Screenplay by Paul Laverty
Director, Ken Loach
The recent film Jimmy’s Hall was one of the best movies that I have seen. This is a biography of Jimmy Gralton who was born in Effernagh, Ireland in 1886. At the time of his birth, all of Ireland was a British colony. This means that Gralton was born about 35 years after the Irish potato famine, when one million Irish people starved to death.
The life of Jimmy Gralton
Gralton’s father was an indigent farmer. His mother was a librarian who encouraged her son to read. Gralton joined the British armed forces, and refused to serve the army attempting to crush the Indian independence movement. Instead he joined the movement for an independent Ireland.
In 1909 Gralton got a job on a ship and sailed to the United States. He settled in this country, succeeded in attaining employment, and gravitated to the worker’s movement.
In 1916 the British crushed the Irish revolution known as the Easter Uprising. Patrick Pearse and James Connolly were two of the leaders the British executed.
In 1921 Jimmy Gralton returned to Ireland and organized his neighborhood community to build a community center on his family’s land. The name of this center was The Pearse-Connolly Hall. The center held dance parties in the evenings. During the day, there were poetry readings, dance classes, boxing lessons, as well as political discussions.
The Irish government as well as the Catholic Clergy saw this community center as a threat to the status quo. The pressure on Gralton became so strong that he left Ireland for the United States again in 1922.
Gralton returns to Ireland
By 1932, in the middle of the worldwide depression, Gralton returned to Ireland. He felt the new Irish government might be a bit more tolerant of his ideas. Eventually he reactivated his Pearse-Connally Hall.
During these years, wealthy landlords evicted many Irish families from their homes. Gralton organized to reverse these evictions. He also organized farmers to use the land of the affluent landlords for grazing everyone’s cattle.
In one of the most moving scenes of this film, the actor who portrayed Gralton addressed a demonstration of farmers who took back a home that had been confiscated by a landlord.
In this speech Gralton talked about how this demonstration had walked by the manor of a wealthy landlord who had manicured lands for as far as one’s eyes could see. He talked about the speculation he saw in the United States during the 1920’s that led to the depression of the 1930’s. He argued that working people are not about throwing people out of their homes, but want to have descent lives where we might enjoy dancing.
On Christmas Eve of 1932 the Pearse-Connolly Hall was burnt to the ground. Shortly after that event the authorities attempted to deport Gralton. He was able to hide from the police for several months, but eventually he was arrested and deported to the United States. Jimmy Gralton was the only Irish citizen who was ever deported from that nation.
Back in the United States Gralton helped organize the Transport Workers Union. He died in 1945 and never was able to return to Ireland.
In a sense this film resembles the film Footloose that stared Kevin Bacon. This was the story of a confrontation between a rebellious youth and a religious cleric. The disagreement was about whether or not the people of a small town would be allowed to dance.
Clearly this film didn’t attempt to have the revolutionary implications of the film Jimmy’s Hall. However, the idea that working people should have the right to enjoy themselves, as well as to have an unfiltered education does have revolutionary implications.
For anyone who is interested in the kind of struggles it will take to liberate humanity, Jimmy’s Hall is well worth seeing.