Screening the Funeral of Thomas Ashe, September-October 1917

Collins Funeral of Thomas Ashe

Michael Collins gives a pointed graveside oration in The Funeral of Thos. Ashe (Ireland: GFS, 1917)

At 10pm on Sunday, 30 September 1917, Dublin’s Bohemian Picture Theatre exhibited a special newsreel film of the funeral of Thomas Ashe that marked the spectacular public culmination of a protest against British government treatment of Sinn Féin prisoners in Mountjoy prison. The occasion of the protest was the death on 25 September of Thomas Ashe, president of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, as a result of force-feeding while on hunger strike. In a series of demonstrations carefully stage-managed by republican leaders, Ashe’s body became the emblem of a new public solidarity between the various insurgent nationalist groups that were moving towards coalition under the name of Sinn Féin. His body lay in state first at the Mater hospital and following a procession through the city, at City Hall. The protest’s highlight was Ashe’s funeral at Glasnevin cemetery on 30 September, the largest public demonstration since the 1916 Rising was suppressed, at which the Irish Volunteers marched openly under arms and fired three volleys of shots over the coffin, “the only speech which it is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian,” as Michael Collins put it in his laconic graveside oration (“Funeral of Thomas Ashe”).

Boh Ashe Premiere 29 Sep1917 DEM

Ad for Bohemian Picture Theatre offering an exclusive screening of the full Funeral of Thos. Ashe film; Dublin Evening Mail 29Sep. 1917: 2.

The film of the funeral that the Bohemian showed was the work of Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply (GFS). The Evening Herald commended the exhibition on the evening of Ashe’s funeral “of films showing various ranges of the procession and scenes associated with it. The rifling part at the grave was included” (“30,000 Mourners”). The widespread publicity of organized events after Ashe’s death allowed GFS to plan a newsreel special to supplement their regular Irish Events newsreel. In what might be called a prequel, some of the material relating to Ashe’s lying-in-state at City Hall was shown at such picture houses as the Rotunda and the Town Hall, Rathmines on the Saturday night preceding the funeral, with the complete film, including the procession through the city to the cemetery, due for general release on the following Monday. The final film was first exhibited, however, on the night of the funeral at the Bohemian, a picture house located on the route of the funeral procession out of the city, between Mountjoy prison and Glasnevin cemetery.

Rotunda THR Ashe 29 Sep 1917 DEM

Ads for Town Hall, Rathmines and Rotunda on Saturday 29 September featured newsreel of Ashe’s funeral, including scenes of the body lying in state at City Hall but not of the graveside; Dublin Evening Mail 29 Sep. 1917: 2.

Reporting on the filming of the funeral, the cinema journal Irish Limelight observed that people “took part in the procession, went home to have tea, and an hour later saw themselves on the screen. Some hustle on the part of the camera men!” (“Films Up-To-Date”). Reference has already been made here to the speed with which Whitten could prepare his films for exhibition, and this again distinguished the Thomas Ashe film produced for Irish Events from those of its competitors, in this case, from Charles McEvoy, proprietor of the Masterpiece Theatre, who also filmed the funeral but was unable to show his film until the Monday evening (ibid).

Bohemian Interior

Ad showing interior of the Bohemian Picture Theatre, Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

But the really interesting thing here is not just the speed with which the film was ready but also that it was shown at a picture house conveniently located for those who had attended the funeral. The Limelight report suggests that, having taken some refreshment, mourners reassembled at the Bohemian to reconstitute the political demonstration that the funeral represented. Here, they viewed the funeral distilled to its ten-minute highlights – twice the usual length of a newsreel – all taken from advantageous viewpoints. In a sense, the exhibition at the Bohemian represented the culmination of the political protest, of the concentration of the energies and emotions that had been built up over several days. That night the spectators were freed from the limited perspective available to people in a crowd; they saw all the key events from a sometimes privileged vantage point. The audience was now able to see itself, and specifically to see itself involved in a significant political protest. As such, the Bohemian screening of this film was a moment when the cinema assumed a key role in Irish political protest.

Thos Ashe funeral queues at City Hall

People queue to file past Ashe’s body in The Funeral of Thos. Ashe.

Although little information is available on what actually happened in the Bohemian that night, what does survive suggests that the film fostered audience interactivity – a participative kind of spectatorship – among the people who chose to attend its screening. While it is unlikely that many individual mourners could have identified themselves among the throngs depicted in long shot by the funeral film, the camera viewed many of the events from among the spectators and could therefore help re-create for its audience their participation in the funeral as a group by reproducing their optical perspective.

Thos Ashe removal from City Hall

Ashe’s Tricolour-draped coffin is removed from City Hall in The Funeral of Thos. Ashe.

Newspaper reports and photographs demonstrate that even such apparently god-like perspectives as the high-angle shots above the crowd reproduced the points of view of numerous mourners. “Over 200,000 spectators and sympathisers thronged the route,” declared one evening newspaper, “roofs, windows, verandas — even lamp-posts, railings, walls, hoardings, trees, statues, and monuments — every possible point of vantage was utilised by eager sightseers” (“30,000 Mourners”).

Ashe Funeral O'Connell Statue FJ 2 Oct 1917p6

Freeman’s Journal 2 Oct. 1917: 6.

The Freeman’s Journal reported that “residents of many houses were charging for seats at their windows, and that the sites were appreciated by those taking advantage of them was testified by the numbers who witnessed the procession from these points” (“Thomas Ashe”). The caption to a photograph in the Freeman reads:

Sunday at the O’Connell Statue: The above picture gives a very good idea of the dimensions of the crowd which surged round and up the base of the O’Connell Statue on Sunday afternoon. For fully two hours before the cortege was due to pass men and boys by the score fought to obtain a good view by climbing amongst the figures which adorn the plinth, until all but the statue itself was obscured.

Iron Strain Boh 30 Sep 1917

Still of Dustin Farnum and Enid Markey in The Iron Strain (US: Kay-Bee/New York, 1915), known in Ireland and Britain as A Modern Taming of the Shrew. Image from IMDb.

That said, other factors in the first exhibition of The Funeral of Thos. Ashe must have worked to dissipate this participative dynamic or to make it fleeting. Advertisements for the Sunday evening show at the Bohemian, for example, describe it as “a special long and interesting programme,” featuring “a five-part exclusive comedy-drama entitled, ‘A Modern Taming of the Shrew.’” This film – known in America as The Iron Strain – was a Western comedy starring Dustin Farnum and Enid Markey. With the evening performance beginning at 8.30 and the funeral film screening at ten o’clock, the audience would have experienced an hour and a half of A Modern Taming of the Shrew and other films before the funeral film. Nothing about this programming suggests that the audience was being kept in a suitably reverent, nationalistic or rebellious state of mind. There is also no report that the cinema’s well-publicized orchestra played dirges or patriotic tunes during the funeral scenes, although it seems very likely that it did during the screening of the funeral film itself because this was the practice on similar occasions.

As well as this, the Limelight article suggests that it was not primarily the continuation of the demonstration that brought mourners to the Bohemian but the narcissistic pleasure of seeing oneself on screen, of picking oneself out of the crowd. This kind of pleasure was certainly a feature of some of the earliest locally made films, which invited people who believed that they may have been filmed by a visiting cinematographer to “come and see yourself” on screen. And although there was a narcissistic potential here, early films also purposely employed the figuration of the crowd as an instance of identification with oneself not as an individual but as part of a collective.

May 1918 IL Irish Events ad CU

The cover of the May 1918 issue of Irish Events featured an ad listing 35 cinemas around Ireland that subscribed to Irish Events.

As such, this film and others like it address not only those who could claim this very direct form of spectatorial identification with the image that came from attending the event, but also those who would have wished to be there. In the weeks following the funeral, apart from cinema-goers who were indifferent or hostile, it is likely that screenings of the film in Dublin and around Ireland, not least in the 35 cinemas that subscribed to Irish Events, would have brought together spectators who had taken part in the demonstrations as well as those who had wished to but been unable to attend. From this perspective, these films are essentially local newsreels targeted at spectators who could decode them. Therefore, it was not only the actual participants who would be able to place themselves in the crowd, but also those who could fill in this “back-story,” those who would have wanted to be in the crowd and who, as a result, became virtual participants. These films worked on the desire to see oneself as a participant, whether or not one actually had been present at the event, and provided a semi-public context in which to experience this mediated participation.

Ch4Four

Irish Limelight Apr. 1918: 14

Such Irish Events specials as The Funeral of Thos. Ashe could be used to imply identification between the spectator and popular protest. In the period between the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, GFS seems to have ensured its audience by being more obviously favourable to the nationalist cause. An ad on the cover of the April 1918 issue of Irish Limelight listed Irish Events specials: Irish Sinn Fein Convention; Funeral of Thos. Ashe; Release of the Sinn Fein Prisoners; South Armagh Election; Consecration of the Bishop of Limerick; Funeral of the Late John Redmond, M.P.; and Waterford Election. “It has been proved,” boasts the ad, “that topicals such as any of the above will attract a larger audience than a six-reel exclusive.” In the context of wider political events and especially when they took the place of the featured attractions at the top of the cinema programme, as The Funeral of Thos. Ashe did at the Bohemian Picture House on 30 September 1917, the political significance of these films becomes more fully visible.

References

“30,000 Mourners: Incidents in Yesterday’s Mighty Funeral.” Evening Herald 1 Oct. 1917: 3.

“Films Up-To-Date.” Irish Limelight Oct. 1917: 8.

“Funeral of Thomas Ashe: Sinn Fein Demonstration in Dublin.” Irish Times 1 Oct. 1917: 6.

“Sunday at the O’Connell Statue.” Freeman’s Journal 2 Oct. 1917: 6.

“Thomas Ashe: Funeral in Dublin Yesterday: Impressive Scenes: Enormous Crowds Throng the Streets.” Freeman’s Journal 1 Oct. 1917: 3.

“Would We Ever Have It in Reality?” Ireland a Nation “For Two Days Only” in January 1917

Joseph Holloway spent the last evening of 1916 wandering around Dublin, celebrating the end of a momentous year in Ireland, when he came across a poster for Ireland a Nation (US: Macnamara, 1914). “For a week or more,” the architect and theatre buff observed, “I’ve been reading on the hoardings on a large 15 feet by 9 feet poster bordered with shamrocks – with large ones at angles & printed on green which tells me of the finest picture film ever produced / Ireland a Nation / Nothing like it has been seen before!” (Holloway, 31 Dec. 1916: 1608).

Ad for Ireland a Nation in New York and Chicago-based Motography 26 Dec. 1914: 22.

Ad for Ireland a Nation in New York and Chicago-based Motography 26 Dec. 1914: 22.

When Waterford-born but New York-based scriptwriter and producer Walter Macnamara had made Ireland a Nation in 1914, the film reflected a very different political situation. Macnamara conceived a film that would trace the history of Irish struggles against British rule from the passing of the Act of Union by the Irish Parliament in 1800 to the passing of the Home Rule bill by Westminster in 1914. He had shot historical scenes – among them the Irish parliament, Robert Emmet’s 1803 rebellion and Daniel O’Connell’s duel with political rival D’Esterre – on location in Ireland and at studios in London, but the film had ended with actuality footage of crowds of Irish nationalists jubilantly welcoming what they thought was the achievement of Home Rule.

The film had been shown in US cities, debuting at New York’s Forty-Fourth Street Theatre on 22 September 1914, but it had not been seen in Ireland (McElravy). The outbreak of World War I had not only caused the suspension of Home Rule, it had also delayed the Irish exhibition of Ireland a Nation. “When Dame Fortune refuses to smile upon a venture,  things will somehow manage to go wrong if only out of sheer cussedness,” commented an article in the second issue of Ireland’s first film journal Irish Limelight on the sequence of events that prevented Ireland a Nation reaching the country to date. Two prints of the film sent to Ireland had been lost en route: “[I]t is understood that the first copy dispatched by [the Macnamara Co. of New York] was lost with the ill-fated Lusitania; a duplicate copy was substituted, but as this also failed to successfully run the submarine ‘blockade,’ it became necessary to forward a third” (“Between the Spools”).

Masthead of the Irish Limelight, Feb. 1918. Courtesy of the National Library.

Masthead of the Irish Limelight, Feb. 1918. Courtesy of the National Library.

These delays meant that it was to a Dublin with many new hoardings erected around buildings destroyed during the Easter Rising that the film returned in late 1916. A large green poster with the slogan “Ireland a Nation” emblazoned on it meant something different in this context. “You read it & wonder when it is to be shown & what is to be the nature of it!” Holloway marvelled. “I have heard it whispered that it is a fake – there’s no such film at all, but those who love Ireland thought that a good way to keep ‘Ireland a Nation’ in the public eye. And the wideawake authorities haven’t tumbled to its purpose!”

A week later, however, a new poster near Holloway’s home on Haddington Road confirmed that this was, in fact, a film by providing more details of the coming exhibition. “I saw on hoarding near Baggot St end of Haddington Rd. that – ‘Ireland a Nation’ for ‘one week only’ was announced for Rotunda commencing Monday next & week,” he noted, “& I thought would we ever have it in reality – for ‘one week only’ even.” (Holloway, 5 Jan. 1917). Holloway’s melancholy reflection related to the distant possibilities for a self-governing Irish nation beyond filmic representation, but even a film of Ireland achieving nationhood would prove impossible to show in January 1917.

ireland-a-nation-home-rule

Framegrab from Ireland a Nation, preceded by the intertitle: “A New Hope 1914. / A Home Rule Meeting.”

Frederick Sparling was responsible for this poster campaign, after he secured the British and Irish distribution rights to the film in March 1916. The imposition of martial law in the aftermath of the Rising in April made it impossible to screen the film until late in 1916, when Sparling submitted the film to the military press censor (“Irish Film Suppressed”). The censor wrote back to Sparling on 1 December 1916, allowing exhibition if six cuts were made:

  1. Scene showing interruption of a hillside Mass by soldiers.

  2. Scene showing Sarah Curran roughly handled by soldiers.

  3. Scene of execution of Robert Emmet – from entry of soldiers into Emmet’s cell to lead him away.

  4. Scene of Home Rule Meeting in 1914.

  5. Telegram from Mr. Redmond.

  6. Irish Flag displayed at end of the performance.

The following should also be omitted:—from the titles of scenes shown, (in addition to all titles referring to portions of the film which have been censored as above,) “A price of £100 dead or alive on the head of every priest.” (CSORP.)

This constituted much of the contentious political material, including the actualities of the Home Rule meeting, but Sparling had no choice but to make the cuts. And although he was the proprietor of the suburban Bohemian Picture Theatre, he hired Dublin’s largest picture house, the city-centre Rotunda, which had a capacity of 1,500 people, a third more than the Bohemian (“Irish Film Suppressed”).

Ad for Ireland a Nation; Dublin Evening Mail, 8 Jan. 1917: 2.

Ad for Ireland a Nation; Dublin Evening Mail, 8 Jan. 1917: 2.

Prominent press ads that followed the poster campaign ensured that potential patrons far and near were well informed of the coming shows. Although the Dublin Evening Mail published these ads, this did not stop a Mr Whitehead from the Daily Express office, which published the Mail, writing to the Chief Secretary’s office, enclosing a copy of the ad and warning that “[i]t is an American Cos film & is of a bad type, indeed, the man in charge of it expresses astonishment that it has passed the British Censor” (CSORP). Inspector George Love of the Dublin Metropolitan Police attended the 2-3pm show on the opening afternoon, Monday, 8 January 1917. Love reported that Sparling had adhered to the censor’s stipulations, but his most interesting comments were those about the effect on the audience:

About 100 persons were present at the opening production and the Picture was received with applause throughout, except some slight hissing, when Lord Castlereagh and Major Sirr were exhibited.

The Films deals mainly with Rebel Leaders and their followers being hunted down by the Forces of the Crown and Informers, and has a tendency to revive and perpetuate, incidents of a character, which I think at the present time are most undesirable and should not be permitted.

While Chief Secretary Edward O’Farrell considered Love’s suggestion that the film be banned by the authorities – and a military observer reported on the opening night to Bryan Mahon, the General Officer Commanding British forces in Ireland – Holloway went to another afternoon screening that had a far larger attendance than the sparse 100 that Love reported at the 2pm show. Indeed, because of the queue at the box office of the ground-floor “area,” Holloway ended up on the balcony. However, the film did not impress him. It reminded him of the increasing repertoire of Irish nationalist history plays by Dion Boucicault, J. W. Whitbread, and P. J. Bourke that had been staples of Dublin’s Queen’s Theatre for decades. Holloway had long been a regular at the Queen’s, but he favoured the kind of restrained acting introduced by the Abbey Theatre. The gestural melodramatic style used by Queen’s actors in the film also contrasted with evolving screen-acting practices. Nevertheless, the film uniquely preserves Irish melodramatic performance of the period.

Other commentators provided more positive reviews than Holloway’s. Perhaps not surprisingly for a nationalist newspaper whose slogan was “Ireland a Nation,” the reviewer in the Freeman’s Journal was enthusiastic, calling the film “[f]rom a historical standpoint, and indeed, from the standpoint of realism, […] undoubtedly excellent” and bound to “attract numerous visitors to the Rotunda during the week” (“Irish History Films”). Although not so wholeheartedly appreciative, the reviewer at the unionist Irish Times confirmed its popularity, noting that “[t]he film, which treated the rebel cause with sympathy, and the music, which included a number of Irish patriotic tunes, were received with loud and frequent applause by the audiences” (“Rotunda Pictures”).

Framegrab from Ireland a Nation, in which Irish revolutionary Robert Emmet (Barry O’Brien) is astonished by the help Napoleon agrees to send for an uprising in Ireland.

Framegrab from Ireland a Nation, in which Irish revolutionary Robert Emmet (Barry O’Brien) is astonished by the help Napoleon agrees to send for an uprising in Ireland.

Holloway suggested that although the audience was aware of the film’s limitations, it was determined to make the most of this opportunity to celebrate a still imagined Irish nation. “The audience was willing to applaud national sentiments,” he noted, “but was far more impressed by the words card on the screen than by the way the various characters played their parts before the camera.” Indeed, he believed that the film’s title and intertitles carried particular importance. “Truly the man who thought of the title ‘Ireland a Nation’ was worth his weight in gold to the Film Co that produced it,” he argued. “It is the title and not the film drama will attract all patriotic Dublin to the Rotunda during the week.”

Indeed, he was in no doubt that the film did draw unprecedented crowds to the Rotunda. Passing the picture house again later on Monday evening, he recorded:

I rarely saw anything like the crowds that stormed the Rotunda about eight oclock seeking admission. I am sure several thousands were wedged up against the building […].  The night was piercingly cold but the patient waiters kept themselves warm and in good humour by cheering all who left the building & made room for others behind.  On the other side of the streets around the Rotunda crowds of people stood looking at the dense black masses clinging on to the walls of the Rotunda like barnacles to the bottom of a ship.

When these later audiences got inside, they were more rowdy than those earlier in the day had been. Love reported that “the Picture was received with applause throughout, except some slight hissing, when Lord Castlereagh and Major Sirr were exhibited” and Holloway that the Irish airs played by the augmented orchestra “were taken up by the audience & sung.” As the evening wore on, audience behaviour grew more explicitly political. “At the last performance of the film on Monday night,” the Bioscope reported, “a large section of the audience sang the song, ‘A Nation Once Again’” (“Irish Film Suppressed”). The military observer advised Bryan Mahon that “the film in question was likely to cause disaffection, owing to the cheering of the crowd at portions of the Film, the hissing of soldiers who appeared in the Film and the cries made by the audience” (CSORP).

As a result, Mahon decided to ban the screenings, but on finding that Sparling had sought and got permission from the military censor, he agreed to try cutting the film further and observe how the Tuesday night screening would be received. “The result of the reports of Tuesday night were more adverse than those of Monday night,” O’Farrell noted, “and in consequence Sir B. Mahon issued an order prohibiting the performance of the Film throughout Ireland, which was served on Mr. Sparling at about 1 o/c on Wed. Afternoon” (CSORP).

The order served to Sparling made clear that the audience’s behaviour caused the prohibition:

The reports received from witnesses, of the affect produced on the audience at the display of the above Film last night, the 9th inst., and the seditious and disloyal conduct apparently caused thereby, make it clear that the further exhibition of the Film in Ireland is likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty, and to prejudice the recruiting of His Majesty’s forces.

I therefore forbid any further exhibition of the said Film in Ireland, and hereby warn you that any further such exhibition will be dealt with under the Defence of the Realm Consolidated Regulations, 1914.

“The Military only allowed Ireland a Nation ‘for two days only,’ at Rotunda,” Holloway lamented. He also pointed out that even the posters did not escape the general prohibition: “In O’Connell Street a man was pasting green sheets of paper on the announcement on the hoarding of IRELAND A NATION.  Only a field of green would soon show where Ireland a nation once proclaimed itself.”


Despite the authorities’ efforts to cover over all traces of the film, it continued to be discussed in the following weeks and years. Indeed, Ireland a Nation was and is one of the most significant films of the 1910s in Ireland. In part, this was because its title made it a particular attraction for nationalists at this historical moment, as Holloway suggested, but there are other reasons. Its fascination for nationalists in the aftermath of the Rising made it also of interest to the police and military, who rarely gave much attention to films. As a result, the nature and extent of the surviving sources on the film – particularly Holloway’s diary entries and the official police and military documents – are unusually varied and comprehensive. They allows us to say something about individual screenings of the film in Dublin on 8 January 1917, especially in relation to audience response, which is often the least documented element of an individual film showing.

Ireland a Nation also appeared in Ireland at a significant moment in the press engagement with cinema. The Freeman’s Journal, one of the country’s main daily papers, published an editorial on cinema on 6 January, the Saturday before the film opened. This was not, however, focused on the film, but on the fact that since cinema had taken the place of live theatre, it was “imperative that we should consider how the new theatre can be made subservient to the public utility” (“Cinema”). Nevertheless, with the excitement caused by the release of Ireland a Nation and then its prohibition, cinema had unprecedented visibility on the editorial and news pages of Dublin’s and Ireland’s newspapers well into mid-January.

The debut of the Irish Limelight in January 1917 clearly represented an extremely significant development, not only in its contribution to cinema’s visibility that month but also in its promotion of a more extensive and sophisticated public discourse on cinema over the three years it remained in print. The Limelight was published by Jack Warren, the editor of the Constabulary Gazette, who “for a very long time has taken a serious interest in the cinema world” (Paddy). Because it was a monthly journal, however, the first issue was published before the Ireland a Nation controversy at the Rotunda. The February issue, however, included two significant items on the film: one on its historical inaccuracies and the other – already mentioned – on its ill-fated Irish exhibition. With Warren’s police contacts, the latter could no doubt have provided more insight into the banning than attributing it to the workings of “Dame Fortune.”

As was the case for most of the articles in the Limelight, no author was named for the historical inaccuracies piece, which was instead attributed to a “Student of Irish History” who had sent in a letter in the wake of the banning. Although this correspondent detailed the film’s historical mistakes, s/he nonetheless considered them “too patently ridiculous to call for serious criticisms.” Not that s/he thought the film irredeemably bad, arguing that “the theme was treated by both producer and players with every sympathy and respect, and with a clear eye to propagandism as well as simple picture setting.” Such errors as showing revolutionary priest Fr John Murphy reacting to the 1800 Act of Union when he had been executed in 1798 would have been obvious to any contemporary Irish person with an interest in history. Having pointed out such anachronisms, the writer accounted for them as arising from “a desire to get in prominent figures in the Ireland of the period and weave them into a complete story without any regard for chronological order or historical connection” (“Irish Film Suppressed”).

ireland-a-nation-erin-sculpts

Erin, the figure of Ireland, inscribes Emmet’s epitaph onto his headstone in Ireland a Nation.

Ireland a Nation argues that the telling of tales is a political act, and that was certainly the case in Ireland in 1917. But this was not the end of the film in Ireland or indeed in America. It was revived – indeed reinvented – first in America and then in Ireland. One of its most vivid storytelling motifs relates to Robert Emmet, who having being condemned to death, famously declared that his grave should be unmarked: “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth,” he ordered in his famous speech from the dock, “then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written.” In the film, a woman representing Erin, the embodiment of Ireland, inscribes an epitaph onto Emmet’s gravestone because with Home Rule, Irish nationhood had seemingly been achieved. When Ireland a Nation was revived in America in 1920, this material was out of date, and Ireland had not been granted Home Rule. As a result, later newsreel footage of Sinn Féin leader Eamon De Valera’s visiting New York in 1919 to seek recognition of an independent Ireland was added as a further inscribing of the national story. Later again, newsreel of the Irish War of Independence and the funeral of republican hunger striker Terence McSwiney was included.

It was only with the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 that this film – an incomplete version of which still survives – could be shown in Ireland. The political situation had again changed dramatically in the aftermath of the debates on the Anglo-Irish Treaty by the Dáil (Irish parliament). At least part of Ireland was in some way independent, and one of Dublin’s largest cinemas celebrated by giving an uninterrupted run of Ireland a Nation.

References

“Between the Spools.” Irish Limelight 1:2 (Feb. 1917): 19.

“The Cinema.” Freeman’s Journal 6 Jan. 1917: 4.

CSORP/1919/11025. National Archives of Ireland.

Holloway, Joseph. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland.

“The ‘Ireland a Nation’ Film: Criticisms of Historical Inaccuracies.” Irish Limelight 1:2 (Feb. 1917): 3.

“Irish Film Suppressed: ‘Ireland a Nation’: Military Stop Exhibition at Dublin.” Bioscope 18 Jan. 1917.

“Irish History Films: ‘Ireland a Nation’ at the Rotunda.” Freeman’s Journal 9 Jan. 1917: 3.

McElravy, Robert. “‘Ireland a Nation’: Five-Reel Production Giving Irish History in Picture Form.” Moving Picture World 3 Oct. 1914: 67.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Irish Times 9 Jan. 1917: 3.

Watched by Millions of Eyes: Irish Cinema’s Manifold Potentialities in October 1916

British military personnel sift through the wreckage of Airship SL11, shot down near Cuffley, Hertfordshire, on 3 September 1916. Image from Europeana.

British military personnel sift through the wreckage of Airship SL11, shot down near Cuffley, Hertfordshire, on 3 September 1916. Image from Europeana.

“The potentialities of the picture-theatre are truly manifold,” a writer in the Belfast Evening Telegraph contended in a lengthy article at the end of September 1916. “The cinematograph is the popular drama of the day,” s/he argued; “it arrests the eye, and is led by its avenues straight to the heart. It has touched a public which every day is growing vaster.” Although the ability of cinema to show things that could only be told about on the stage was particularly highlighted by the article’s subheading – “Shows What Theatre Only Tells” – the potentialities were widespread, ranging from the cheapness and comfort of picture-house seating, through the advantages of its complete darkness to a young man and his sweetheart, and on to cinema’s promotion of temperance among the poor. Cinema’s commercial nature and its potential for harm were also addressed, with the article concluding that “[b]eing a commercial concern […] the entrepreneurs of cinemas provide the people with what is most likely to pay, and, as in the boxing ring, where the cry is for gore, so in the cinema the authorities find it in their interests to yield to the popular clamour for sensation” (“Cinema’s Popularity”).

Film lover Dr Knott. Holloway Diaries.

Joseph Holloway sketched film enthusiast Dr John Knott in his diary in August 1914. National Library of Ireland.

In the course of a chat on the tram into Dublin city centre on 26 October 1916, architect and diarist Joseph Holloway heard from his young neighbour Jack Murray that the growing popularity of cinema over theatre had to do with the speed of the new medium. “Then he told me,” Holloway wrote, “he was mad on Movies & went at least twice a week to see them. He saw Bella Donna on the pictures & afterwards saw it at Gaiety when he found it hard to sit out,– it dragged so & was so slow.” When Holloway told Murray that several prominent Dublin citizens also had a picture-house “infatuation” – including dancing teacher Professor Maginni, authors Æ and D. J. O’Donoghue, and Dr John Knott – “he said he was pleased to be in such good company in his taste” (Holloway 26 Oct 1916: 1002).

Leaflet issued by the National Union of Women Workers of Great Britain and Ireland. Available at Century Ireland.

Leaflet issued by the National Union of Women Workers of Great Britain and Ireland. Available at Century Ireland.

“Comedy, tragedy and melodrama,” the Telegraph writer observed on cinema’s potential for speed; “[t]he picture palace caters for the whole of these, and they pop up successively in the space of a few minutes.” Not everyone was so impressed by this potentiality. At a meeting of the Dublin branch of the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW) of Great Britain and Ireland, the Hon. Mrs. Frankland argued that “it was not good for children to see different things as quickly as they did in picture houses.” Unlike the working-class Irish Women Workers’ Union founded by Delia Larkin in 1911, the Dublin branch of the NUWW had been “formed at a Drawingroom meeting held, by invitation of Lady Wright, in November” 1915. At a subsequent meeting in June 1916, Wright was elected president of the branch, “and a resolution was passed urging the appointment of women police in Dublin, submitted by the Irish Girls’ Protection Crusade”. By the time of the October meeting, picture houses had come to the NUWW’s attention as suitable for patrols. “With regard to cinemas,” Frankland reported, “about which people were thinking a good deal, though they had their educational value, they also had possibilities for harm.” A model for activity in Dublin was provided by branches in Britain, where “[s]ome of the police authorities had asked the Union to lead some of their patrols to go round to cinemas and report on various questions, such as lighting, general control of buildings, etc.” (“Union of Women Workers”).

However, British exhibitors vigorously opposed the activities of “lady inspectors.” Noting that a Birmingham cinema owner had been pleasantly surprised by the lady inspector who visited his business, Rambler in the Bioscope’s regular “Round and About” column on 19 October 1916 commented rhetorically that “[t]here is no reason to doubt the charm and tact of lady inspectors; the point is, are they properly qualified to give an opinion on the suitability of films?” The title of another article in the same issue described lady inspectors of another organization, the Women’s Local Government Society, as “Spies Manufactured Wholesale!” with the unambiguous subtitle “A Glimpse of the British Prude Factory at Work.” “It is a colossal outrage,” it concluded, “that a crew of impertinent idlers should be allowed to make themselves public nuisances in the name of public interest. And this is war-time?”

The appointment of lady inspectors of cinemas would take some time in Dublin, but concern about cinema’s potential for harm manifest itself in renewed efforts to introduce Irish film censorship in October 1916. “I am gratified to observe that the crusade against sheer indecency in our theatres has promptly borne fruit,” columnist the Man About Town told readers of Dublin’s Evening Herald on 6 October:

I know one cinema house where a certain picture which claimed to be artistic, but was nothing but an appeal to the lowest human passions, was not shown after the “trial” exhibition. Cutting down and chopping was no use. The film was considered valueless without the objectionable features!

The crusade against indecency in cinemas was waged with particular vigour by the Catholic Irish Vigilance Association (IVA), which in June had welcomed the appointment by Dublin Corporation’s Public Health Committee of building inspector Walter Butler and Councillor Patrick Lennon as film censors. At the same time, the IVA had criticized the delay in putting the censors to work, which required the confirmation of the whole Corporation, and this did not happen until the 2 October. On that day, a deputation of lay and clerical members of the IVA addressed the meeting. Canon Dunne urged that the wording of the Corporation’s licence be emended to ensure that the job could not be done by “a man from some other country, a man from the Continent, or a man who was connected with some of these [picture] houses.”  IVA solicitor Thomas Deering appealed to the nationalism of the majority of councillors: “When the English Parliament put this power into their hands he did not see why the Council should hesitate to exercise this small measure of Home Rule” (“Censorship of Films”).

On 9 October 1916, the Corporation effectively introduced local film censorship by adopting the Public Health Committee’s report but with the IVA’s emended stipulation that “[a]ll films exhibited shall bear the mark of the Censor of Cinematograph Films for the City of Dublin or any censor duly appointed in Ireland pursuant to the Cinematograph Act, 1909” (“Cinema Films”). The IVA condemned the four councillors – out of 47 – who voted against adoption of the report. One of these, Councillor John Ryan wrote to the Freeman’s Journal explaining that he voted against the appointment of Butler and Lennon not because he opposed censorship but because “it is impossible for two men to examine and pass (or otherwise) all the films shown in twenty-six picture houses simultaneously.” He explained that

[t]he films arrive in Dubllin on Monday and Thursday mornings and are screened at one o’clock thus leaving about three hours for examination. As it takes about two hours to show a programme in each house, viz., fifty-two hours in all, I cannot yet see how two men are to accomplish it. (“Cinemas and Censors” 17 Oct.)

This was a legitimate point, albeit with some exaggeration. However, the IVA disputed it without addressing Ryan’s argument about the sheer number of films but by merely asserting that such unimpeachable authorities as Dublin’s Archbishop, Alderman Lorcan Sherlock and the two censors themselves said it could be done (“Cinemas and Censors” 20 Oct.).

Cinema’s potentialities were evident to the newspapers, who in their reporting of film censorship and other cinema-related matters in October were also positioning themselves in relation to the new medium. Most of the Catholic nationalist papers, including the Freeman’s Journal, Irish Independent and Evening Herald positioned themselves in opposition to cinema by actively supporting the campaign to introduce film censorship. A Herald editorial, for example, noted with satisfaction Home Secretary Herbert Samuel’s speech on 23 October, in which he undertook to introduce a centralized official film censorship (“Censorship of Cinemas”). Such a stance did not mean that these newspapers in any sense rejected the revenues from cinema advertising on their entertainment pages. Such ordinary business pragmatics were not to be disrupted by the introduction of film censorship. Indeed, Deering in his address to the Corporation argued that Irish picture-house owners would not be adversely affected by censorship because “there were hundreds and thousands of people in the City of Dublin who would neither go to picture houses themselves, not allow their children to go, on account of a certain class of pictures shown there (hear, hear)” (“Censorship of Films”).

Dublin audiences could first experience The Diamond from the Sky serial in written form before seeing it on screen at the Masterpiece and Camden. Dublin Evening Mail 28 Sep. 1916: 8.

Other papers allied themselves more closely with cinema in autumn 1916. These included the Protestant unionist Dublin Evening Mail – along with its sister papers the Daily Express and Irish Weekly Mail. “Now that ‘serials’ are the fashion in the moving picture world,” the Evening Mail observed, “it is gratifying to be able to recommend to the attention of serial readers and picture-goers the wholesome story and film to be published and exhibited in Dublin under the title of ‘The Diamond from the Sky’” (“Diamond from the Sky”). Film serials were by no means a new phenomenon; they had been showing in Ireland since November 1913. And The Diamond from the Sky was not wholly new either; it had already been shown in Irish cities and in such towns as Tralee (beginning 29 May 1916) and Cavan (beginning 10 July 1916). Serials that appeared in newspaper at the same time as they were being screened in the picture houses were also as old as 1913’s What Happened to Mary. The novelty in autumn 1916 was that the story appeared in an Irish paper rather than in a British one.

Lottie Pickford in The Diamond from the Sky (US: American, 1915)

Lottie Pickford in The Diamond from the Sky (US: American, 1915). Image from Wikipedia.

Beginning on 2 September 1916, the story was serialized in weekly episodes in the Irish Weekly Mail. Although “[c]rowded with sensational incidents and full of that ‘punch’ which successful films and stories must always possess,” it was “absolutely free of crude sensationalism, and anything ‘grisly’ in the nature of crime” (“Diamond from the Sky”). Starring Lottie Pickford, sister of the more famous Mary, its title referred to a diamond found in a meteor that became an heirloom of the aristocratic Stanley family, who to ensure a male blood line fatefully buy a baby boy from an unscrupulous gypsy. This wholesome subject matter first hit the screen of the Masterpiece Theatre on, Monday, 4 September to coincide with the story’s release in the previous Saturday’s Weekly Express. It was also being serialized at the same time in the Westmeath Exminer and the Mullingar Cinema Theatre (“Mullingar Cinema Theatre”). The film had a second Dublin run at the Camden Picture House beginning on 29 September, by which point the tie-in with the Express was well out of sync.

With The Miser's Gift, the Dame Street Picture House became the cinema that premiered the Film Company of Ireland's productions. Dublin Evening Mail 26 Oct. 1916: 2

After The Miser’s Gift, the Dame Street Picture House became the cinema that premiered the Film Company of Ireland’s productions. Dublin Evening Mail 26 Oct. 1916: 2

Although not noted in contemporary sources, the film The Diamond from the Sky had local interest in its Carlow-born co-director William Desmond Taylor, but more obvious Irish filmmaking interest was raised by the October release of the Film Company of Ireland’s (FCOI’s) second film The Miser’s Gift (Ireland, 1916). The film premiered at Cork’s Coliseum on 12 October, ran at Tralee’s Picturedrome 19-21 October, before opening at Dublin’s Dame on 26 October 1916. In its advertising of the film, the Dame announced that it had secured the “initial presentation of all the films produced by the Film Co.” (“Dame Street Picture House”). The FCOI’s third film, The Food of Love, would open there on 2 November. This arrangement with the Dame seems to have been part of the arrangements that FCOI made in the successful wake of their first film. At the end of September, Paddy, the Irish correspondent at the Bioscope, revealed that they had fitted out their offices at 34 Dame Street with developing rooms and advised that “[s]cenario writer could do very much worse than submit them a sample of their work” (Paddy 28 Sep.). For aspiring scenario writers, the Irish Times recommended J. Farquharson’s Picture Plays and How to Write Them, which included Benedict James’s film scenario for Arthur Pinero’s The Second Mrs Tanqueray, which was on release at Rathmines’ Princess Cinema for the three days beginning Monday 23 October 1916 (“Picture Plays”).

Paddy – identified for the first time in the Bioscope of 28 September 1916 as Godfrey Kilroy of 34 Windsor Road Dublin – assessed The Miser’s Gift as “greatly in advance of the first [film] as regards the quality and if this company stick to their guns they should still be well in the front rank of British producers.” Seeing it at the opening screening, Joseph Holloway noted that Abbey actor J. M. Kerrigan, who also directed,

played the role of miser. It was a story of dreaming of Fairy gold three times & the miser giving as wedding gift the contents of the crock he came by owing to his dreaming. It was effective & interesting & many scenes in the fair at Killaloe etc were really delightful glimpses of country life.

Others were more forceful in promoting the film’s potential to raise the general quality of cinema offerings. “I do not really think that the majority of people can be so degraded n their tastes as to prefer the rubbish trans-Atlantic films to really good pictures,” wrote HTH in a letter to the Evening Herald. S/he thought that by encouraging home produced film such as those from the FCOI, “in time, they would tend to oust numbers of inanities and vulgarities which at present fill up the programmes of nearly every cinema theatre. Such pictures would elevate the mind as well as to amuse, and they would be clean” (“Clean Amusement”).

James J. Fisher wasthe Irish agent for the official war films; Dublin Evening Mail 31 Oct. 1916: 2

James J. Fisher was the Irish agent for the official war films; Dublin Evening Mail 31 Oct. 1916: 2.

While the potential of Irish film production was just beginning to be realized, cinema’s role in wartime propaganda was quickly developing with a realization that military technology offered opportunities for the kind of spectacle that could harness the popular audience to the war effort. Newspapers that had long carried sensational stories of submarines, airships and airplanes now added accounts of such innovations as tanks – first mentioned in mid-September 1916 – and flamethrowers (“German Flame Attacks”). Artillery, tanks and flamethrowers would remain battlefield weapons, but long-range weapons that brought the war to civilian populations had a particular ideological charge that could be exploited by filmmakers. Nevertheless, the press remained the fast news medium, with newspapers offering lengthy and vivid accounts of successes against the feared airships. On the night of 1 October, an airship downed near London was reported to have been “watched by millions of eyes as it fell, lighting up earth and sky like some great celestial torch” (“Another Zeppelin”). This and other reports appeared in Irish papers on 2 October, and although by the following day, Dublin’s Picture House, Grafton Street and Masterpiece Theatre were showing a film of downed Zeppelins, it was  The Wrecked Zeppelins in Essex (Britain: Gaumont/War Office, 1916), which had been filmed the previous week.

Beyond their news value, however, the official war films were also popular in Ireland, following the success of The Battle of the Somme (Britain: British Topical Committee on War Films, 1916). The War Office and film companies recognized the high demand for such films, and in October, James J. Fisher – “military correspondent and author of the work entitled ‘Immortal Deeds of Our Irish Regiments’” (“Battle of the Somme”) – was appointed Irish agent for the British official war films. Fisher premiered the films at Dublin’s largest theatre, the Theatre Royal, usually with military bands providing accompaniment. Despite incidents of Republican attacks on soldiers in the streets of Dublin, several picture houses also exhibited the films. When William Kay took over management of the Rotunda Pictures on 2 October 1916, he arranged with Fisher to show the recently released French film of the battle of the Somme for the week beginning 30 October 1916. The programme included “the wonderful cartoon showing how Lieut. Robinson, V.C., brought down the Zeppelin,” the first official film from the Egyptian front, music by the band of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and recitations by Sergeant W. H. Jones of the 5th Lancers (“An Attractive Programme,” “Platform and Stage”).

These were just some of cinema’s manifold potentialities in October 1916.

References

“An Attractive Programme.” Dublin Evening Mail 26 Oct 1916: 5.

“Another Zeppelin Brought Down in Flames Near London.” Dublin Evening Mail 2 Oct 1916: 3.

“Censorship of Cinemas.” Evening Herald 24 Oct. 1916: 2.

“Censorship of Films: Deputation to the Corporation.” Freeman’s Journal 3 Oct. 1916: 2.

“Cinema Films: Corporation and Question of Censoring.” Evening Herald 9 Oct. 1916: 2.

“Cinemas and Censors.” Letters. Evening Herald 17 Oct. 1916: 2; 20 Oct. 1916: 2.

“Cinema’s Popularity: Manifold Potentialities: Shows What Theatre Only Tells.” Belfast Evening Telegraph 29 Sep. 1916: 4.

“Clean Amusement: Chance for Good Irish Films.” Evening Herald 23 Oct. 1916: 3.

“Dame Street Picture House.” Dublin Evening Mail 24 Oct. 1916: 4.

“Diamond from the Sky.” Dublin Evening Mail 30 Aug. 1916: 4.

“German Flame Attack: Driven Off by the British.” Dublin Evening Mail 16 Oct. 1916: 3.

Holloway, Joseph. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland.

“Ireland’s Claim.” Dublin Evening Mail 21 Oct. 1916: 2.

The Man About Town. “Things Seen and Heard.” Evening Herald 6 Oct. 1916: 2.

“Mullingar Cinema Theatre.” Westmeath Examiner 7 Oct. 1916: 5.

“Picture Plays.” Irish Times 21 Oct. 1916: 9.

“Platform and Stage.” Irish Times 28 Oct. 1916: 8.

“Provincial.” Weekly Irish Times 28 Oct. 1916: 3.

Rambler. “Round and About.” Bioscope 7 Sep. 1916: 869.

“Spies Manufactured Wholesale!” Bioscope 19 Oct. 1916: 224.

“Union of Women Workers: Meeting of the Dublin Branch: The Work of the Women Patrols.” Irish Times 21 Oct. 1916: 4.

Dublin Wreckage Films, Martial Law and Daylight Saving Time in May 1916

Dublin's smoking ruins. Image from Come Here to Me.

Dublin’s smoking ruins in May 1916. Image from the blog Come Here to Me.

Smoke still rose from the ruins in Dublin city centre at the start of May 1916, including from those of the Grand Cinema, but the weather was about to quench the remaining embers. “The remark of the elderly Dublin citizen who, gazing out of the window on Saturday morning, exclaimed: ‘There has been insurrection, famine, and fire; now we’re going to have a flood,’ were more or less justified by the state of the weather,” observed the Ulster Herald of the period of 6-8 May. “From the early hours of Friday morning until Sunday, Dublin has been under a never-ceasing deluge of rain, and even the most curiosity stricken of those who are themselves within its borders are deterred from wandering forth on visits of inspection amongst the ruins” (“Rising in Dublin”).

A photograph of the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street taken during the week of 8-13 May. Image from RTÉ Archives on Twitter bit.ly/1bFWG0U

A photograph of the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street taken during the week of 8-13 May. Image from RTÉ Archives on Twitter.

Despite the fact that the city seemed to be under attack from the four horsemen of the apocalypse, some normality was returning by Monday, 8 May. “Two cinema houses have re-opened in O’Connell street up to 6.30 each evening,” the same source reported, “and one of them displays a large poster announcing ‘All Easter Week: ‘The Christian.’”One of the earliest surviving photographs of a Dublin picture house shows that this was the Picture House at 51 Lower Sackville/O’Connell Street, which was remarkably unscathed given that it faced the totally destroyed Grand. Most of the people in the photograph are not interested in The Christian, however, but are – in the Ulster Herald’s terms – stricken by curiosity to see the ruins.

A photograph of Sackville/O’Connell Street in flames. Image from Letters of 1916.

A photograph of Sackville/O’Connell Street in flames. Image from Letters of 1916.

The Rising itself struck some observers as inherently cinematic. “For spectacular purposes nothing I have seen compares with the bombardment late yesterday afternoon of the Irish Republican flag on the cupola of the building nearly a mile from the hotel,” a Lloyd’s News Service journalist reported from his/her hotel room. “Fully fifty shells burst around the cupola before the flag fluttered to the ground. A cinema picture of this side-show would have been worth thousands” (“Dublin Rebellion”).

No cinematographer seems to have captured scenes of the Rising itself that might have satisfied the curiosity of those who could not get to Dublin’s city centre. This is disappointing but hardly surprising given the dangers from fire, bombardment and snipers. Nevertheless, several newsreel films were made of the aftermath of the Rising showing the city in ruins by Pathé News, Gaumont Graphic and Topical Budget. The Irish Independent’s London correspondent noted that “Dublin wreckage films” were being shown in London theatres and picture houses offering a “picture of gaping ruins far more appalling than the London public has been prepared for” and a heartbreaking sight for Dubliners in exile (“Our London Letter”).

The programme at Dublin's Carlton for the week of the 8-13 May included Topical Budget's Dublin in Ruins. Dublin Evening Mail 9 May 1916: 2.

The programme at Dublin’s Carlton for the week of the 8-13 May included Topical Budget’s Dublin in Ruins. Dublin Evening Mail 9 May 1916: 2.

These films were also shown in Dublin itself once the picture houses reopened, which happened mostly in the week of 8-13 May. At this point, martial law restrictions allowed them to open only to 8pm. “The fabric of that historic building, the Rotunda, has happily escaped almost unscathed from the recent ordeal of fire,” the reviewer in the Irish Times noted on 9 May, “and an excellent programme of living pictures was yesterday presented to a succession of large audiences” (“Rotunda Pictures”).  Further down Sackville/O’Connell Street and closer to the centre of the fighting during the Rising, the Carlton also opened on 8 May with “a superb programme, the Topical Budget included ‘Dublin Ruins,’ depicting the desolation of the Irish metropolis consequent upon the insurrection” (“Carlton Cinema”). “Though the Pillar Picture House was well within the fire zone during the recent disturbances,” the Irish Times also noted, “the building has escaped with very minor injuries, and, despite the difficulties of transport, the management were able to re-open yesterday at noon with a very attractive programme” (“Pillar Picture House”). Although business at the Mary Street Picture House was “somewhat hampered by the dislocation of cross-Channel communication,” it offered a programme that included Chaplin’s A Film Johnnie (US: Keystone, 1914) and the Gaumont Graphic with all the latest topical features, and recent events in Dublin” (“Mary Street”).

Boh Dublin Rising DEM 12 May 1916

The Bohemian advertised The Dublin Rising and Ruins of the City with musical accompaniment by Clyde Twelvetrees. Dublin Evening Mail 12 May 1916: 2.

In the second half of that week (11-13 May), the Bohemian exhibited what appears to have been a longer film of the city’s ruins, Dublin Rising and Ruins of the City. Its prominence in advertising suggests that this was not just another newsreel item but something more substantial. The only surviving newsreel film of more than a few minutes is the Imperial War Museum’s (IWM’s) 14-minute Easter Rising, Dublin 1916. The IWM has little information on the origins of the film, and its intertitles are missing.

Ad for the exhibition at Belfast’s Panopticon of Dublin Revolt, a long film of the aftermath of the Rising; the similarly titled film at the Imperial is actually the Topical Budget. Belfast News-Letter 8 May 1916: 4.

Ad for the exhibition at Belfast’s Panopticon of Dublin Revolt, a long film of the aftermath of the Rising; the similarly titled film at the Imperial is actually the Topical Budget. Belfast News-Letter 8 May 1916: 4.

However, under the title Dublin Revolt, the IWM film was shown at Belfast’s Panopticon for the week of 8-13 May, and in other Belfast cinemas for the latter half of that week. The film had intertitles, including “[‘T]he Sinn Feiners marching into Dublin,’ ‘The Parade of the National Volunteers and Sinn Feiners,’ ‘Liberty Hall,’ ‘British Picket at the Custom House,’ ‘Wounded Sinn Feiners in Hospital,’ ‘British Armoured Car’” (“Panopticon,” 9 May).  The Panopticon’s ad in the Belfast News-Letter claimed that the film was “Taken by Our Own Operator,” but it may have been shot by Norman Whitten of General Film Supply, Ireland’s most prominent maker of film topicals. Paddy, Irish correspondent of the trade journal Bioscope, reported that Whitten “was out very early with his camera, and secured practically 2,000 feet of exceptionally interesting views.” Given the chaos of the picture-house business in Dublin after the Rising and the international interest in events, he sold these to “Messrs. Jury’s Imperial Pictures, Limited, and Mr. Whitten crossed over to England with the negatives so as to make sure that they reached their destination” (Paddy, 18 May). The Bohemian may have secured a 1,000-foot cut of the GFS film (Condon).

Framegrab from Easter Rising, Dublin 1916 (IWM 194) showing newsboys selling the Irish Times of 3 May 1916 against the ruins of Eden Quay.

Framegrab from Easter Rising, Dublin 1916 (IWM 194) showing newsboys selling the Irish Times of 3 May 1916 against the backdrop of the ruins on Eden Quay.

In Dublin, these films appear to have been designed to attract into the picture houses the people who were wandering the destroyed city centre fascinated by the ruins. Paddy reported that “people are not too keen on pictures just at the moment,” but were instead watching as “[o]dd walls of ruined buildings are being pulled down in Sackville Street […T]he streets are packed with people in dense masses, quite oblivious to the fact that some portion of the bricks and mortar may fall on them” (Paddy, 18 May).

Dublin Evening Mail 10 May 1916: 2.

Dublin Evening Mail 10 May 1916: 2.

Films in other venues were fulfilling different purposes. For four days beginning on 10 May, Dublin’s Theatre Royal – a legitimate theatre that only occasionally showed films – chose films that emphasized the loyalty of Dublin citizens. The Royal showed the War Office films, The Battlefield of Neuve Chapelle, which had previously been exhibited in the city, and the new With the Irish at the Front. “The pictures will be of special interest to all citizens,” observed the Irish Times, “but particularly to those whose relatives figure in the scenes from which the photographs have been taken” (“Theatre Royal”). This demonstration of loyalty appears to have been successful because the “pictures were warmly applauded by the audience, among which were many soldiers.”

Belfast News-Letter 6 May 1916: 8.

Belfast News-Letter 6 May 1916: 8.

The disruption to communications and transport caused by the Rising had effects on cinema around the country. “Splendid programmes have been submitted at the ‘National’” in Mullingar

where, despite the dislocation of all business resulting from the troubles in Dublin at Easter, the management were enabled to keep up a capital supply of films. In the case of the ‘Exploits of Elaine,’ however, the films could not be procured by any cinema, during the period of traffic dislocation, and it was only this week that the welcome announcement could be made that the great serial would be resumed. (“National Picture Palace.”)

Although the second week in May brought Dublin Revolt to Belfast’s Panopticon, the lack of a train service between Dublin and Belfast until 3 May meant that manager-proprietor Fred Stewart could not show the films he had advertised for the first week (“Panopticon,” 2 May). As well as this, the cancellation of the planned visit by the D’Oly Carte Opera Company during the week of 15-20 May caused Belfast’s Opera House to retain the film Britain Prepared for a second week (“Grand Opera House”).

Given the disruption and excitement generated by the Rising, other developments seem to have been taken in stride. These included the introduction of the Entertainment Tax and of Daylight Saving Time, and a government focus on cinema as the cause of juvenile crime. Irish newspapers widely reported Home Secretary Herbert Samuel’s statement in Westminster that one of the causes of the considerable rise in juvenile crime in provincial towns was “the character of some of the films shown at cinematograph theatres” (“Crime and the Cinema”). The Leitrim Observer took up the issue in its editorial at the end of May. “There can be no doubt that the cinema has abundantly established its claim as a cheap, popular, and harmless form of amusement and recreation, so far as the adults are concerned,” it argued. “Whether the ordinary cinematograph entertainment is good for young children is another matter” (“Children and Cinemas”). Although acknowledging that parents without childcare had to bring their children to the picture houses with them, the writer thought this a poor excuse if harm was actually being done to the young people.

Article explaining rates of Entertainment Tax; Evening Telegraph 15 May 1916: 1.

Article explaining rates of Entertainment Tax; Evening Telegraph 15 May 1916: 1.

The much heralded Entertainment Tax came into force on 15 May 1916. A reporter for the Cork Examiner gave the matter considerable attention, interviewing theatre managers and analyzing who was paying most. The writer found picture-house managers relatively untroubled by the measure, arguing that if there was any effect at all, it would likely only be for the first week or so.  The writer also pointed out that if there were any decreased attendance, it might in any case be attributed to good summer weather.

Dublin's Bohemian advertises new tax; Evening Telegraph 15 May 1916: 2.

Dublin’s Bohemian advertises new tax; Evening Telegraph 15 May 1916: 2.

However, s/he also noted that the percentage increase “reverses the rule of imposing the highest percentage of tax on the well to do” (“Entertainment Tax,” 16 May). The tax increased the price of the cheapest penny tickets by a ½p  or 50% while those paying for expensive seats between 2s 6d and 5s paid only 3d or between 10% and 5%. “As the actual increases in prices are comparatively small,” s/he nevertheless concluded, “the public will in all probability adapt themselves to the new conditions without any serious demur.” The writer of the Southern Star’s “Bandon Notes” column took a similar view. “The young lads of the town who constantly patronise the pictures in large numbers will be, one would be inclined to think, seriously hit by the tax,” s/he initially contended. “However, where a young lad would be able to make out 3d for the pictures, he would also be able to find 4d. Therefore, from their point of view, we think things will go on as usual.”

Examining the amount raised during the tax’s first week, the Belfast News-Letter found that the bulk of the receipts came from picture houses rather than theatres. Using figures from Liverpool, it estimated that £900 of the £1,600 tax collected in the city came from cinemas (“Entertainment Tax,” 24 May).

The introduction of Daylight Saving Time on 21 May proved even less controversial in the Irish cinema trade. Among the Dublin theatre and picture house managers/proprietors interviewed by an Irish Independent reporter, manager Richard Bell of the Sackville Picture House and John J. Farrell, who owned several Dublin picture houses, expressed the view that the measure would not affect them in any way and that they saw no reason to change their hours of opening. Only Barney Armstrong of the Empire Theatre thought the regulation “would likely have the effect of slightly reducing the attendances during the summer months, especially at the first ‘house’” (“Daylight Saving Act”). For picture houses that opened from the early afternoon, this was less of an issue.

By the end of May, life in the Dublin appeared to be returning to normal, albeit among the ruins of the city centre. Paddy noted that “[m]arital law in Dublin has been considerably modified, people now being allowed out until 12 o’clock. This means that one can visit a theatre or music hall in comfort and still be able to catch the last tram home.” Even if many picture houses were slower in settling down after the Rising, this was due to good weather, which “proved equally as strong an attraction as the spectacle of falling buildings” (Paddy, 25 May).

References

“Bandon Notes.” Southern Star 20 May 1916: 5.

“The Carlton Cinema.” Irish Times 9 May 1916: 3.

“Children and Cinemas.” Leitrim Observer 27 May 1916: 3.

Condon, Denis. “‘Pictures in Abeyance’: Irish Cinema and the Aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising.” Moving Worlds April 2016.

“Crime and the Cinema.” Leitrim Observer 20 May 1916: 7.

“Daylight Saving Act: Favourable Irish Recption.” Irish Independent 19 May 1916: 4.

“The Dublin Rebellion.” Southern Star 6 May 1916: 2.

“Entertainment Tax Comes into Operation.” Cork Examiner 16 May 1916: 6.

“The Entertainment Tax: £1,600 the First Week’s Yield in Liverpool.” Belfast News-Letter 24 May 1916: 4.

“Grand Opera House: ‘Britain Prepared.’” Belfast News-Letter 16 May 1916: 2.

“Mary Street Picture House.” Irish Times 9 May 1916: 3.

“National Picture Palace.” Westmeath Examiner 20 May 1916: 4.

“Our London Letter: Dublin Wreckage Films.” Irish Independent 15 May 1916: 2.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope  18 May 1916: 845; 25 May 1916: 911.

“The Panopticon.” Belfast News-Letter 2 May 1916: 2; 9 May 1916: 2.

“The Pillar Picture House.” Irish Times 9 May 1916: 3.

“The Rising in Dublin: Scenes in the Ruins.” Ulster Herald 13 May 1916: 3.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Irish Times 9 May 1916: 3.

“Theatre Royal.” Irish Times 9 May 1916, p. 3.

 

Irish Cinema Catches the Public Eye in February 1916

Audience P&Pg 19 Feb 1916p475

Voices filling the dark; Pictures and the Picturegoer 19 Feb. 1916: 475.

At the end of January 1916, cinema-trade-journal Bioscope’s Irish correspondent Paddy congratulated George Hay, manager of Waterford’s Broad Street Cinema, on his catchy new programmes. “‘The Picture and Picturegoer’ is on sale in the theatre,” he observed, “and Mr. Hay has had his entire programme printed on the front page. This catches the public eye, and moreover, when the paper is left lying about at home it catches the eye of other members of the family.” Getting and remaining in the public eye was important to the cinema business, but much of the publicity it garnered in Ireland in February 1916 was negative.

Elaine Hand Sep 2 1915 Bio

Eye-catching ad for The Exploits of Elaine incorporating the cluchching hand motif; Bioscope 2 Sep. 1915: 1127.

Cinema’s “Clutching Hand” certainly caught the public’s eye in February 1916. The Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914) serial had been showing in many Irish picture houses, including Dublin’s Rotunda, which had shown the first episode, “The Clutching Hand,” on 18 October 1915. The plucky Elaine’s (Pearl White’s) repeated imperilling by master criminal the Clutching Hand (Sheldon Lewis) and rescuing by scientific detective Craig Kennedy (Arnold Daly) proved a lucrative formula. Showing one episode a week, the Rotunda reached the 14th and final episode, “The Reckoning,” on 20 January 1916. “Those who have followed the various episodes in this serial picture must not omit to visit the Rotunda,” a newspaper article warned, “and witness the first dénouement of the Clutching Hand, in which the culprit is revealed through his inadvertence in referring to the hidden treasure” (“The ‘Clutching Hand’ Revealed”). “Thus far,” the Irish Independent observed, “‘Exploits’ may claim to have established a record in general interest, and increased attendances are like to be experienced as the story reaches its climax” (“Dublin and District”).

Exploits_of_Elaine_-_The_Devil_Worshippers_(1914)

Poster for the episode of The Exploits of Elaine in which the Clutching Hand’s identity is revealed. Source: Wikipedia.

Other picture houses were not far behind the Rotunda. On 10-12 February, Cork’s Coliseum showing the 13th episode, “The Devil Worshippers,” in which the identity of the master criminal the Clutching Hand is revealed. Smaller towns started the serial later, with the first episode being offered to audiences in Ballina in June 1916 and in Longford town in July 1916. Seeing its success, producers Wharton Studios had quickly followed it with The New Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1915), and the Rotunda and others would begin showing this as soon as the original concluded. As a result, the phrase “Clutching Hand” was in circulation in Ireland as a synonym for criminality throughout 1916. Calling for an enquiry into the military killing of civilians during the Easter Rising, for example, Dublin alderman Laurence O’Neill described himself as having “the clutching hand of the military authority upon him” (“Action of Corporation”).

Pictures and the Picturegoer 26 Feb. 1916.

Pictures and the Picturegoer 26 Feb. 1916.

We have seen here that White’s Elaine offered young women an adventurous role model, but court cases reveal that the Clutching Hand proved equally inspirational for the criminal careers of Irish child gangs. A writer in the Southern Star noted that “the Exploits of Elaine, or the Clutching Hand, is drawing crowded houses at the local Kinema” in Kinsale, Co. Cork. As a result, “[a]ll our youth are now budding Sherlock Holmes.” But the influence of the serial was not so clear cut:

This habit of observation properly cultivated is a very useful thing and fits the youngster for life’s battle, but, judging by the cases before the local court on Saturday last the Clutching Hand is also in evidence. A month was the reward in this case. (“Kinsale Notes and Notions.”)

Cinema could be educational by providing “useful lessons by ocular demonstration” but the “Clutching Hand remains.”

The Southern Star writer did not provide details of the case in Kinsale, but more evidence exists for those the Clutching Hand inspired in Newry and Mullingar. On 9 February 1916, seven boys and one girl were each sentenced to five years in various reformatories and industrial schools for stealing from shops in Newry. As each child was sentenced and put in a room beside the court, they sang the popular World War I song “Are We Downhearted? No!” – a song that begins by mentioning Pat Malone of the Irish Fusiliers – and cheered.“[A]s each fresh defendant came from the magistrates’ hands he was received with the sign of the ‘Clutching Hand,’ and solemnly responded” (“Boys and the ‘Clutching Hand’”). Sentenced to five years at Philipstown Reformatory for stealing 16s 7d and some handkerchiefs on 14 January, Bernard Hughes described how

they planned the robberies, and with the proceeds went to a picture palace, in the café of which they had tea, bread and butter, lemonade, chocolate, wine, and cigarettes. After sleeping in “Duck” Marron’s common lodginghouse all night at 4d. each, they visited Warrenpoint next day, where they were arrested.

The rich food and lodgings they experienced on their spree contrasted markedly to the conditions in which at least some of them lived. Head Constable Mara gave evidence of having been invited by accused James O’Hare’s father, a sailor home on leave, to see how his children were living:

They were covered with vermin, and their mother was drunk. The house was filthy, and nothing in it but a dirty sack for five children to sleep on. [Another accused John] Hanratty, it was stated, lived in the worst house in Newry, with his mother and his sister.

Such testimony does not appear to have influenced the magistrates towards any more leniency than extended incarceration. Nevertheless, the solidarity between the children in court seems remarkable. By mentioned just these signs of defiance in court without the details of their desperate living conditions, most papers presented the case as a commentary on the antisocial nature of cinema.

The Exploits of Elaine showing in Mullingar. Westmeath Examiner 26 Feb. 1916: 8.

The Exploits of Elaine showing in Mullingar. Westmeath Examiner 26 Feb. 1916: 8.

Reports of the Newry case, or similar cases elsewhere, may have inspired the behaviour of the 12-year-old John Connor, Thomas Keena and Michael Creevy who on 26 February 1916 were arrested for stealing in Mullingar. Sergeant Campbell informed the petty sessions that having been told by J. F. Gallagher that £1 10s had been robbed from his shop, he went to Healy’s Picture House and found the boys in possession of the remainder of the money. Although the chairman of the petty sessions seemed inclined to grant Creevy’s mother’s request for bail for her son, the boy himself asked not to be sent home but to go to a detention home with the other boys. While in the cells at the police barracks, the boys reportedly sang “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and shouted “Hurrah for the Clutching Hand” (“Robbery in Patrick Street”). The magistrates hearing the boys’ case sent a resolution to the Mullingar Town Commissioners urging them not to renew picture house licences until the proprietors undertook not to show any film that depicted burglary to children under 16 (“Youths Charged with Robbery”). The Commissioners simplified this by barring boys under 16 from evening performances (“Mullingar Town Commissioners”).

These cases lent fuel to the campaigns to regulate – or eliminate – cinema. “What is really a little alarming,” argued a writer in the Irish Times citing the Newry case,

is the prospect of a gradual Americanisation – and a very cheap sort of Americanisation at that – of all our English and Irish ideals and of the whole British outlook on things in general. To-day the picture-house does little or nothing for patriotism; it is not helping us to victory in the field. (“American Films.”)

This writer supported H. G. Richards’ suggestion in the London Times that the importation of all foreign – mainly American – films be banned, including raw film stock. Richards argued this move would save £2 million, free up space on cargo ships, encourage the British film industry to expand, and make films more educational. Considering some of the economic and moral arguments for and against a ban, the Sunday Independent seemed to come down against it. “Naturally for the defence,” an editorial item observed, “we have the sound standing arguments of the public need of diversion in war as well as peace-time, and the benefit to temperance of the competition of the Cinema theatres with the publichouses.” The writer seemed to consider something of a clincher the fact “that on each of the British battle cruisers which await the appearance of the German fleet is installed a picture show for the amusement of the fighting men” (“The Passing Show”).

Few in the industry shared Richards’ views. Fan magazine Pictures and the Picturegoer pointed out that while British audiences were staunch supporters of British films, domestic companies could not supply the market. “[U]nfortunately, the [British] films that are worth much would not go far to feed the four thousand odd theatres,” s/he observed. “Indeed, if all the British film companies suddenly decided to work day and night in order to turn out films with the rapidity of a munitions factory, the output would provide but a mere drop in the ocean” (“Don’t Close Our Picture Theatres”). As the article pointed, the dearth of people and materials in wartime made it unlikely that the British industry could expand to any great degree.

While these kind of arguments were unlikely to convince those intent on reshaping a mainly entertainment medium into a mainly educational one, other government priorities militated against a film-import ban. The Irish papers prepared their readers for the imposition of an amusement tax in the upcoming budget as a much-needed revenue-raising measure. Cinemagoers would feel the clutching hand of the war economy in May.

References

“Action of Corporation: Petition to House of Commons.” Freeman’s Journal 3 Aug. 1916: 7.

“American Films.” Irish Times 14 Feb. 1916: 4.

“Boys and the ‘Clutching Hand’: Remarkable Case at Newry.’” Irish Times 10 Feb. 1916: 6.

“The ‘Clutching Hand’ Revealed.” Irish Times 20 Jan. 1916: 9.

“Don’t Close Our Picture Theatres: ‘Movies’ the War-Time Medicine of the Masses.” Pictures and the Picturegoer 26 Feb. 1916: 494.

“Dublin and District: Rotunda Pictures.” Irish Independent 20 Jan. 1916: 5.

“Kinsale Notes and Notions.” Southern Star 5 Feb. 1916: 7.

“Mullingar Town Commissioners: Cinemas and the Youth.” Westmeath Examiner 18 Mar. 1916: 6.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 27 Jan. 1916: 344.

“The Passing Show.” Sunday Independent 13 Feb. 1916: 4.

“Robbery in Patrick Street: Extraordinary Performance of Boys.” Westmeath Examiner 4 Mar. 1916: 8.

“Youths Charged with Robbery: Cheering for the ‘Clutching Hand.’” Westmeath Examiner 18 Mar. 1916: 6.

Succeeding Like Success: Irish Cinema at Christmas 1915

Carlton Cinema, c. 1920. Source: Art Deco in Dublin.

Carlton Cinema, c. 1920. Source: Art Deco in Dublin.

Christmas 1915 was worth celebrating for those involved in the cinema in Ireland. Despite the war and attempts by religious groups to limit its expansion, cinema had continued to grow in 1915, and several new picture houses opened in time for end-of-year holiday season. In many ways, then, a short item in the trade journal Bioscope in December 1915 on the recent opening of an Irish cinema well characterizes the state of the industry as a whole at the end of 1915. “They say,” it began, “nothing succeeds like success” (“Trade Topics”).

However, the success of cinema in 1915 needs to be qualified as well as acknowledged. For a start the short Bioscope item appears to be a promotional piece with little substance. It continues: “but what Mr. Andy Wright said a few nights ago when, in opening the doors for the first time of his new theatre at Waterford, he was knocked down in the rush of an eager populace anxious to secure their seats, is not recorded.” Not recorder either – by this item or other contemporary sources – is what the name of this new theatre was. Not that Wright was unused to the openings of Irish picture houses. Best known as the managing director of the Liverpool-based distribution company Films, Limited and of Wright’s Enterprises, he was also heavily involved in a number of exhibition companies in Ireland. He was a director of Irish Empire Palaces, of the company that built and ran Dublin’s Phoenix Picture Palace, and of Southern Coliseums (“World of Finance”; Paddy, 7 Nov.). Following successes in Wexford and Kinsale during summer 1915, he had opened the Cinema in Carlow in September (Paddy, 9 Sep.). However, this item – if it has any basis in reality – must refer to the opening two months earlier of Waterford’s Coliseum, following its conversion from the Waterford Rink (Paddy, 28 Oct.).

Opening of Enniscorthy's Cinema Theatre, Echo Enniscorthy 4 Dec. 1915: 6, and 11 Dec. 1915: 6.

Ads for the opening weeks of Enniscorthy’s Cinema Theatre, Echo Enniscorthy 4 Dec. 1915: 6, and 11 Dec. 1915: 6.

Among the actual openings for the 1915 Christmas season were picture houses in Enniscorthy, Belfast and Dublin. Enniscorthy’s new Cinema Theatre opened on Wednesday, 8 December, at the Ancient Order of Hibernian’s hall on New Street, which on the occasion, “was crowded, and many people were turned away. The hall was cosily fitted up. The screen proved to be large and the pictures to be clear and bright” (“New Cinema”). All the machinery, fittings and films for the new Cinema Theatre had been provided by Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply, which was also fitting out the picture house in Waterville, Co. Kerry, (Paddy, 9 Dec.). With a population of just 5,500, Enniscorthy could sustain this new picture house alongside the existing Abbey Picture House. Nevertheless, the Abbey put on a rival programme of comedies for 8 December designed to maximize its own audience. Competing with the Cinema Theatre’s naval drama On Secret Service (US: American, 1915) and Chaplin two-reel comedy Laughing Gas (US: Keystone, 1914), the Abbey topped its bill with the Chaplin six-reel feature comedy Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914).

Dublin picture houses advertising the first showings of Chaplin's latest film Charlie at Work. Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 1.

Dublin picture houses advertising the first showings of Chaplin’s latest film Charlie at Work. Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 1.

Enniscorthy did not have a monopoly on Chaplin. He was still everywhere, with the films he made with Keystone in 1914 still in circulation while his newer Essanay films received special advertising. When Dublin’s Pillar Picture House, Mary Street Picture House and Electric Theatre, Talbot Street premiered the new Charlie at Work on 6 December, Getting Acquainted (US: Keystone, 1914) maintained the audience of the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street “in continuous roars of laughter,” while at the Masterpiece Theatre, one of the Keystones in which Chaplin played alongside Ford Sterling “kept the house in an uproarious mood” (“Picture House,” “Masterpiece”). Of the many other stars, perhaps Mary Pickford was the only one to approach Chaplin. On 2 December, Cork’s Coliseum showed Mistress Nell, which featured Pickford, “who has become such a prime favourite in many Irish picture theatres” (Paddy, 2 Dec.).

Willowfield PH Belfast

Willowfield Picture House and Unionist Club. Cinema Treasures.

Neither Chaplin nor Pickford topped the bill when Belfast’s newest cinema the Willowfield Picture House opened on 20 December. There was nothing at all unusual about the military mien of the featured drama The Commanding Officer (US: Famous Players, 1915), even when it was complemented by a local topical film of The Inspection of the Ulster Division (1915). The latter film was, however, unusually appropriate for a venue that was also the social club for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Evening Telegraph, 24-25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Evening Telegraph, 24-25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Dublin’s newest cinema was less out of the ordinary. When the Carlton Cinema Theatre opened its doors on 27 December, it was the last new Irish picture house of 1915. Located at 52 Upper Sackville/O’Connell Street, it had been designed by architect Thomas F. McNamara for Frank W. Chambers, who also ran a tobacconist and billiard hall on the same street. “There is a magnificent entrance and lounge – the latter also being a tea room,” the Bioscope’s Paddy noted, “which lend an imposing appearance to the whole theatre” (6 Jan.). Inside, “[t]he hall is very spacious and well proportioned; the slope in the floor is a distinct improvement, whilst the scheme of decoration and lighting is very effective (“New Carlton Cinema Theatre”). The main opening film was His Wife’s Story (US: Biograph, 1915), which was accompanied, Paddy revealed, by an “orchestra, which consisted of two violins, a piano and a ‘cello.” He predicted that “with the improvement which is bound to come in the course of time, [it] should prove one of the best orchestras in Dublin.” All reviewers commented on the lack of expense spared by Chambers in fitting out the cinema, including in the generator and projectors chosen. “There is, indeed,” the Irish Times declared confidently, “little likelihood of spectators having to suffer the delay of a breakdown, in the Carlton” (“New Picture House”).This was just tempting fate because the same paper reported on 20 January 1916, that a breakdown in the generator had been repaired and that “the light on the picture screen is now perfect” – suggesting previous imperfections – for upcoming screenings of the adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (“Carlton Picture Theatre”).

Despite such initial technical difficulties, the Carlton would become one of the city’s most popular cinemas. Partly this was because of its favourable location opposite the Gresham Hotel, but it was also because of the musical attractions it would soon offer. In doing so, it would have to compete with two well-established rivals, the nearby Rotunda and the suburban Bohemian. At the Rotunda, “[t]he music, which is now an important feature of a Picture Entertainment, is supplied by the first-class Orchestra, under the baton of Miss Murphy, R.I.A.M.” (“Rotunda Pictures”). However, the state of the art in film accompaniment in Dublin was to be heard at the Bohemian, and in December 1915, it was about to popularize the cinema solo. “The success attendant on the violin solos given by Miss M. Burke, a member of the Bohemian orchestra, during the performances of last week,” an Evening Telegraph reviewer revealed, “doubtless influenced the management to engage for the present week the services of Mr. Patrick Delaney, the celebrated violinist, who rendered at the 7 and 9 performances some delightful selections, which were warmly applauded by large audiences” (“Bohemian”). Although the Bohemian management decided to engage a male soloist, this development was started by one of the city’s skilled women musicians. This Miss M. Burke is likely Mary Burke, who in the 1911 Census is listed as a Galway-born music teacher living in the nearby suburb of Drumcondra.

Victoria Boh Orch 25 Dec 1915p4

Dublin’s Bohemian Orchestra helped reopen Galway’s Victoria Cinema. Connacht Tribune 25 Dec. 1915: 4.

The Bohemian and Galway would have other connections at Christmas 1915. Galway saw the reopening of two of its picture houses – the Cinema Theatre and the Victoria Cinema – on St. Stephen’s Day, 26 December. The main Christmas pictures at the other cinemas – the Court Theatre and the Town Hall Pictures – were serials, the firth episode of The Black Box (US: Universal, 1915) in the case of the Court and the eighth episode The Exploits of Elaine The Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914) at the Town Hall. This sense of business as usual was not adopted by the reopening venues, which offered special musical features. The Cinema Theatre under new manager George Gutherie, engaged two singers, “Australian Prima Donna” Marie Elster, who sang “Ave Maria,” and juvenile Irish vocalist Ruth Conway. Among its main alterations, the Victoria Cinema had erected a veranda to protect queuing patrons from the rain, replaced its screen and installed a new projector “to prevent delays between the parts of one picture.” These infrastructural enhancements were launched by a three-day visit from Percy Carver’s Bohemian Orchestra, “acknowledged by press and public as the finest in Ireland” (“Notes & News”). Whether or not Mary Burke was among the visiting musicians is not recorded.

Christmas was celebrated in picture houses around the country with such traditional fare as pantomime films but also with more recent innovations. The Cork Examiner’s review of Robinson Crusoe at Cork’s Coliseum asserted the superiority of the cinema version over the theatrical. “There must be more than ‘Crusoe’s’ own adventures in the modern [theatrical] pantomime. Topical songs are introduced, and this distracts the attention from the mariner’s adventures. It is here the cinema producer scores, for he can keep the main story before the mind all the time” (“Coliseum”). Christmas provided the opportunity for showmen and -women to mount extra film entertainments and for travelling picture shows to visit smaller towns that did not have a regular cinema. James Barrett was granted a licence for a film show in Castlebar’s Town Hall (“Castlebar Urban Council”). With a population of just over 1,500, Granard, Co. Longford, hosted a “highly attractive cinema and gramophone entertainment” at the Town Hall on 29-30 December, “organised for the comforts’ fund of the various battalions of the Leinster Regiments” (“Granard Notes”).

Cinema’s role not only as entertainment but also as a recruiting tool was an important way in which its social usefulness was measured in Christmas 1915. Those men who had not yet enlisted were encouraged to do so by recruitment meetings that included films in Macroom, Charleville and other Co. Cork towns (“Macroom Notes,” “Recruiting Rally”). By contrast, the Freeman’s Journal indicated that some popular films and plays were attempting to prevent recruiting. Praising recruiting efforts around the country, an editorial item observed that the “Irish capital has certainly done magnificently, and perhaps the greatest incentive to recruiting in our midst has been the idiotic pin pricks of the pro-German humbugs, passing as melodramatic Emmets and cinematograph Wolfe Tones” ([Editorial item]). Although it is unlikely that the writer had yet seen it, Sidney Olcott’s Irish-shot Bold Emmett, Ireland’s Martyr (US: Sid Olcott Feature Players, 1915) – steeped in the Irish melodramas of Dion Boucicault – could have been so described.

Dec 4 1915 Nationality PHs ad

Picture house advertising helped fund some of the radical nationalist press; Nationality, 4 Dec. 1915: 3. Available online from the National Archives of Ireland.

Cinema was not expanding everywhere, in part due to the war but also because it had opponents, some of whom were even more active and influential than the Freeman’s editorial writer. Kells Picture House closed for one of its regular hiatuses when its tenancy terminated on 7 December, but it would reopen again in January ([Small ad]). The Ormonde Cinema Company informed Nenagh Town that

[i]n reference to the opinions of well-known advocates of economy during the continuance of the war, and to encourage their propaganda so far as amusements are concerned, [we] have decided to hold exhibitions of pictures only twice weekly in future, viz., on Sunday and Wednesday nights instead of four nights, as was their practice hitherto. (“Nenagh Town Council.”)

Other kinds of cultural nationalist propaganda also rejected cinema. Minnie McAllister of Magherafelt, Co. Derry, the recipient of the third prize in the Columban League of Irish Youth essay competition, included going to the pictures among the foreign manners and customs that Irish boys and girls should avoid. “There is nothing in these performances that appeals to the real Irish imagination,” she wrote, “and frequently enough they are of a description that should not be tolerated in any self respecting country” (“Columban League of Irish Youth”).

Edward O’Dwyer, bishop of Limerick, was of a similar opinion. Just in time for the New Year, he wrote a letter on the exhibition of an immoral film in Limerick city to Fr J. A. O’Connor, administrator of St Michael’s parish that was published nationally in the Cork Examiner and Freeman’s Journal (“Indecent Picture Exhibitions,” “Immoral Pictures”). “On last Wednesday,” he revealed, “a picture was shown in one of these houses, and from the descriptions which has been give to me of it, I feel bound to take the strongest steps within my power as a Catholic Bishop, to prevent the continuance of such an agency of corruption” (ibid.). The description of which film so incensed the bishop is not clear, but he seemed disinclined to confirm its offensiveness by actually viewing the film before urging that swift steps be taken against the picture house in question. On the last day of the year, Limerick’s Vigilance Committee informed the Borough Council through the pages of the Limerick Leader that it could within days expect the Committee’s draft restrictions to be included in subsequent cinematograph licences (“Limerick Vigilance Association”). At a meeting earlier in the month in which the Dublin Vigilance Committee revealed that it had been granted representation at the Recorder annual hearings to grant – or deny – music licences to picture houses, the Committee had acknowledged the increasing national reach of the vigilance movement by changing its name to the Irish Vigilance Association (Dublin Committee) (“Dublin Vigilance Committee”).

As 1915 ended, cinema was certainly a more important cultural force in Ireland than it had ever been, seen as variously profitable, pleasurable and useful. However, it had formidable local opponents ranged against it that were more organized and determined to curb its influence or to destroy it.

References

“The Bohemian.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“The Carlton Picture Theatre.” Irish Times 20 Jan. 1916: 8.

“Castlebar Urban Council.” Western People 18 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Coliseum: ‘Robinson Crusoe.’” Cork Examiner 28 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Columban League of Irish Youth: Occasional Chats with the Members.” Donegal News 18 Dec. 1915, p. 7; Ulster Herald 18 Dec. 1915: p. 3.

“Dublin Vigilance Committee.” Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 3.

[Editorial Item.] Freeman’s Journal 18 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Granard Notes.” Longford Leader 25 Dec. 1915: 1.

“Immoral Pictures: Letter from Most Rev. Dr. O’Dwyer.” Freeman’s Journal 30 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Indecent Picture Exhibitions: Letter from Most Rev. Dr. O’Dwyer.” Cork Examiner 30 Dec. 1915: 4.

“Limerick Vigilance Association: And Local Picture Houses: Important Restrictions Proposed.” Limerick Leader 31 Dec. 1915, p. 10.

“Macroom Notes.” Southern Star 18 Dec. 1915: 5.

“The Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Nenagh Town Council and Retrenchment.” Nenagh News 25 Dec 1915: 2.

“The New Cinema.” Echo Enniscorthy 11 Dec. 1915: 7.

“A New Picture House.” Irish Times 30 Dec. 1915: 3.

“Notes & News.” Connacht Tribune 25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 7 Nov. 1912: 417; 9 Sep. 1915: 1176; 28 Oct. 1915: 468; 9 Dec. 1915: 1109; 30 Dec. 1915: 1472; 6 Jan. 1916: 53.

“The Picture House, O’Connell St.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Recruiting Rally in North Cork.” Cork Examiner 29 Dec. 1915: 8.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 24 Dec. 1915: 6.

[Small ad.] Meath Chronicle 4 Dec. 1915: 5.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 23 Dec. 1915: 1307.

“World of Finance.” Bioscope 7 Mar. 1912: 689; 13 Jun. 1912: 807.

Processions, Protest and the Perfect Woman in Irish Picture Houses, Late Summer 1915

Summer was usually a bad time for indoor entertainments such as cinema. But the Irish weather during July 1915 – like that of July 2015 – did not favour outdoor activities. “It has been a sad time for July holiday-makers,” observed the Irish Times in early August, “and as yet there is no hint of a better hope for August, except that which may be taken from the thought that what has persisted so long must soon change” (“Wet Weather”). While some temporary picture houses opened at seaside resorts, some established venues followed the practice of the theatres and closed for several weeks in July and/or August. Although Dublin’s Rotunda usually stayed open throughout the summer, it took advantage of this practice in 1915 by closing on 7 June for extensive renovations and reopening on 26 July.

Swimmer Annette Kellerman was considered the “|Perfect Woman” because here measurements corresponded to the classical dimension of the Venus de Milo. Australian poster from the collections of the National Library of Australia, available here.

Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman’s bodily measurements promoted on a poster for the film Neptune’s Daughter. Collection of the National Library of Australia, available here.

The weather didn’t stop Dublin architect Joseph Holloway from travelling across town on the evening of Friday, 9 July, from his home in Northumberland Road south of the city to the Bohemian Picture Theatre in the northern suburb of Phibsborough. He was clearly quite taken with the “great film drama of a legendary story in five parts, called Neptune’s Daughter featuring Annette Kellerman (the Perfect Woman)” because he described it in more detail than any other film he had seen that year (Holloway, 9 Jul. 1915). The film was one of the several mermaid fantasies the Australian swimmer made during her film career in the 1910s and early 1920s. Dublin audiences had seen Kellerman three years previously in a similar live stage show, when she had appeared at the Theatre Royal with a company of 40 artistes in Undine, a 14th-century set “idyll of forest and stream” (“Theatre Royal”). Although a skilled athlete, Kellerman’s celebrity was partly based on her controversial promotion of a form-fitting one-piece swimsuit for women. This attire allowed women swimmers the ease of movement needed for athletic achievement, which was not permitted by form-hiding two-piece Victorian bathing costumes. Her championing of women’s athletics fitted well with such contemporary campaigns for women’s equality as the suffrage movement, and at a special matinee during her week in Dublin in 1912, Kellerman gave a lecture on women’s physical culture. At the same time, the publicity for her theatrical appearances fully exploited the spectacle of her body, which was declared perfect because it corresponded so exactly to the measurements of the Venus de Milo.

“Summer at Last!” Irish LIfe 19 Jul. 1912: 669.

“Summer at Last!” Irish LIfe 19 Jul. 1912: 669. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

Photographs published by the glossy illustrated weekly Irish Life in July and August 1912 – just after Kellerman’s visit – throw some light on the degree of controversy her appearance is likely to have caused in the early 1910s. Irish Life published many photographs of Ireland’s leisure class at golf, tennis, horse riding, motoring and other activities. Under the title “Summer at Last!” the issue of 19 July 1912 published photos of six women bathers, and the one-piece swimsuit is much in evidence: only one of the women has a swimsuit that covers her upper legs, arms and shoulders. Although four of the women are on or beside bathing machines that suggest the persistence of Victorian seaside practices, they appear unconcerned by the gaze of the camera or are even welcoming of it. The photo story suggests a fairly permissive view of the display of the female body in such public spaces as beaches and of the reproduction of such photographs in a widely circulating magazine of the “respectable” classes.

“On the Rocks” and “Disillusioned,” Irish Life 9 Aug. 1912: 791 and 16 Aug. 1912: 840.

“On the Rocks” and “Disillusioned,” Irish Life 9 Aug. 1912: 791 and 16 Aug. 1912: 840. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

However, this sense of the freedom of bodily display is somewhat challenged by the letter of complaint that the editor received the following month in response to Irish Life’s publication on 9 August 1912 of a postcard with a bather – in this case, probably a model – no more undressed or welcoming of the camera’s gaze than the previous women. The complaint was not a trivial one: it came from the Catholic Church based Dublin Vigilance Committee (DVC). Founded in early November 1911, the DVC had grown rapidly and held the first of what was to become an annual show of strength in the form of a procession through the streets of Dublin and a mass meeting at the Mansion House in July 1912. This was an astonishingly successful event, drawing letters of support not only from the Irish Catholic hierarchy but also the pope. The fact that it took place at the Mansion House meant that the movement already had the imprimatur of Dublin’s Lord Mayor, who attended, but the meeting was also addressed by Ireland’s highest government official, the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, who had also been the president of the National Vigilance Association of England for the previous 15 years. This was a movement with serious political clout. Nevertheless, when Irish Life responded to the complaint on 16 August, it was with an article that was more resentful than contrite and that was illustrated by children playing on a beach who were “Quite Happy! / Provided There Are no Vigilance Committees to Object.”

Three years later, at the Bohemian on the evening of 9 July 1915, Holloway was also quite happy with Neptune’s Daughter (US: Universal, 1914). However, the filmmakers – including Dublin-born director Herbert Brenon – pushed the degree of bodily display in Kellerman’s performance to full nudity, causing Holloway some qualms. “The story was splendidly enacted,” he thought, “but Annette Kellerman’s lack of costume was very daring at times.” Nevertheless, Holloway

thought it a very beautiful film, with nothing suggestive in it, – perhaps the incident of the diving from the rocks, again and again, clad only in nature, might have been omitted, with no hurt to the story, but, then Annette Kellerman wanted to show what an expert diver she is, & gave the display.

For a full week in early July 1915, Dublin’ s Bohemian Picture Theatre showed Neptune’s Daughter with Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman; Evening Telegraph 5 Jul. 1915: 1 and 8 Jul. 1915: 1.

Dublin’ s Bohemian Picture Theatre retained Neptune’s Daughter for a full week in early July 1915; Evening Telegraph 5 Jul. 1915: 1 and 8 Jul. 1915: 1.

Holloway’s defensiveness here is understandable because the DVC had not gone away in the interim and was in 1915 shifting its focus from what it termed “evil literature” to “the filthy picture screen” (“Fighting a Plague”). Neptune’s Daughter had been due to finish its three-day run at the Bohemian on Wednesday, 7 July – two nights before Holloway saw it – but because of its popularity, Bohemian manager Frederick Sparling extended its run into the second half of the week. On the Thursday night, the packed Bohemian was visited by William and Francis Larkin, the members of the DVC most likely to make a protest. The newspapers reported that at 9 o’clock, the Larkins “began to hiss, and they persisted in this form of protest for forty minutes, to the end of the film” (“‘Neptune’s Daughter’”). “It was evident that the audience found nothing of a suggestive or offensive nature in the production,” opined the Freeman’s Journal, “and they showed their approval by applauding warmly (“Annette Kellerman at the Bohemian”). The Larkins and the DVC had by no means finished with cinema, and Neptune’s Daughter encountered some further difficulties. The film was condemned from the altar by a local priest when it opened on 22 July for a three-day run at Sparling’s other picture house, the Sandford in the south-city suburb of Ranelagh. “I have reason to believe,” the Bioscope’s Paddy contended, “that the Reverend Father in question had not seen the film but was going on the strength of the publicity matter – which, it will be admitted is rather striking” (Paddy).

Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

Part of the reason the Bohemian was the site of these events was that it had become one of the most popular picture houses in Dublin. It was a venue that could induce Holloway and presumably others to travel across the city, albeit that Holloway travelled to see Annette Kellerman in Neptune’s Daughter. Regular newspaper ads helped to build and maintain this popularity. At the end of July on a page headed “City Theatres and Picture Palaces to Visit During the Holidays,” the Bohemian published an unusually large ad with a photograph illustrating its claim to be “the best appointed and most luxurious picture theatre in Dublin.” If this ad was addressing potential audience members with reasons to choose the Bohemian from among the other picture houses, those reasons had to do with the luxury experience to be had there. Taken from the back of the balcony, the photo emphasized the decorative plasterwork, light fittings, comfortable seating and large screen. The ad’s largest text apart from the Bohemian’s name referred not to the film offerings but to the “Finest Orchestra in Ireland,” made up of 16 performers. You went to the Bohemian for its beautiful physical and aural environment.

August bank holiday offerings by Dublin's picture houses; Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

August bank holiday offerings by Dublin’s picture houses; Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

Whereas the Bohemian’s ad pushed film titles to a peripheral position, the ads for the Bohemian’s five rival Dublin picture houses prominently displayed film titles they had chosen for the August holiday weekend. Charlie Chaplin featured in four of the six picture house ads, with the Electric Theatre in Talbot Street emphasizing that it had the “Real Charlie Chaplin in Some Comedy (Not an Imitation).” This may have been a general reference to Chaplin’s multitude of screen and stage imitators or a more specific one to the music hall comedian Jack Edge, who was shown in the Coliseum Theatre’s advertisement on the same page dressed as Chaplin.

The most prominent title advertised by the newly renovated Rotunda was a film of the funeral of the Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, an outdoor activity largely undisrupted by the weather. Organized by the Fenians’ revolutionary successors, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the funeral was a massive demonstration of the ability of the IRB to mobilize the more militant factions of Irish nationalism. The IRB arranged for O’Donovan Rossa’s body to be repatriated from New York to Dublin, where it lay in state for three days at City Hall and was subsequently accompanied on Sunday, 1 August, by a procession of about 5,000 mourners – watched by at least ten times that number – to Glasnevin Cemetery, where Patrick Pearse delivered his renowned graveside oration. Pearse was not audible in the film by Whitten’s GFS, which recorded highlights of this three-day commemoration, but the volley of shots over the grave by armed Volunteers and the extent of public support were no doubt eloquent enough for the many people who watched the film in picture houses around the country in the coming days and months. Those eager to see the film first did not have to wait for the screenings at the Rotunda, which did not have a licence to open on Sundays, but could attend the Bohemian, where it was on view a few hours after the end of the funeral and at a picture house on the route of the funeral procession. There they could shelter from the vagaries of the Irish summer in some comfort.

References

“Annette Kellerman at the Bohemian.” Freeman’s Journal 10 Jul. 1915: 7.

“Fighting a Plague: Vigilance Committee’s Crusade.” Irish Catholic 11 Sep. 1915: 1

Holloway, Joseph. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland.

“‘Neptune’s Daughter’: Protest in Dublin Picture House.” Irish Times 9 Jul. 1915: 6.

“Theatre Royal.” Sunday Independent 30 Jun. 1912: 6.

“Wet Weather.” Irish Times 4 Aug. 1915: 4.