When a friend asks me who my favorite actors are, I think of three men.

One of them is Liam Neeson.

In 1996, at the age of 44, Liam Neeson starred as Michael Collins in the Irish period piece, Michael Collins.

I started into the film thinking Michael Collins to be a kind of George Washington for the Irish Republic. Midway through the film, I realized he could be more accurately described as the Irish Che Guevara.

I found the film itself to be incredible. Along with Neeson, its cast included Aidan Quinn, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson, and (if you can spot him) Jonathan Rhys Meyers; not to mention Julia Roberts doing her darndest at an Irish accent (much better than Mary Reilly, a film that opened seven months before Michael Collins and for which Roberts earned the Razzie Award).

Neeson’s posture throughout the film screams violence. From beginning to end, when he’s not plowing through his enemies with guns blazing, he’s wrestling his friends. There was not a word spoken by Neeson that did not glow with passion. You felt that this lumbering character was Ireland.

The film follows the events surrounding the life of Michael Collins – a political leader in the Irish War for Independence – during the early 1920s.

Through bloodshed and broken hearts, Collins eventually brought the British to a cease-fire.

And the cease-fire led to Collins’ agreement to establish Southern Ireland as the Irish Free State. But this Free State was hardly what some Irish nationalists believed to be free. Technically, this made Ireland a dominion of the British Empire.


The Irish Free State was to Britain

what Puerto Rico is to America.

They let the Irish have their government, but retained a stake in the territory. Some could not accept this.

And thus began the Irish Civil War.

This was brother against brother. And it was in the midst of this conflict that Collins lost his life. The film (or perhaps simply Liam Neeson) provides a poignant end. After the death of his closest friend, Collins is convinced to meet with the Republicans to negotiate a truce. On his way, an ambush organized by Anti-Treaty (that is, Anti-Free State) Republicans took his life, the only casualty amidst the gunfire.

Collins’ attempt to end the war cost him his own life.

This is Ireland. This is us.

One of the most confusing aspects to me of the Irish conflict during the 20th century was the religious division. The nationalists (desiring an independent Irish Republic) were Catholic, while the loyalists/unionists were Protestant. In fact, one of the major factors urging the loyalists to resist the nationalists was the possibility of being a Protestant in a Catholic-ruled nation.

What is this? What is this thing that divides Christians?

This Irish Tragedy created W.B. Yeats. Yeats wrote a poem entitled A Meditation in Time of War:

“For one throb of the artery,
While on that old grey stone I sat
Under the old wind-broken tree,
I knew that One is animate,
Mankind inanimate phantasy.”

W.H. Auden said of Yeats in his poem, In Memory of W.B. Yeats:

“…Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still”

The war of Ireland is the war in us.