Sorry about having a bit of a rant, but I have been reflecting on a few things in regards to the Irish re-enactment scene over the last few months and unfortunately I have to say that as far as I can see things are rather bleak for our hobby.
I would kindly request everybody who reads this post to read it carefully, fully and think about it for a moment before responding as I think I do raise some valid points here. THANKS.
Firstly let me bring up a very old, but unfortunately still relevant subject: Politics.
From what I gathered most people are sick of them. Why do we still have the issue then? I grew up in the re-enactment scene in Germany and yes, and yes just like here, there are politics there as well. It is just what you get when you have people who feel like they need to compensate issues and complexes they have at home or at work by playing the big boss at the weekend. But that is what you get in a hobby that is dealing with hierarchy.
What I did notice in Germany however in comparison to Ireland is that, no matter how much people dislike each other, they still go to the same events and enjoy themselves. I agree with the argument that the Irish re-enactment scene is small, but there are still enough people there that you don't have to talk to the people you don't see eye to eye with, just be polite, smile and talk to someone else.
I am by far no saint and there are certainly enough people involved in this hobby that I don't like, but I would never let that spoil my fun or theirs. I would never say “I'm not going to that event because so and so is there or said this” or even worse the old “you can't go there because so and so is there and he said this”. I'm sure everyone involved in Irish re-enactment has heard the one or the other in their time. I certainly have heard a lot of these “reasons”.
In my opinion everyone who does participate in this hobby should be adult enough to be able to communicate with other people, especially when they have the same interest, i.e. re-enactment. And discuss and resolve grievances directly rather than taking the back road of trying to pull people to “their side” so they can gang up on people.
Just the other day I was talking to a fellow re-enactor and was told when I informed him that another group was interested in helping out with numbers for an event that the he was told that “this group can't be trusted”, Despite the organiser never meeting the group in question, it seemed to me that the decision was made.
The next point I would like to raise is the attitude I have noticed towards our hobby. Over the last year I have noticed an increase in the attitude of plastic camping, rather than trying to experience what life was like back in the period people portray.
To make things clear, my idea of re-enactment is to attempt to relive the periods I portray, rather than representing them. Maybe it is just the way I grew into this hobby, but that is what everyone else all over Europe is trying to do.
During the last couple of years I have attended several events where, when I asked where I could put up my historical display, I was told to put it next to a set of plastic tents. This, for me, destroys the flair of actually diving into the period I portray, if you have the constant sound of tent zippers going off in the back ground, plus it destroys all opportunity to take good pictures to promote our hobby as it makes us look like all we do is say we like history, but all we do is have our comforts.
I have been saying these things over the last few months to several people and to be honest I was shocked by the responses I got.
“A gas cooker is easier to transport” and “we have an authentic camp, the plastic camp is hidden behind it”, were just two of the responses I got.
I am just wondering, why is a gas cooker easier to transport than just a pot you put into the fire? And how can you hide a plastic camp behind an authentic camp? That is like trying to hide a skyscraper behind a Volkswagen Golf, as far as I am concerned.
In contrast I was also surprised by the amount of people who agree with me on this subject and that is why I am writing this to get us all thinking and maybe make our hobby a better experience for all of us.
Yes due the time we live in, there will be some things modern any re-enactor will bring to the an event, but at least keep those items from the public. It works in every other European country I ever attended events at. So why not in Ireland? Why do re-enactors in Ireland say, that we need the gas cooker or the air mattress?
How come that in Ireland Napoleonic or Celtic or Viking re-enactors sit around the campfire in their jeans and t-shirt??? Did the people/ soldiers of the time we represent get changed in their pajamas every evening??
How come that at Irish events there seems to be little to none organisation at the actual event, except for...the public is leaving at that time so we'll head to the pub then.
Did the ancient Celts or Napoleonic soldiers on campaign or whatever period you portray, get changed into jeans and t-shirt when things got uncomfortable for them and if the weather was bad they just went to the pub rather than warm themselves at the campfire? Somehow I don't think so.
I don't say we all need to turn “hardcore” re-enactors and come home with the flu after every event, but I do believe that some sort of standard should be set for our hobby, rather than having all of us being made a laughing stock because we say “my hobby is re-enactment” when in reality it is camping where you dress up in historical clothes, play with weapons during the day so you don't get bored and then get drunk.
Again I would like to hear explanations as to why Irish re-enactment in the above mentioned regards has such an “I want my comfort and get drunk” attitude. In Germany we used to have a group in the Napoleonic scene, that had a generator and a satellite dish behind their tent, so the “kids wouldn't get bored”, however that attitude only lasted a very short time, when it was discovered that the “kids” actually had a better time listening to stories told at the campfire and experiencing life on campaign, rather than watching the Teletubbies. But the way I think things are going in our hobby we are only a few small steps away from that.
Which brings me to the point of Irish re-enactment seems to be a way for men to abandon their families for the weekend and get drunk with their mates...everywhere else in Europe re-enactment seems a hobby for the whole family, where the kids would enjoy a weekend away and playing outside, the men, or women for that matter, would enjoy meeting their friends and relive the period they are interested in and meet like minded people.
I other countries there are event especially set around the family. For example in Germany there are whole weekends where people go to a castle or a museum village and live like the community that would have inhabited that particular place at the time they represent, which means the woman get to experience something else than just military lifestyle. There are balls and dinner parties held and because everyone brings the whole family the children are enjoying themselves, making friends with other children in the re-enactment and are learning something not just about history but other things as well.
Further to this point, I know of people who have the correct attitude to the hobby who decided to leave because the Irish re-enactment would have put a bad light on their career because Irish re-enactors, despite their best intentions (I am sure that everyone in this country is doing the hobby out of interest in the history), give away the impression of the hobby being a drinking club of people that “dress up” for the weekend and play soldiers, instead of portraying historical events. If someone is so interested in history that he decides to make it his career he should not feel that he has to leave the hobby he loves, because people would hold it against him. In Germany, France, Britain and Poland, to name a few, a lot of historians are involved in the re-enactment and they are not worried about what other historians have to say.
It all comes down to the issue of attitude from other “re-enactors”.
However in Ireland the attitude seems to be “I want to play with weapons, get drunk and then have my comforts without my family there to see how smashed I get”.
People said to me before that they do this hobby to educate people. We are not teachers, this is not a job. It's a hobby and we should do it because we enjoy doing it. We should do it for ourselves. The public who comes to watch the events should be the second or even third priority we should have. Re-enactment is a hobby and one should do a hobby for himself, not to please people he never met and probably will never meet again.
The next point I have to bring up is the static display issue. I am quite honestly sick and tired of static displays, where people just have their equipment on a table for people to look at and have “re-enactors” sitting next to that table. Why not have an authentic camp where you do authentic camp life, as I believe that would make a much better impression on the public. No other country in Europe does static displays the way they are done in Ireland.
Why is it that in Ireland “re-enactors” treat this hobby as a show off base rather than taking the chance to experience what live was like back in the period they portray?
I tried a few times to get re-enactors from abroad over here, but to be honest with you all...I would be embarrassed to get people from abroad to any of the established events here. And again I was shocked to hear how many people have said the same to me, but those people are all being silenced by the organisers of events with the words “we can't do anything else”...yes we can...the places that run events do so, not to do us a four but to promote themselves. So if we say “no we won't run the event unless we can do it properly” they will eventually give in and let us do it properly otherwise they will loose out themselves.
Another thing I am concerned about is the multiperiod issue at events. Everyone knows the problem. You go to an event where you have 6 World war 2 guys, 3 Napoleonics, 4 Romans and 5 Vikings (just as example numbers)...and somewhere else in Ireland you have other events with 3 World War 2 guys, 5 Napoleonics, 6 Romans and 2 Vikings (again just random numbers) and so on.
Why can we not try to get enough civilisation into our hobby to sit down together once a year and get organised so that one event might have 20 Vikings and run that event as Viking only and the next event with 30 guys for gunpowder periods and one with 100 guys doing just World War 2. I mean that idea can't be that far fetched, as this is how re-enactments are run all over Europe. Yes there are a few multiperiod events in other countries, but a) they have a much bigger re-enactment scene so you can still dive into your own period without having to worry about having other periods around and b) they don't run solely multiperiod events all the time.
If we would organise ourselves a bit better and improve our attitudes and displays we can actually make this hobby grow and if we work on these issues and move away from the plastic camp/ B&B attitude a lot of people have here we can make Ireland a dream destination for re-enactors from abroad. We have the history here, we have the locations and we have the landscapes to really have remarkable events in this country. So please think about the points I raised here and think about if you want to honour the people from the period you represent by paying them tribute and try to go through what they went through so you actually get to understand why they acted the way they did and show what life was back then or do you just want to stand there and tell people something they can easily look up in a book.
Now I won't just rant about what annoys me. I will also point out what I like and that is the camaraderie in this hobby. I never went to a single event where I personally wasn't made feel welcome or at least was treated in a polite and professional fashion. So why can we as adults not play together in a hobby we all enjoy and love.
If we all decide to work together, it doesn't have to be in an official organisation, as I heard that that was tried before, but at least as a community of like minded people. And if we would meet once or twice a year and sort out any issues that might be between groups (individual disputes are down to the individuals involved, a group should not be dragged into this, as that is what caused a lot of damage in the past) and plan the season ahead together, we could really make this a fantastic thing. And If every period would sit together and set guidelines for authenticity for their period and decide together on safety rules for their period than there wouldn't be any more of these arguments “we don't want to play with them, because they are unsafe” every other country in Europe has a uniform safety rulebook for each period that every group in that country agrees on. And safety standard every member has to fulfill before being allowed on the field. Again I will use Germany as an example.
We had an incident at a Napoleonic event before where a ramrod was left in the musket and a fellow re-enactor was seriously injured, but only the group the person was in got punished for this mistake and NOT the entire hobby. Like what happened last year, where at event in Northern Ireland, so not even in this country, a re-enactor fired his ramrod and hit a member of the public, who btw as far as I am informed didn't get hurt except for a small bruise, and instantly the use of ramrods was forbidden all over the Republic of Ireland.
The correct use of ramrods can be learned through constant training, not like may groups here that do one training session at the start of the year and one at the end of it. Every group should train for at least 2 hours per at every event, not only would that improve the skills of the group but is also something the public would enjoy to see as it was part of the everyday life of the soldiers in all periods. Only that way you will learn how to use your weapon properly and most of all safely.
And training is the next thing I would like to bring up. I am seriously disappointed in the effort made in the more modern periods that are re-enacted that there is barely a group that is actually making an effort to make their drill look like they were real soldiers. It is always that the commander gives a command and every soldier follows the order in his own time.
Why do people in this country want to do something military, but yet don't want to do it in a military fashion.
In your honest opinion, what do you think looks better? A well trained platoon where every does the movements at the same time and makes it look like they are proper military or a loose bunch of individuals who all do the necessary movements at a different time and make it look like they've never done it before?
Anyway this point is up to each group and individual to decide what they want to do.
But all in all I believe we all should make more of an effort to improve our displays and work on our attitude towards a hobby that can be so great, but yet isn't in this country due to people loving their comforts too much. Well if that is the case then at least step back and let people who want to do this properly do it properly. And don't say “we can't do it properly because we are not allowed to”. Go to another location where you are allowed to. I said it before, we are doing this hobby for ourselves and not for the public or the event location. The locations that run the events run them for their own benefit, not to suit us, but if we would say “you want us here, well this is what we need” instead of saying “you want us here, what are we allowed to have”.
We are all in this hobby together, whether we like each other or not should have nothing to do with it. There is great potential in this country and there are some people who really want this to be great hobby, but there are also a lot of people who are holding us back with their plastic camp attitude with their gas cookers and their B&B accommodation. Or even the people who just do this hobby to get away from their family and therefor making other people who actually want to bring their family and make this a family hobby feel rather unwelcome. As example I know of someone who brought his family along to an event and afterwards his wife said that she does not want their child involved in the re-enactment due to some people being too drunk to even stand up in the afternoon.
Yes I have a few drinks aswell when the show is over, but I don't get to that point of drunkenness and especially not that early.
Now people might say all I don is rant and not come up with any suggestions. Well I have some.
For one, we should work together. Only that way can we achieve all the potential that is in this hobby in this country. As mentioned before, we don't have to be friends just companions, brothers in arms or whatever you want to call it.
We are all adults and not some jealous children who are all about being popular, because that is what all the politics in this hobby look like to an outsider. What would everyone of you say if you would hear this sentence “You can't play with him because I don't like him”? Seriously!! What would you think?
As I said before I don't expect miracles, I don't expect us all to like each other, but I do believe we all should be adult enough to be able to work together and avoid each other at events if we don't like each other. I do it, and I have thus far not have any bad word coming back to me about myself. Maybe I am wrong, maybe there are loads of people bitching about me behind my back. I don't know. But what I do know is that if I have an issue with a fellow re-enactor I would approach it with him and if I think the issue is unsolvable, I would not let the presence of that person stop me from going to an event and I certainly would not expect that person to stay away from an event because of me. Furthermore I would not tell anybody else to stay away from an event because of another person going to that event.
I would not chase a person from another group away, as I have heard and witnessed on a few occasions, unless that person is offensive to me or a member of my group.
Different groups, different ideas, that's the way our hobby works, but we should not let this stop us from having a good time.
Once we have general safety rules there is no reason for us not to work together. As I said, it works EVERYWHERE else, despite of politics between groups.
In regards to the authenticity issue. Some friends of mine and myself are putting together a new group at the moment (and I am not writing this to promote ourselves), but due to the experience I have with mainland European re-enactment, our groups regulations are based on the European standard and hence we put the most effort on camp life rather than the battle, because what did soldiers of each period do most? Fight or spend their days in camp? And what did they do in camp all day long? Drink or train?
Now for those that want to “educate the people”, what do you think would educate the people more? You telling them what is written in a book or you showing them what those words in the book actually mean? Telling them of the hardship or showing them the hardship?
We need to get away from the telling people, static displays and move towards the showing people living camps.
What do you think the public will remember more? A guy dressed like something in a book telling them what the book says or showing them what is really behind the picture they see in the book?
Yes people will come back to this and say: “but a gas cooker is easier to transport and you get your food quicker.” Or the famous excuse “if they would have had it, they would have used it”, well they didn't have it and ok it would be easier to just light up the gas cooker, but is it why you decided to do re-enactment?
If you just want to dress up while camping, then why not join a fancy dress camping club, why destroy the experience for the people who really want to know what live was like back in the period they do for real?
Maybe I'm arrogant, but I do believe that I am an approachable person with the right attitude towards a hobby that does involve a lot of work, and that I believe “if you want to do it, why don't you want to do it right?” Why do people feel the need to abuse re-enactment as an excuse to go to the pub? I mean the pub is there any day of the week, but how many days a week or even per year do you actually get to sit around the campfire, chat to your friends or like minded people without having to shout at each other due to music being played too loud or even have a proper sing song?
Why do people, who say they want to show how life was like back in the time they portray and then go to sleep in a B&B or in a plastic tent and cook their food on a gas cooker? Is that what the people did 200 years ago? Or 800 year ago? Or even 100 years ago? As far as I know even in World War 2 the soldier cooked their food on real wood fires, as it was easier to chop some wood in the forest than carry around a gas cooker and some gas canisters. So why do Irish re-enactors try to show people what life is like now as a camper, rather than showing what life was like back in the period they portray? I just don't get it.
Vive La Nation!!!