At a meeting of the Portadown Technical Committee on Thursday, 12 March 1914, Technical School principal J. G. Edwards reported that certain pupils attributed their poor attendance to “the picture house” and “drilling” (“Technical School Drilling”). Like the nationalist boys who had objected to the British Army Film in Dublin the previous week – although opposed to them politically – the unionist boys of Portadown were culturally and politically active, participating in the Ulster Volunteer Force’s (UVF’s) increasingly visible campaign of opposition to Home Rule. For a significant number of young Irish men of different political convictions in 1914, the cinema and marching formed part of the texture of their lives.
Despite the polarization of Irish politics by the growing Home Rule crisis in March 1914, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the country’s cinemas appears to have been surprisingly uncontroversial. Several cinemas in the largest population centres of Dublin, Belfast and Cork chose Irish-themed films, with Irish-shot films – especially those of the Kalem company – being particularly favoured. Indeed, it would be decades before so many recently produced Irish-shot film would be available to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. For St. Patrick’s night only, Dublin’s Phoenix Picture Palace showed The Shaughraun (US: Kalem, 1912); the Clonard Picture House in Belfast’s Fall’s Road offered the same film but for the more usual three-day run beginning on 19 March. In Cork, the Coliseum exhibited Kalem’s The Kerry Gow (1912). The Cork Constitution‘s review of the latter appears to come from a non-Irish source as it explained that “The Kerry Gow (a blacksmith) is a splendid Irish production, which was acted in the Green Isle, and features Jack Clarke and Gene Gauntier, with a full company of ‘flicker’ artists of repute” (“The Coliseum”).
Of even more direct relevance to the feast day of the Irish patron saint was J. Theobald Walsh’s Life of Saint Patrick: from the Cradle to the Grave (US: Photo-Historic, 1912). This film was shown in Patrick’s Week at Dublin’s World’s Fair Varieties in Henry Street. This was not the first time the World’s Fair had shown the film; the venue began 1914 with an extended run of it. It was “over 3,000 feet long [and] was produced by Theobald Walsh, for the Photo-Historic Company, New York, on the actual spots made memorable by Ireland’s Apostle. It is enacted throughout by Irish peasants attired in the correct costumes of that period” (“World’s Fair Varieties”). It was, one reviewer commented, a “splendid picture, and most appropriate for the time of year it is.” Indeed, “it is, undoubtedly, a most masterly film” (“’Life of St. Patrick’”).
Elsewhere, Irish-set (but not -shot) films or those featuring Irish characters that – like the Kalem films and The Life of Saint Patrick – had been released in the previous year or so were revived for the occasion. For the first part of Patrick’s week, the Clonard showed The Banshee (US: Kay-Bee, 1913), a “splendid two-part drama” to whose representations of the Irish the Ancient Order of Hibernians had objected when it had been shown in Tralee, Co, Kerry, in early February 1914 (Condon). Other titles were more Irish-American than Irish. As part of its special Sunday programme on 15 March, the Phoenix showed Solax’s Dublin Dan: The Irish Detective (1912), which starred popular stage actor Barney Gilmore in his first film. In an ad for the film in a US trade journal, Solax described Gilmore as the “popular American and Irish idol – the matinee girl’s pet – the favorite of millions, an actor known in every state in the Union – a veteran on the stage – although young in years, with a personality that ‘comes across’” (Solax 729). Although The Escape of Jim Dolan (US: Selig Polyscope, 1913) contained a temptingly Irish-named protagonist, this Tom Mix Western at the Picture House in Dublin’s Sackville/O’Connell Street for the three days including St. Patrick’s Day appears to have had no meaningful Irish or Irish-American theme beyond that name.
Two films of actual sporting and political events in Ireland were also popular. On Monday, 16 March, films of two international football matches that took place in Belfast the previous weekend were exhibited at several picture houses, including the West Belfast Picture Theatre on the Falls Road – which showed the soccer match at Windsor Park between Ireland and Scotland – and the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street – which showed the Ireland v. Wales rugby match at the Balmoral show grounds. On 19 March, the Princess Cinema in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines was the first in the city to show the film “Trooping the Colours” that had been shot by Pathé at Dublin Castle on St. Patrick’s Day. A military display overseen by the Lord Lieutenant in the presence of invited dignitaries, this film offered moving-picture evidence of a phenomenon that had long been clear in other media: that St. Patrick’s Day was an established part of the official culture of British-ruled Ireland.
Actuality films shown in Belfast presented a very different view of Ireland in 1914. As debates on special terms for the exclusions of parts of Ulster from a home-ruled Ireland continued at Westminster, the Panopticon in High Street topped its bills in the second half of Patrick’s week with films that showed the determination of unionist resistance. An actuality of the South Antrim brigade of the UVF was screened from 19 March in answer to the question posed by newspaper ads for the show: Are the Ulster Volunteers Prepared to Fight? This question had gained increased currency that day, when Edward Carson abruptly left Westminster in the face of insufficient concessions for Ulster, stating his intention of confronting what would come with his people. On Saturday, the South Antrim brigade film was joined on the Panopticon bill by The Arrival of Sir E. Carson, a film that was retained into the following week, although the new programme was headed by Asta Nielsen’s Up to Her Tricks (Engelein; Germany: Projections-AG Union, 1914). By then the political crisis in Ireland had worsened with the beginning of the Curragh Mutiny, the declaration by British Army officers in Ireland that they would not move against the UVF.
How important the films at the Panopticon were in propagating resistance to Home Rule is difficult to say, but the value of still images to the campaign is clear from the Belfast Evening Telegraph. In early 1914, the Telegraph had been encouraging the amateur photographers among its readers to send in photos of newsworthy events for possible publication. The paper carried a large number of professionally produced photographs, drawings and illustrated ads, and this crowdsourcing of photographs enhanced what was already probably Ireland’s most visually rich newspaper. The usefulness of such images to unionism was made explicit by the 9 March article “Pictures Tell the Story,” which relates how at a meeting in London, Unionist MP Andrew L. Horner distributed a Telegraph photo of a UVF battalion that amazed the audience with the numbers on parade. The method of dissemination here was crude but effective and repeatable: “Mr. Horner asked the audience to study the picture and pass it around, which they did […] Another paper, containing a similar photo, was sent by Mr. Horner to a candidate in Yorkshire, who has made good use of it” (“Pictures Tell the Story”). In this context, the usefulness of moving pictures in showing sympathetic audiences in Britain the extent of unionist opposition to Home Rule seems obvious, but a system of distribution that allowed the correct contextualizing of the films was required.
By June 1914, the full value of moving images of Ulster resistance would be realized when the Union Defence League fitted out four large vans with projectors, screens and films of Carson and the UVF to tour Britain spreading the message of opposition to Home Rule (Paddy, 18 Jun.). Already by March 1914, however, young supporters of the UVF were finding their drilling and cinema-going converging.
“The Coliseum: A Strong Programme.” Cork Constitution 17 Mar. 1914: 6.
Condon, Denis. “Limelight on the Colleen Bawn: Resisting Autoexoticism in Provincial Irish Picture Houses in the Early 1910s.” Les cinémas périphériques dans la période des premiers temps. Peripheral Early Cinema: Domitor 2008. Presses Universitaires de Perpignan, pp. 245-255.
“’Life of St. Patrick.’” Evening Telegraph 17 Mar. 1914: 2
Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 18 Jun. 1914: 1261.
“Pictures Tell the Story.” Belfast Evening Telegraph 9 Mar. 1914: 5.
“Princess Cinema, Rathmines.” Dublin Evening Mail 18 Mar. 1914: 2.
Solax. Ad for Dublin Dan. Moving Picture World 10 Aug. 1912: 729.
“Technical Students Drilling.” Weekly Irish Times 14 Mar. 1914: 6.
“World’s Fair Varieties: Life of St. Patrick.” Dublin Evening Mail 16 Mar. 1914: 4.