Bright new dawn for classic 1930s film

A re-mastering of The Dawn, the Killarney-inspired 1930s film that was Ireland’s first full-length talkie, drew an extraordinary crowd at the Killarney Cineplex for its first screening.

Bright new dawn for classic 1930s film

Among the audience at the first screening at the cinema still run by the Cooper family — descendants of Thomas G Cooper, the brains and the brawn behind the film — were several descendants of the local cast.

Jas BS Lawlor, the local ESB manager and an electrical engineer, was the technical director to the film and was also in charge of the photography. His son Tony arrived from Dún Laoghaire. He was able to spot his mother, Bríd Lawlor, who had a walk-on part during a street scene and was pregnant with him at the time.

The technical engineering to produce such a film, which played to acclaim in New York and Dublin in 1936, was extraordinary. However, it was also home-made and make-do and shot after work — and testament to the “can-do” attitude of the young State.

Michelle Cooper Galvin, granddaughter of Thomas G, recalled how her mechanic grandad, who was also an electrician by trade, “made up the arc lamp in the garage”. The tripod for the camera was made from the chassis of a car.

“Film and tourism were his two loves — along with granny Cooper,” she said.

The film was designed to showcase the beauty of Killarney but it was more than that. Made just a decade after independence the storyline of the Black and Tans was experienced as reality for the local actors.

Along with Cooper, who is as powerful on screen as he was doubtless off-screen, local woman Eileen Davis as Eileen O’Donovan played the love of Brian Malone and gave a polished performance, worthy of any Hollywood movie.

Among the descendants who viewed the movie over the weekend were Margaret O’Sullivan McCarthy, the daughter of the handsome “Brian Malone”; Peggy Looney, the wife of the late Paddy Looney who also starred in the film, was present; as were the descendants of several old Killarney families from the Hurleys to the McCarthys to the Cahills.

A full 133,081 frames had to be rebuilt and the film copy stored by the British Film Institute, Brian Nolan of the The National Digital Skills Centre at Kerry ETB Training Centre in Tralee, explained.

The team there, inspired by Diarmuid Galvin, Cooper’s great grandson, digitised and restored it “over three months of careful, delicate work at very little cost”, says Nolan.

A film trail and a booklet have been produced.

Michelle hopes the film, which captures the spirit of the town and the time, will be used as an educational tool now that it can be more widely viewed.

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