The recasting of reality into something that works on screen and at the box office forms the basis of conversations in which Henry recounts his story and Ford suggests cinematic and commercial alternatives that fluff up the romance, knock off the rough edges and recasts the story into sentimental Emerald Isle stereotypes.  

Revisiting that story has Henry setting out to revisit old haunts (the house in which he lived with former schoolmistress fellow revolutionary Miss O'Shea), scenes of ambushes and avenues of escape before he lit out for the States to avoid being rubbed out by former colleagues.

As he becomes disillusioned with the trivialisation of his story, he beats up the director and abandons the set in the west of Ireland.

Henry settles in a Dublin, working as a gardener, then as the janitor at a boys' school, where he intimidates overzealous teachers who beat their students. He's a popular figure who's wary of becoming too well known until a bomb planted by Northern Irish Protestants explodes in 1974.  

Injured in the blast, Henry becomes a Republican hero thanks to a journalist who writes a story full of inaccurate details accompanied by a photograph of someone else. The Provisional IRA, believing Henry was a member of the 1921 government, want to use him to drum up support for the republican cause in the north and as hunger strikers in Long Kesh begin to die, he's a valuable propaganda tool.

As was the case with Ford, we've got people who want to reshape his story for their own purposes.

Henry has more personal concerns most of which centre around the reunion with the woman who was his wife and the daughter he left behind. As a symbol of Ireland's struggle for independence and a focus for the Republican movement he knows he's a fraudulent symbol of the past as history becomes myth.  

Henry is only too aware of the savagery that brought independence and while he goes through the motions for his new masters he's disillusioned with violence and unimpressed by the emerging reality.

As the culmination of an intriguing trilogy there is, at times, a sense of frantic tying together of sundry threads, and while some readers may have difficulty suspending the old disbelief (the reunion with Miss O'Shea definitely seems to be stretching it a bit too far) the recasting of a history of hardship and hardheadedness to justify the random violence of the Troubles gets skewered neatly here.

Henry Smart has been there and done that, and his reaction to the I.R.A. Provos who split from the “official” I.R.A. reflects a remark from an elderly relative of an acquaintance with some Republican form and an Irish lilt to the voice. 

Henry's stuck, however, because the Provos and the Irish police have found enough about his past and his activities as a double agent to ensure that he toes the party line.

Neatly entwining historical fact and fictional fancy, the three volume saga unwinds with an intriguing mix of stark detail, mordant black humour and presents Ireland, its nationalist ethos and its romance with America over the last century in a light that emphasises the tragedy that comes as revolutionary spirit is trivialised into institutionalised violence.

© Ian Hughes 2012