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From the 1910s to the 1950s, newsreels were the only source of non-fictional moving images available to the public.
Many samples of this forgotten genre survive. Now researchers are uncovering a whole new set of archival sources that nuance and illustrate the history of Ireland in the first half of the 20th century.
Ciara Chambers is one of those researchers, and the leading authority on the newsreels screened to people throughout Ireland. These newsreels cover an extremely tumultuous era in Irish history: the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, partition, the Civil War, and the first decades of the two new political entities on the island. And, of course, the newsreels cover the period of the two World Wars.
As Ciara Chambers explains, the dominant newsreel companies on the Irish circuit were British. This meant that nearly all material watched by Irish audiences was coloured by the British worldview. But the story is more fine-grained than that – it turns out that stories were sometimes altered, added or omitted to suit unionist viewers in the north, or independence-minded viewers in the south. And when stories clashed with the lived reality of viewers in the south, they weren’t shy about raising their objections.
The conversation here will be of huge interest for those interested in Ireland’s current decade of centenaries.
Ciara Chambers is the authority on the history of Irish newsreels. She has worked on a range of archival and digitization projects with the Irish Film Archive, Northern Ireland Screen, Belfast Exposed Photography, UTV, BBC, and the British Universities Film and Video Council. She was also the associate producer on ‘Éire na Nuachtscannán ‘ (‘Ireland in the Newsreels’), a 6-part television series broadcast on TG4. She is Lecturer in Contemporary Film and Screen Media in the Department of Film Studies in University College Cork.
Resources Mentioned in the Episode:
‘Éire na Nuachtscannán‘ (‘Ireland in the Newsreels’), 6-part TV series by TG4. In English and Irish.
The Irish Independence Film Collection, on the Irish Film Institute video player.
Ireland in the Newsreels, book by Ciara Chambers published by Irish Academic Press.