Irish Film Institute Unveils Century-Old Footage

Dame Street in Dublin, 1915

By Maggie Holland, Assistant Editor
May / June 2019

The Irish Film Institute (IFI) was at the Consulate General of Ireland in New York in April to launch its Irish Independence Film Collection, a culturally significant compilation of newsreel material from the early 20th century.

With over 150 films in total, the footage, which features Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera, and Queen Victoria to name a few, gives fascinating glimpses into life in Ireland from 1900-1930, as it entered and endured a period of great conflict in its history. It releases a prolific look into the lives of those fighting for independence a century ago.

Because the only footage of the pivotal events during this period, which include the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War, was filmed by non-Irish news agencies, it has been held abroad ever since. Much of it was not available to the public since it was initially screened as newsreels in cinemas at the time, which adds to the significance of this distribution to digital platforms where anyone and everyone can access it.

The video, much of which was in bad repair, was collected from sources around the world, including the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Painstakingly restored, it includes Queen Victoria’s visit to Dublin in 1900, King George and Queen Mary’s visit to Dublin in 1911, Irish crowds welcoming home Countess Constance Markievicz after her release from prison, Éamon de Valera visiting Boston in 1919, Terence MacSwiney’s funeral in Cork in 1920, and Michael Collins addressing a large crowd after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Decades before the 1950’s widespread adoption of television, newsreels like these were the only source of onscreen news available to the public, allowing them to see what was happening in their country, as opposed to reading about it.

“During this decade of centenaries, it’s particularly important that we reevaluate how events in Ireland were presented to the general public: the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, the Civil War,” said Ciara Chambers, lecturer in contemporary film and media at University College Cork.

Mary Reed, Ross Keane, Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Ciarán Madden, and Jackie Davis.

“This is our history,” said Ross Keane, CEO and Director of the Irish Film Institute, at the New York launch. “These are some of the most important events of the birth of our nation, brought together for the very first time.

“To see real footage of real history of real people, living out our shared story is something that needs to be treasured, preserved, and never forgotten,” he said.

The Irish Film Institute provides audiences throughout Ireland with access to the finest independent Irish and international cinema, preserves and promotes Ireland’s moving image heritage, and provides opportunities for audiences of all ages and backgrounds to learn and critically engage with film. The Independence Film Collection can be viewed for free on IFI’s online platform, the IFI Player.

In his speech at the Irish Consulate, Keane said, “I would really appreciate people helping to spread the word about the IFI and our work in preserving Irish culture and heritage, so please find links to the video from the night.” He also asked people to support the IFI through the American Friends of the Arts in Ireland (afai.org/donate/).


Watch some of the newsreels below, and find more at https://ifiplayer.ie/independencefilms.


Éamon de Valera in Boston


Civil War in Ireland


The Irish Independence Featurette


One Response to “Irish Film Institute Unveils Century-Old Footage”

  1. Walter Crawford says:

    Surprising quality for films that are 100 years old. Well done to all concerned in the restoration.

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