Production company: MacNamara Feature Film Co.
Sponsor: Emmet Moore.
Country of origin: USA.
Producer/ director/ scriptwriter: Walter MacNamara
Black and white; silent; length: 5 reels; 2,939 feet; format: 35mm.
Distributor: T A Sparling (Ireland/GB); Gaelic Film Co (Ireland).
USA release 22 September 1914; Irish release 8 January 1917.
USA re-issue ca. 1920 by Gaelic Film Co. Reissue copy: IFA; LC (reels 2, 3, & 4, 35mm, 2,939 ft; 16mm, 1,183 ft); MOMA.
Cast: Barry O’Brien (Robert Emmet), P J Bourke, Fred O’Donovan, Barney Magee, Patrick Ennis, Dominick Reilly.
Summary: The film is mainly concerned with Irish political and military events between 1798 and 1803. A review of the original version of the film in Irish Limelight in February 1917, following the first Dublin screenings, is the most complete and critical account seen of the film and which includes a description of the now missing first reel of the film. ‘IRELAND A NATION was marred by anachronism and inaccuracies. Some of these, in fact, were too patently ridiculous for serious criticism. The film opened with the passing of the Act of Union, in which an excellent reconstruction of the scene of the old Anglo-Irish House of Commons was spoiled by the delineations of Grattan and Castlereagh – the former depicted as heavy and opulent, and the latter – probably to please the gallery – as the very acme of masculine ugliness. A messenger from Dublin was shown bringing the news of the passing of the Act of Union in 1800 to Father Murphy (who was killed in 1798) as he was addressing his parishioners after Mass, and straightaway the priest (then two years dead) converted his congregation into an insurrectionary band and placed himself at their head. At the same time a deputation of Anti-Unionist M.P.s burst in on the studies of Robert Emmet, told him the Union was passed, and asked him to go to Napoleon for armed aid which, according to the film, Emmet immediately did. Fr Murphy with Emmet in Marshalea Lane Depot, Emmet taking the oath, giving evidence, and defending himself – in typical Yankee fashion – at his own trial, and Michael Dwyer apparently marrying Anne Devlin, and certainly taking off with her to Australia, were amongst other outstanding anachronisms and inaccuracies.’ John Philpot Curran also appears in the scene with Grattan. The surviving film, amounts to approximately 26 minutes of dramatised material and about eight minutes of actuality footage, which are reels 2, 3 and 4 of the re-issued 1920 version of the film. These may be a re-edited version of the 1914 dramatised sequences, and contain the following scenes: Michael Dwyer and his men on Look-Out at Old Watch Tower; Robert Emmet meeting Napoleon; an informer observing the drilling of rebels; the informer selling this information to Major Sirr; a priest saying mass; a contingent of soldiers arriving at the mass as the congregation turn from praying to dancing to deceive them; Emmet meeting Dwyer; Dwyer and his men at Glendalough; Dwyer and his men under siege at a cottage; wounded Sam McAllister, one of Dwyer’s men, offers his life to hold off the soldiers while Dwyer and a companion escape; the informer tries to bribe (bride in intertitle) Anne Devlin to find where abouts of Emmet; soldiers arrive at Anne Devlin’s house, take her outside and mistreat her by a mock hanging to try to get information on Emmet; Emmet visits his fiancee, Sarah Curran; soldiers arrive at the house, but Emmet escapes; Emmet is captured at Harold’s Cross; Emmet defies Major Sirr; Emmet visited in jail by Sarah; Emmet’s trial before Lord Norbury; the informer confronts Emmet; Emmet asserts that he did for Ireland what Washington did for America; Emmet sentenced to death; Sarah visits Emmet in jail; Emmet being taken from his cell to be executed; Emmet’s grave with headstone where a woman plays a harp; Anne Devlin meets the informer and tells him she’ll meet him again at midnight; Anne arranges to have a man dress up as her and deal with the informer; the informer is attacked and thrown into a river by the man; on a ship Anne is seen kissing a man; Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) preparing for his duel with D’Esterre, in which he killed him (1815); O’Connell in support of Catholic Emancipation (1829) and Repeal of the Union. Scenes of emigration end the dramatised sequences. Actuality footage follows of a Home Rule meeting (1914); of Eamon de Valera’s visit to the USA (1919-20); of the deaths on hunger strike in 1920 of Terence McSwiney and Michael Fitzgerald; of the auxiliary military force, the Black and Tans, being reviewed by the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, before being dispatched to Ireland; of the burning of buildings and military patrols during the War of Independence. The film ends as an old man concludes the ‘story of Ireland’ which he has been telling to two children.
Notes: Exteriors were filmed in Ireland, while interiors were shot at Kew Bridge Studios, Twickenham, London. One account (by his son) identifies the actor-manager and playwright, P J Bourke, in the role of ‘Michael Dwyer’, while another version from the same source suggests that Bourke’s primary responsibilities were behind the camera and as a writer, and that he only played an extra as one of ‘Dwyer’s’ men. MPW 3 October 1914:62 identifies Walter MacNamara as the writer. For an historical note on Michael Dwyer see MICHAEL DWYER, THE IRISH OUTLAW (GB 1912). The first print of the film bound for Ireland sunk with the Lusitania off the County Kerry coast on 7 May 1915. Another copy of the film reached Dublin the following year and was given a Press Censor’s Certificate on 1 December 1916, though some scenes and intertitles had to be removed. These were: the scene showing the interruption of a hillside Mass by soldiers; Anne Devlin being ‘roughly handled by soldiers’ (the Press Censor mistakenly identified the character as Sarah Curran); the execution of Emmet; an inter-title, ‘A Price of £100 dead or alive on the head of every priest’; and the Irish flag’s display at the end of the performance. Actuality footage of a Home Rule meeting in 1914 and a shot of a telegram from Ireland Parliamentary Party leader, John Redmond, also had to be cut. This version of the film was screened in Dublin on 8 January 1917, but it was banned two days later by the military authorities who objected to the demonstrations of approval by audiences of the film’s nationalist sentiments. These responses were ‘likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty, and to prejudice the recruiting of His Majesty’s forces’. Its next public showing in Ireland was in January 1922, three weeks after the Anglo-Irish Treaty had been approved by Dail Eireann. (For a detailed account of the controversy see Rockett et al, Cinema and Ireland, 1987:14-16).
References: MPW, 29 August 1914:1245; NYT, 24 September 1914:11; Variety, 10 October 1914:21; IP, 11 January 1917:3; Irish Times, 11 January 1917:5; Dublin Evening Mail, 31 January 1922:5.
Film details from entry on http://www.tcd.ie/Irishfilm.