‘Nasty nuns’ sub-plot twists new RTÉ historical drama

‘Nasty nuns’ sub-plot twists new RTÉ historical drama Brian Gleeson as IRA man Jimmy Mahon in RTE’s Resistance.

A forced-adoption subplot in RTÉ’s new drama about the War of Independence is an example of an “astonishing” lack of balance in Irish public debate about historical relations between Church and State, it has been claimed.

Stressing the importance of investigating and honestly facing the darker aspects of Church history, Fr Conor McDonough OP lamented how “the lack of nuance and balance in public discourse on Church and State in 20th-Century Ireland can be really astonishing sometimes”.

As “a recent and egregious example” he said, RTÉ’s Resistance, first broadcast last weekend, includes a subplot loosely based on real events.


“That true story involved a woman losing custody of her son after a court battle with her parents-in-law, only to be reunited with him, thanks to the help of a priest, by agreeing to spy for the IRA.

“The writers of the show apparently felt this story lacked something so they modified it: now the woman has her child taken from her by nuns, who effectively sell her child to wealthy Americans,” he said, adding: “The ‘evil nuns’ trope simply had to be deployed, apparently.”

For Presbyterian theologian Dr Kevin Hargaden, Resistance seemed to suggest that “the only thing worse for the Irish than centuries of brutal occupation was the devoutly held religious convictions of the vast majority of the people involved”.

Journalist and historian Ronan McGreevy speculated on Twitter that to make a point, the subplot seemed to have been “gratuitously and not very subtlety shoehorned into a drama that’s supposed to be about the War of Independence”.

Noting that the drama seemed to be operating with a similar template of characters and tensions as 2016’s Rebellion, he said: “It didn’t work the last time either”.

The criticisms of the representations of the Church in the first episode of Resistance echoed those of the 2016 series, which Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin took to task for misrepresenting his predecessor, Dr William Walsh.

“Fiction is fiction and I respect the freedom of expression of the authors.  But when the fictional presentation flies flagrantly in the face of easily verifiable historical records, then one would be reasonably entitled to wonder if the search for truth might be being second-guessed to partiality,” he said.