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‘1916: The Irish Rebellion‘ a thoughtful, powerful documentary

| Monday, March 14, 2016

TheIrishRebellion_WebEric Richelsen | The Observer

While many on campus were packing their bags or possibly already headed home for break, “1916: The Irish Rebellion” premiered at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center with all the pomp that it deserved. However, unless you are in an Irish class or have a professor in the Irish department, you might not have heard of it — but it’s kind of a big deal. The film, along with a three-part documentary series, is being released internationally on over 120 PBS stations, BBC4 and RTÉ. The project has been six years in the making, released to align with the centennial anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Liam Neeson, who narrated the documentary, provided a moving reading of William Butler Yeats’ poem “Easter 1916” at the premiere, which somberly set the stage by reminding the audience of the truly human cost of the Rising. “We know their dream; enough/ To know they dreamed and are dead.” The brutal executions of the leaders of the Rising served as a catalyst for the fight for Irish independence.

Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson emphasized the importance of the role that the United States played during The Easter Rising, as well as the event’s international effects. Anderson lauded the move to think about the Rising more critically as opposed to blind commemoration.

According to Christopher Fox, director of the Keough-Naughton Institute and English professor, “1916” is a unique effort in how it demonstrates the international effects of this rebellion across the British empire.

The documentary was written and co-produced by Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, Thomas J. and Kathleen M. O’Donnell. Dhiarmada said the aim of the documentary was to show The Rising not only as a historical event but also as “a story of real men and women, people of flesh and blood who participated or witnessed epoch-making events … a story of heroism and of cowardice, of moral courage and of venality, of mercy and of cruelty, of victory and defeat.”

Dhiarmada certainly succeeded. The documentary presents the narrative of the Rising in a manner that makes it accessible to all audiences. Readings of letters and writings by the leaders of the Rising, useful commentary provided by leading Irish historians, powerful visuals and an excellent musical score resulted in an engaging and thought-provoking piece. The sheer number of historians involved from Ireland, the United States and Britain is impressive. The acquisition of numerous primary sources must have been cumbersome, but well worth the effort. The visuals of different locations within Dublin juxtaposing the past with the present keeps the audience engaged and reminds one of the end result of the Rising. Additionally, the interview clips of the family members that the leaders left behind proved to be the most emotionally moving parts of the documentary.

For those that are interested in a more in-depth examination of the Rising, its context and international effects, there is also a three-part documentary series to be released on PBS. A companion book has also been released by the University of Notre Dame Press which includes stunning visuals from a myriad of contemporary publications as well as photographs and excerpts from the leaders of The Rising themselves. There will be a documentary premiere for students to attend March 31 at 8:30 p.m. The event is free but ticketed; tickets can be obtained through the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

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