Deirdre de Grae steps back in time at IFI Local Films for Local People: Yet More Glimpses of Galway, which screened at the 29th Galway Film Fleadh.
This unique cine-concert event was a curated by the Irish Film Institute (IFI) in collaboration with the National Museum of Ireland (NMI). IFI archivist, Sunniva O’Flynn, and NMI curator, Clodagh Doyle introduced their selection of short films with a wealth of in-depth knowledge, and were generous with the enlightening background information on each film.
This screening was a musical treat, as the silent films were accompanied by live fiddle player, Deirdre Ní Chonghaile. Deirdre is from the Aran islands, and carefully paired each traditional tune with the archive films, so that the music was relevant to the film’s content, time and place. The production of this archive presentation was thoughtful, well researched and a culturally enriching experience. The screening was a part of the IFI ‘Local Films for Local People’ – a nationwide tour of IFI archive films, shown in the regions where they were made. More details here:
The IFI archive films screened included: ‘The Electrification of Conamara’ (Colm Ó Laoighre, Gael Linn); ‘The All Ireland Championship Football Final’ (NFI); ‘Galway Bay Aircrash‘ (Movietone newsreel); and ‘The New Matchmakers‘ (Radharc). The silent films, curated by the NMI, included: depictions of agricultural life in rural Co. Galway; documentary footage of the Aran islands; and some ‘home movies’ of summer holidays in Co. Galway.
‘The Electrification of Conamara’ is a short newsreel piece, which was part of the Amharc Eireann series, directed and produced by Colm Ó Laoghaire for Gael Linn. This piece is in the Irish language and was shown in the Galway Film Fleadh without subtitles. The short film shows the introduction of electricity to rural Conamara, and was originally screened in cinemas around Ireland before feature films, in the 1960s. These Gael Linn films are culturally significant and are currently archived in the IFI, with some available to view on the IFI player. Colm Ó Laoghaire produced over two hundred and sixty editions of Amharc Eireann. The topics he covered were ‘Irish interest’ magazine and news stories – their preservation at the IFI provide a window into contemporary Irish life during the Whittaker and Lemass eras. A comprehensive history of the series by Dr. Mairead Pratschke, ‘A Look at Irish-Ireland: Gael Linn’s Amharc Eireann Films, 1956-64‘, is available to read and was used in the research for this article.
Amharc Eireann presented the Irish landscape, (focussing on historical and geographical sites) as the ‘locus of national identity and the repository of national culture’ (Pratschke). The eagráin or ‘issues’ (the producers referred to each series episode as an ‘eagrán’ (issue)-usually used for magazines) were presented as history lessons, which could be doubled up as promotional tools for heritage tourism. The key difference between these films and Bord Failte’s are the target demographic: Amharc Eireann promoted Ireland and its culture to the Irish people, rather than the international market.
This series by Gael Linn was a significant milestone in Irish filmmaking, and moreso Irish language filmmaking, as it was the first regular indigenous cinema newsreel since the ‘Irish Events’ series of the 1920s. Prior to Amharc Eireann, there had never been an Irish-language documentary or news-film series of any kind made or shown in Irish cinemas. Irish cinema audiences were shown only foreign productions on screen. Even the newsreels that preceded the main features were limited to those distributed by the British company, Rank Film Distributors. Rank began to include the Amharc Eireann films, for no fee, whereas the Irish film distributors contacted all required a fee – Gael Linn had a restricted budget and so went with the British distributor. By 1959, television had come to Britain and, shortly after, Rank withdrew its newsreels from Irish cinemas, which resulted in more Irish cinema screentime for Gael Linn. In 1959, the home-grown newsreel was produced weekly and expanded to include four separate news stories. The series continued until 1964 when television as a means of relaying news to the Irish population rendered the newsreel obsolete.
‘The New Matchmakers’ (Radharc)
This documentary from the Catholic priest-led ‘Radharc’ production company, is a trove of hilarious moments that would fuel another season of Father Ted scripts. Although made relatively recently (1960s), the changes in Irish culture have been so vast, that it seems to be from another era. The focus of this documentary was ‘The Cupid of the West’- a matchmaking priest who set out to educate the young men of rural Ireland in the means of finding a wife. He tackled the issue in a direct manner, organising classes on ‘how to shave’ and ‘how to go on a date’, taught by a lady to a classroom of young farming men. He also conducted hands-on, practical tutorials, in which he demonstrated correct dancing techniques to equip the young people to find a match at the local dances. These scenes caused peals of laughter from the audience in Town Hall Theatre, as well as awkward giggles from the young subjects on screen.
This concept in itself is hilarious to the current viewer, but was based in a genuine concern about the economic effects of depopulation of the rural west of Ireland, specifically the depopulation of young women. The film addressed this topic in a segment titled: “Where are all the young girls gone?”, in which we see happy, carefree, independent women working in Dublin – most reluctant to return to the country life they left behind. Meanwhile, in the west of Ireland, we are introduced to ‘poor Jimmy’, who lives alone and is too lazy to cook for himself (he farms potatoes but doesn’t have the wherewithal to cook them, so subsists on ‘smash’), with no woman to rescue him from his own incompetence.
Founded in 1959, Radharc is considered one of Ireland’s most important independent documentary production companies. The team made over 400 documentaries which were screened on RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster, between 1961 and 1996. The Radharc cameras shone a light onto a changing Ireland and recorded values, rural and urban traditions that no longer exist. Unfortunately ‘The New Matchmakers’ is not available to view on the IFI player, but other Radharc programmes are
Further archive films can be watched on the IFI player, for free, here
Be warned, you may lose hours here!
‘IFI Local Films for Local People: Yet More Glimpses of Galway’ screened on Wednesday, 12th July 2017, as part of the 29th Galway Film Fleadh (11 – 16 July).