Seven of Pathé’s Irish collection you need to see

While none of the films are new to the internet, many of them are already widely circulated. For instance, Great Cork Treaty (1922), a silent panorama of Michael Collins addressing thousands of people on Cork’s Grand Parade, when the throng is thrown into disarray by gunshots...

It’s a glimpse into the vivid and sometimes scary politics in Ireland less than a century ago as the country made its way towards independence.

But there are many lesser-viewed films shot in Ireland in the Pathé collection from before and after independence which are of serious historic interest. Or which offer amusing glimpses into the forgotten ways of yesteryear. Or both. To start you off, here are seven of the best.

No One Can Insult Our Flag (1920) is an extraordinary piece of footage. Shot in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, it apparently shows two republicans forced at bayonet point to parade a symbol of the state they were then trying to overthrow. The intertitle (which misspells the county town’s name as ‘Dungarven’) describes the pair as “Sinn Feiners — who had on Armistice Day, of all days, torn down the Union Jack — were made to parade the village and re-hoist it.”

Dublin (1970-1979)

This short, silent compilation of offcuts isn’t as obviously satisfying as the Pathé collection’s quaint travelogues. But it captures a wealth of detail in a sunny Dublin street, and night-time shots of vintage neon signs advertising some very familiar indigenous Irish brands. It would make you nostalgic for Tayto even if you’ve just had a bag. The clip is of interest for two further reasons. Firstly, it’s one of the pieces which is tantalisingly divorced from its original purpose: The viewer will wonder why those street scenes were even being filmed. Secondly, it has an error built into it — the title seems to be out by a decade, with one eagle-eyed tweeter spotting its parent film among the Pathé archive.

The New Cork (1927)

In this silent short, a camera fixed to a truck records some of the buildings as it threads along St Patrick’s Street in Cork. Why would anyone even bother doing that, you might ask.

But the significance of the simple little film wouldn’t have been lost on cinemagoers. That street had made world headlines only seven years previously when much of it, and buildings all over the city including City Hall and the Carnegie Library, were burnt in a revenge attack by the Black and Tans during one of the most bitter periods of Ireland’s revolution against UK rule.

You can imagine the scenes from the rebuilt city must have provoked quite a frisson in many viewers. The street’s landmark buildings, including Burton (now Oasis) and the Victoria Hotel, were now joined by a string of handsome new buildings including The Munster Arcade (Penneys), Cash’s (Brown Thomas) and Roches Stores (Debehnahms). Audiences may also have reflected on how swiftly events had moved: Between the burning of Cork and this newsreel, the country had won independence, descended into a bloody civil war, and emerged out the other side at least as a stable country.

No doubt some screenings of the short clip above accompanied an Irish feature film, Irish Destiny, a romance set against the War of Independence about a heroic IRA man dashing to warn his comrades of planned raid by British forces. Written by a Dublin GP and pharmacist, Isaac Eppel, and directed by pioneering director George Dewhurst from Preston, Lancashire, it was released in 1926, a decade on from the Easter Rising. Remarkably, the 73 minute movie weaves real footage into the action, including — bringing matters full circle for the cinemagoers — clips of the aftermath of the burning of Cork. Lost for decades until a print turned up in the US Library of Congress in the 1990s, you can now buy Irish Destiny on DVD, complete with a new orchestral score, from the Irish Film Institute on www.ifibooking.ie.

Sinn Féin Rising - Liberty Hall (1916)

British Pathé also captured another seminal moment of Irish history and have released rare footage of the 1916 Easter Rising. The two short videos show the extensive damage done to both Liberty Hall and the GPO as a result of the Rising.

Road bowling (1957)

Yes, indeed. You will roll your eyes at the casual paddywhackery in the script. Suck it up though. That was a time when no report from Wales was complete without a male voice choir soundtrack, and heaven knows what worse-than-woeful cliché would be trowelled on if the report was about, say, black people. But look beyond the oirish clichés and you’ll see that this two-minute piece about road bowling is actually an excellent compact bit of reporting.

21-year-old Bill Desmond and Joe Ahern, aged 22, square up for a bout of the traditional sport. Banknotes the size of bedsheets are exchanged as the chap in the voiceover effortlessly and accurately explains the sport itself, and the wagering system, while the camera gets right down into the action, as the spectators effectively stand in the path of a cannonball. Fág an bealach!

Finally, if your appetite has been properly whetted, and you have exceedingly fast broadband, or have the patience to put up with a bit of buffering, it’s well worth going to Pathé’s own site for a number of films from the 1960s which the company hasn’t yet posted on YouTube.

Not only will See You At The Pillar rekindle even the most jaded person’s love affair with our beautiful capital, it was nominated for an Oscar in the documentary short category in 1967. Enough said.

Go see it.

But arguably we’ve kept the best til last, the magnificently odd

Why Buy Broadleaf (1964).

Unlikely as it may sound, this 18-minute corporate film about Irish cigarette manufacturer PJ Carroll is quite gripping viewing in ways its makers probably never envisaged.

Much of it is shot in a tobacco planation in Virginia where the viewer will wince at some of the implied attitudes to and relationships between various races and, at one stage, what appears to be child labour. But even when the focus of the documentary returns to Dundalk, some of the behaviours and assumptions normal in 1964 seem quite startling to us today.

That the mores of previous times are different to ours shouldn’t surprise us. But it does — perhaps because we’re unused to seeing them represented in a real-life Irish context. Watch out for smart suits, fancy cars, snazzy architecture and matching decor, shrewd marketing — and of course all that smoking: Why Buy Broadleaf is nothing less than the Irish Mad Men.

You can watch the video on British Pathé's site here.


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