For Ireland’s Sake
R: Sidney Olcott. B: Sidney Olcott. D: Jack Clark, Gene Gauntier, Sidney Olcott. P: Gene Gauntier Feature Players. USA 1914
Print: George Eastman House
Filmed in County Kerry, Ireland. Though it is not made explicit in the film, it is set around the time of the 1798 Rising.
Trinity College Dublin
“Ireland occupies a marginal position in world cinema. Indeed, despite the expansion in the Irish film industry during the last twenty years, this is as true of the 2010s as it was of the 1910s. Unlike in most other European countries there has been no language barrier to insulate the country from the powerful English speaking cinemas of America and, to a lesser degree, Britain, the two countries that remain the most significant external cultural and political references points for Irish people. Even in the silent era, and especially before World War One, when European films were released in considerable numbers in Ireland, American cinema was the most pervasive, not only in the number of films released, but also in the treatment of Ireland and the Irish as themes. While American films throughout the history of cinema have adopted a largely sympathetic view of Irelands history of anti-colonial rebellions and Irish economic fortunes, British filmmakers, at least until the mid-1940s, generally steered clear of Irish history and politics, confining themselves for the most part to recycling stereotypes of the backward or comic Irish, and, in the silent period, to celebrations of events surrounding Britains role in Ireland, such as royal visits and the activities of the Lord Lieutenant.
The 1910s was the most productive decade for indigenous Irish film production until the 1970s. The films produced by the Film Company of Ireland between 1916 and 1920, together with earlier Irish-themed films made by the American companies Kalem and the Gene Gauntier Feature Players during 1910 and 1914, established for the first time a sense of a complex Irishness in fiction film production. While many of these films were comedies and literary adaptations, the decades most interesting film work is usually found in its reconstructions of Irelands past, of which Knocknagow was the first feature film.
The first film they made in 1911, an adaptation of Boucicault‘s popular melodrama, The Colleen Bawn, was followed by Rory O’More (USA 1911, dir. Sidney Olcott), a tale of the 1798-1803 whose title came from a novel by Samuel Lover of 1836. In the film, a rebel, Rory, evades capture by English soldiers with the aid of his sweetheart, Kathleen, before being eventually captured. After being freed from the gallows by a priest, he is spirited away to America with his mother and sweetheart. The theme of 1798 was echoed a year later in IMP Films Shamus O’Brien (USA 1912), and, again, in Olcotts For Irelands Sake (1914). In the latter, a reworking of Rory O’More, a priest not only helps the rebel, Marty, to escape, but, importantly, throws away the gun that Marty has taken from an English soldier, indicating that in America such guns will not be required. As they leave for America, the final title announces: To the West/ To the West/ To The Land of the Free.”
Screening the Past
Bold Emmet, Ireland’s Martyr
R: Sidney Olcott. B: Sidney Olcott. D: Jack Melville, Robert Rivers, Sidney Olcott, Valentine Grant, Laurene Santley, Pat O’Malley. P: Lubin Film Manufacturing Co. USA 1915
“Filmed in Ireland. Robert Emmett’s name is misspelled throughout the film. It was the second film released [the first was All for Old Ireland (USA 1915)] following Olcott’s final visit to Ireland. The period in which the film is set is somewhat confused. References to the United Irishmen suggest the events are part of the 1798 Rising, though Emmet (1778-1803), while one of the leaders of the United Irishmen at Trinity College, as a result of which he was forced to end his studies there, did not engage in any armed action during the 1798 Rising. He was the main leader of the Rebellion of 23 July 1803. One shot in the film includes a letter dated 31 July 1803, which was eight days after the Rebellion, and suggests that the events are set during the period from the Rebellion to Emmett’s capture on 25 August 1803.”
Trinity College Dublin
More: History Ireland