With “Jimmy’s Hall”, Ken Loach brings the story of an Irish Republican trade unionist, Jimmy Gralton, out of oblivion. The feature film looks back at two short but very important periods of his life. Find out what happened next.
Jimmy’s Hall : return to Ireland for Ken Loach
Eight years after the Palme d’Or for The wind picks up, Ken Loach returns to Ireland with Jimmy’s Hall, released in 2014. While the first was devoted to the War of Independence waged against the Black and Tans at the dawn of the 1920s, the second began in 1932. After spending ten years in New York, Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns home to County Leitrim to help his mother on the family farm.
Very quickly, his reputation catches up with him and local young people ask him if he intends to reopen the Pearse-Connolly Hall. Within this inaugurated establishment in 1921 after the proclamation of the Irish Free State Treaty, volunteers taught literature, dance, music, boxing and carpentry. At the time, the initiative of the republican trade unionist had revolted the Catholic Church and the Irish National Army (INA).
This is again the case when Jimmy agrees to restore its place of sharing, conviviality and thought, where dancing and teaching resume. Taxed revolutionary, accused of being at the head of a landmark of pagans and communists, the activist is again in the sights of Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), with whom begins a long duel. In parallel, Jimmy finds his old love Oonagh (Simone Kirby), now married and mother of two children.
The only Irishman expelled from his country
Jimmy’s Hall is therefore inspired by the life of Jimmy Gralton which he evokes with fidelity, at least in the chronological stages of his career. The feature film questions shaky power relations in a country where freedom has just been proclaimed. The Republican activist, member of the IRA, is a perfect figure for the cinema of Ken Loach, who sees in him an inspiring character, but also a fascinating subject. During an interview for Canal +, the director explains about this:
Paul Laverty, the screenwriter, had heard about it a few years ago. The character of Jimmy Gralton is not really well known, although he remains the only Irishman to have been deported from his own country and treated as a foreigner. (…) It was a political decision and this story intrigued us. We wondered what this man was dangerous. He simply opened a dance hall with a gramophone as his only weapon. (…) But what was so dangerous? This is what challenged us.
When released, the film does so come out of oblivion Jimmy Gralton’s story. In September 2016, for the unveiling of a monument in his honor in Effrinagh, where the Pearse-Connolly Hall was located, President Michael D. Higgins said, quoted by TheJournal.ie :
We can remember him with sadness, but also with just anger because he was, for authoritarian political ends mixed with clerical pressure, expelled from his own country for his political convictions. What happened was an affront to fundamental civil rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
What happened to Jimmy Gralton?
As the final box of Jimmy’s Hall, the trade unionist returned to New York and was never returned to Ireland. Before his departure, he bequeathed his farm to other members of his family, as his cousin Paul Gralton tells TheJournal.ie :
My grandparents Maggie and Packie were intimately involved in this story and when Jimmy was kicked out he gave the farm to my grandfather so they could get married. Alice, Jimmy’s mother, was still on the farm at the time – part of their agreement was for them to look after her and take Jimmy’s place.
In New York, Jimmy Gralton stays faithful to its commitments. In particular, he became a union official and a member of the Irish Workers’ Club. He is running as a Communist candidate for the 13e Manhattan District in October 1933, two months after his deportation. Without success. During the Spanish Civil War, he also organized fundraisers for the International Brigades. A little while before his death from stomach cancer on December 29, 1945 at the age of 59, he married Bessie Cronogue, like him from County Leitrim.