Online news archive offers fresh glimpse into history

An online archive of documentary film spanning more than a century is yielding new glimpses into Irish history — including the rediscovery of film shot in Cobh, Co Cork, of the aftermath of the Lusitania disaster in 1915.

Online news archive offers fresh glimpse into history

Last week, British Pathé — which licences clips from its newsreel archive to film and television producers — made almost 82,000 pieces of film freely available on YouTube.

Pathé News, an offshooot of the pioneering French film company founded in 1896, was in the business of making cinema newsreels. Shot in every corner of the globe, the content was akin to that of a modern TV news bulletin — local and international news, sport, and quirky or odd “and finally” stories.

While the archive was already on the firm’s website, the speed and accessibility of YouTube has attracted much interest from amateur historians.

The announcement lit up social media, becoming a Twitter trending topic in Ireland on Thursday as users engaged in a DIY version of Reeling In The Years, sharing clips which ranged from the quaint to historically significant.

The clips of particular Irish interest include:

- Michael Collins addressing a rally of tens of thousands of people on Cork’s Grand Parade that is disrupted by gunfire.

- Troops and/or Black and Tans forcing two republicans at bayonet point to parade a union flag in Co Waterford.

But the newsreels recorded happier times too, including reports from decades of All-Ireland hurling and football finals, travelogues showcasing Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s, and a short 1957 documentary about road bowling which has to be seen to be believed.

The brief Irish Lusitania aftermath footage includes what appear to be rescuers demonstrating life vests in boats at Cobh’s sea front, and the burial of some of the 1,195 victims in the Old Church Cemetery.

Although the Pathé archive’s notes read ‘not certain of locations of this film’, the burial scene has now been confirmed by comparing the footage with shots taken by Cork Examiner photographer Thomas Barker.

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