The Irish centenary celebration, commemorating 100 years of Irish independence in 2016, will feature Notre Dame’s documentary “1916: The Irish Rebellion” as a major pillar of the festivities, Thomas J. & Kathleen M. O’Donnell Professor of Irish Studies Bríona Nic Dhiarmada said.
The documentary tells the story of the 1916 Easter Rising, an event that ultimately led to Ireland’s independence. A three-part series, it will feature leading scholars from around the world, many of them from Notre Dame, Dhiarmada said. The documentary was directed by Pat Collins and Ruan Magan and will be narrated by Irish actor Liam Neeson.
“You either do something properly, or you don’t do it at all,” Dhiarmada said. “And I suppose, being Notre Dame, if we’re going to go for it, we’re going to go for it. So we wanted to do this at the highest production values possible, and we started like that from the beginning.”
Dhiarmada is Irish but said a documentary commemorating the American Civil War inspired her to write the series.
“About five years ago, I had been watching Ken Burns’s ‘The Civil War,’ which is a fantastic documentary, and it really made the Civil War intimate for Americans again,” Dhiarmada said. “It was this wonderful, personal view — but it also contextualized it. And I remember thinking at the time, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could do something similar for 1916?”
The Keough-Naughton Institute at Notre Dame worked closely with scholars in Ireland to produce the documentary, giving it a unique perspective, Dhiarmada said.
“I think if I were [creating the documentary] in Ireland, it might be a different documentary,” she said. “The fact that I’m based in the states, it’s emanating from the University of Notre Dame, which has a strong connection with Ireland. Particularly the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies — we’re a leader in Irish Studies. So we have this connection, this back and forth, and I think it’s that perspective that we’re able to look over back to Ireland, bring what we have over here over there and bring Ireland back to us.”
Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Chair in American Studies and Journalism Robert Schmuhl, who was also involved in the creation of the documentary, said the series’ global scope sets it apart.
“This documentary will consider the global significance of the Easter Rising,” Schmuhl said. “Many depictions focus overwhelmingly on the consequences within Ireland. The Notre Dame production takes a broader and more comprehensive approach, considering, for example, the involvement of Irish America in the Rising and afterwards.”
In 2016, Ireland will play a cinematic version of the documentary in Irish embassies around the world, Dhiarmada said. Director of Notre Dame’s Dublin Center Kevin Whelan said the documentary’s broad and inclusive scope and scholarly focus will tell the story of Ireland in a way it hasn’t been told before.
“I believe that the documentary will allow every Irish person to access the best recent thinking on the Rising, a pivotal event in forming modern Ireland,” Whelan said. “Because of its high production values and content, I am very confident that it will also project very positive view of Notre Dame.”
This inclusive scope is important to Ireland as it looks back at its history and growth as a nation, Dhiarmada said.
“Telling the story now, 100 years on, after the peace process, I think we can look at it as history,” she said. “It’s still quite contentious. But I think what we’re trying to do here, and it’s very much in tune with what the Irish government is trying to do in their centenary commemorations and celebrations, is to be more inclusive. Because we now have new sources … many more archives are opened up to us than would have been the case at the 50th anniversary. So I think we can be a bit more generous in our telling. Painting parts of the story that had been left out before.”
The documentary isn’t only looking back toward the past — it’s looking forward to the future, Taoiseach of Ireland Enda Kenny said in a promotional video for the series.
“I’ve been to Notre Dame. I really am grateful to Notre Dame for what they’re doing here, in leading in an academic way the background, the understanding, the comprehension, of 1916 — and more so, what it means and will mean for the future, for the start of the journey of the next century,” Kenny said.
“That’s going to encourage and invigorate and motivate Irish people all over the world — proud of their ancestry, proud of the journey our country has come on, proud of the way that we have dealt with sacrifices economically and otherwise over the years, and proud now that a young generation, a rising generation in Ireland and abroad, are proud of their past, proud of their heritage, and will create and change the frontiers of the future,” he said.
Originally published in The Observer Thursday, April 9, 2015