By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
The last hundred years for the Republic of Ireland have been some of its most turbulent and triumphant years in its long and rich history, and the Irish community has found much to celebrate and also much to commiserate over during that time. Considering how much of a presence Irish-Americans have in Saint Louis, it seems only fitting that the University of Missouri—St. Louis would be the latest stop for the screening of the documentary “1916 The Irish Rebellion.”
The film was narrated by actor Liam Neeson and created and written by Bríona Nic Dhiarmada. Dhiarmada is a professor of film, television, and theatre at the University of Notre Dame as well as the chair of the school’s Irish Studies program. The April 19 screening in the J.C. Penney Conference Center was presented by the UMSL International Studies and Programs department; the film was introduced by Smurfit-Stone Corporation Professor of Irish Studies Dr. Eamonn Wall. Dhiarmada was a guest speaker at the screening.
“1916” traces the history of Irish-English relations leading up to the infamous six days in which Dublin was a literal battleground between Irish nationalists and English troops, with many civilians caught in the crossfire. Known as the Easter Rising, the 1916 event would end up shaping the history of not only Ireland but of other British nations under colonial rule, as the efforts of the Irish Volunteers were held up as an example of how a group of oppressed people can take a stand for freedom.
The documentary incorporates a wide array of primary sources, including interviews with those who lived through the Easter Rising and excerpts from letters that the jailed leaders of the Volunteers sent to their families from English prisons while awaiting execution. It humanizes the lives and work of many historical figures, giving a well-rounded portrait of such leaders as Padraig Pearse, James Connelly, and John Devoy.
Cinematography in documentaries is often what makes or breaks a film, and that rule certainly applies to “1916,” which mixes the textured black-and-white photographs of 20th-century Dublin with the vibrant, moving color images of 21st-century Dublin. The anachronistic juxtaposition of modern Ireland with past Ireland may seem jarring at first, but it proves ultimately effective to one of the major sticking points of the film. The past informs the present, and the same streets that the Irish Volunteers walked through in support of home rule are the same streets that their descendants now walk through, living in the reality that the Volunteers’ actions helped to create. A lot of the architecture remains the same from the early 1900s, and one can almost expect a young man in a dark green uniform and flat cap to appear on screen, walking between the other pedestrians with their shopping bags and mobile phones on O’Connell Street.
Considering how contentious an issue these events remain in the memory of those who lived through them, “1916” stays even-handed in its presentation of historical events, and it both entertains and educates scholars of the era of Irish independence. With the 100 year anniversary of the Easter Rising swiftly coming up, this film is an apt, enthralling view of living history. If nothing else, it is a glimpse into a timeline not touched upon much if at all in American classrooms, giving students a genuine window into a fight for liberty and autonomy that in many ways mirrors the war for independence the United States fought 240 years ago.