Loyalist population. It ALWAYS referred to the British Army and/or the British State, in my experience. I can certainly understand that by implication it might have seemed so but it was not intended.

  • Banjaxed

    ‘…directed at…’
    Sorry, my eyes are getting worse.

  • qwerty12345

    I have to say that I dont watch fiction on TV much and the least hint of paddy whackery will have me reach for the remote quicker than you can say ” Gangs of New York was shite”

    Having lived in America and had to listen to the endless ignorance our western cousins spew about Ireland and / or the rest of the world has left me with a terribly short fuse for yankee BS.Let me say that Americans arent the only people who do BS but they are the ones with the worlds biggest movie and TV empire, so they get to project it abroad more. Just think, next time you get to meet someone from say South India their conception of you and your culture may well be from American TV. Globalisation my arse.

    Theres a good book called “Why do people hate America” by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies. The chapters of most interest are about how America portrays the rest of the world to Americans on TV and in film and how it often confuses itself as BEING the world. I recommend it wholeheartedly especially the bits that tear the dreadful “West Wing” apart.

    Not being a Murdoch funder Im going to pass on this one, I might rewatch this instead

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00y5kdx/Abraham_Lincoln_Saint_or_Sinner/

    Brilliant docu with some Lincoln quotes that definitely arent taught in school.

    —-

    Did anyone watch “The Promise” on Channel 4? It seems to have annoyed a few people tee hee.

  • qwerty12345

    Rory I dont think it’s necessarily about having a chip on ones shoulder when dealing with hackneyed cultural portrayals particularly in American “entertainment”. Its just that we are now at a point where we have more choice than at any other time in human history, so why do we still keep coming back to the same old limp burger.

    American TV increasingly turns me off, the vast majority of it is utter crap and then theres a small amount that is genuinely brilliant. But I find myself asking, do I really need to consume more of the same cultural message over and over – wouldnt my time be better spent watching “Arabs got talent” 🙂

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    FJH,

    “Im not against Prohibition in itself….or raising the drinking age to 30.”

    Number one rule for any proposed law is – it is must be enforceable.

    “but that makes me wonder about how Hollywood portrays Italian-Americans (Sopranos) ”

    Life initating ‘art’ – after the Godfather, the New York cops noticed the real mafia ( who were also involved with the film)copying those in the film.

    Did you watch the Sopranos?

    Nevin,

    I suspected there was rebel blood in you somewhere.

    Rory,

    “pronounced as spelt and certainly not as ‘Nookie’”. I will have another listen.

    Banjaxed,

    Some of the style of joke telling also sounds anachronistic, what do you call an Irishman etc.

    JAH,

    Re. “So the separate awareness of identity seems to have survived over 200 odd years.”

    Presumably post GFA and with Unionists joining in the Paddy’s Day festivities presumably there will be some interesting organisational linkups going on.

    qwerty12345,

    re. “back to the same old limp burger”.

    The Yankees, at the moment have the most money to throw at this sort of thing to pay the best writers and actors and production crews, presumably in 20 years time we will be swamped by Chinese historical dramas brilliantly produced and written by the best (Chinese) scriptwriters on the planet.

  • Zig70

    I’ve watched the lot, thoroughly enjoyed it, esp the puritan prohibition officer. Politics and greed, lovely combination. I’d also recommend Spartacus, blood and sand. I’m sure a lot would wish FF befell the same fate as John Hannah. It’s all fiction, not to be taken seriously, though not as strange as Caleb.

  • qwerty12345

    “Focussing on the run up to St Patrick’s Day, the episode has green beer, real life leprechauns, corrupt Irish politicians and political in-fighting by men wearing green sashes (rather than orange ones) with a healthy dose of anti-British rhetoric within the municipal setting of the Ancient Order of Hibernians”

    and still managed to get a Writers Guild of America award for best writing in a new series, Begorrah!

    As for Chinese historical dramas, well it would be a change from Cowboys and Gangsters and poor troubled GI’s. I hear Charlie Sheen’s recent problems are all down to his time in Nam.

  • HeinzGuderian

    It might have been ‘taken’ as such by loyalists but it was not factually correct to do so. The term ‘Brits’ was never directed as the Protestant/Unionist/ Loyalist population. It ALWAYS referred to the British Army and/or the British State, in my experience. I can certainly understand that by implication it might have seemed so but it was not intended.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Ayee,I guess that would explain why RUC and UDR Officers were prime targets of cowardly,pira terrorists ? Really,the things people tell themselves to help themselves sleep !!

  • Banjaxed

    HeinzG
    I gave you a fact on terminology not an excuse for murder. And I have already said that I could easily understand how it could be misinterpeted. But you’ve obviously got your own take on it hard-wired into your own system. Well, I can’t help you with that.

  • Mark

    Sammy ,

    Can’t get Sky Atlantic …so haven’t seen the show but the cast sounds brilliant and I look froward to watching all 24 episodes in a 2 day sitting when the boxset comes out .

    How’s your box set coming along ?????

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Mark,

    Yes, great show, its FF on tour in Atlantic City Berty and Charlie would have been kings, its just like home great strokes from cute hoors and most importantly of all a fecking gullible population.

    West Wing is pedalling along nicely, best scene so far (half way through 2nd series) is the one below – predictable maybe – done before, yes, but beautifully delivered.

  • Mark

    Sammy,

    Great scene , great actor …

    During the height of the shows popularity , the studios polled a 100 people and asked them could they name the current President of USA and 30/40 % named guess who ?.

    Mind you it wasn’t a Red C poll so the figure could have been higher …

    I didn’t realise Omar from the Wire was in it until I read your piece …I hope the Box set is out soon . Maybe I’ll fly up to the Jonesborough Duty free market and see if they have it .

  • Mark

    Typo – Omar from the wire was in Broadwalk Emphire until I read your piece …..

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Ah, the Wire. This is one of my hobbiest of horses. A show within a show, a show of 2 halfs, the black half of the show on the street and the white(ish) half in the office with cops.

    I understand the author lived in the police department to observe the politics – its just a pity he didnt make a separate documentary or at least cut it that bit by 50%.

    My other problem with the Wire was the ‘begorrah’ factor as mentioned by querty12345 in the shape of the ever smirking, totally unconvincing McNulty for ever reaching for his Jameson’s or singing a Pogues song.

    But Omar and the kids on the street were excellent and overall and in between Mc Nulty’s legovers it actually was very enjoyable.

  • Banjaxed

    @Sammy

    ‘…..in between Mc Nulty’s legovers it actually was very enjoyable’. ??!!

    The mind boggles, oul’ son, but whatever turns you on!

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Itwas,
    Look forward to watching it. Re Irish Americans: about 50 per cent claiming Irish American descent are Protestant (somewhat bizarrely). The term in the States for Ulster Protestant settlers is Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish. There’s better awareness of them in the States now than a few decades ago, but as they are not on the radar like the Irish or Scottish would be, it’s probable that a lot of people of Scots-Irish descent identify themselves as of Irish (or indeed Scottish) descent, or just as general early Americans from the colonial era.

    Hope you’re still enjoying West Wing.

    Me and the Mrs are watching Grey’s Anatomy Season 6 at the moment. I really wouldn’t recommend it, I don’t think I’m in their target demographic as they say, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not enjoying it. The Chief’s drink problem is especially entertaining.And you get some nice shots of Seattle. But give me maladjusted ahistorical criminals any day. First Series of Deadwood was great for that.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    MU,

    No obvious Yankee Prods in Boardwalk empire – that might be too confusing a message for such a show.

    “First Series of Deadwood was great for that.”

    That is next on my list after I put the West Wing to bed – somehow managed to miss it cmpletely.

    p.s. Will get back to you on the other thread – but up to my oxters at moment.

  • Long before “Deadwood” there was a western series called “Alias Smith and Jones” (late 1960s early 1970s) and essentially using the Butch Cassidy/Sundance Kid “buddy” movie formula.
    Anyway our heroes discover a young Irish woman in the desert (it happens a lot in westerns) and Kid Curry tells her that his parents came from “Londonderry”….at which point the young woman launches into a rant about Orangemen.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    FJH,

    “Anyway our heroes discover a young Irish woman in the desert (it happens a lot in westerns) and Kid Curry tells her that his parents came from “Londonderry”….at which point the young woman launches into a rant about Orangemen.

    Jeez,

    Excellent – what chance of that on YouTube?