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Thursday, May 20, 2021

The True Story of 'Irish Destiny', The War of Independence Silent Movie

 'IRISH DESTINY'  Courtesy of the Irish Film Institute



With renovation work beginning at The Motion Picture Conservation Centre at Wright-Patterson US Air Force base in 1991, a nitrate copy of a film, believed lost, was discovered on a shelf in the facility. Operated by the US Library of Congress near Dayton, Ohio, the centre consisted of two divisions, the Film Vaults and the Motion Picture Preservation Laboratory. The Film Vaults facility provided a safe storage for the highly flammable nitrate film, which was the main method of making motion pictures from its beginnings in the early twentieth century, by maintaining the environment at a regulated temperature of 52 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of between 35 and 40 percent. What had been discovered was a copy of the first ever domestically produced feature film in the then new Irish Free State in 1926. An Irish American, Patrick Sheehan, who worked in the Library of Congress in Washington DC, made a remarkable discovery, a copy of the film, lodged there for copyright purposes and had lain untouched and unnoticed for decades. The 35mm film was in a perilously fragile state and the US authorities initiated preservation at a specialist laboratory in California.


For many movie goers, the 1993 movie ‘Cool Runnings’ starring the late John Candy and Leon Robinson introduced the unusual premis of a bobsleigh team from a nation that rarely saw snow and ice, competing in the 1988 Winter Olympics. In St Moritz, Switzerland, in January 1927, an Irish bobsleigh team was beating seasoned winter Olympic nations in bobsleigh races and setting track records in the process. The team was led by Paddy Dunne Cullinan who was an accomplished sportsman and well known in horse racing circles as the owner of the Carrollstown Stud near Trim in County Meath. He had taken over the running of the stables from his father in 1923. St. Moritz had been developed by British entrepreneurs after the First World War and its famous Cresta Run attracted thousands to watch the incredible speeds achieved by the ‘boblets’ as they flew down the hill. In the early twenties it became popular with horse racing jockeys from both Britain and Ireland. Cullinan began visiting the resort from the early twenties and would at one stage he would hold the world record for the fastest decent on the Cresta track.

 

On Saturday August 25th 1925 at the Arcadia Ballroom near the Bray seafront, the Irish Cinema and Theatrical Garden Party was held. It advertised that ‘stage and screen stars will be in attendance.  Outdoor cabaret shows have been arranged’ and that there would be ‘non-stop dancing’ from 8pm to midnight with the music provided by the Harrison’s and Adelaide Melody bands. In newspaper advertising at the time one of the main attractions of the Garden party was a ‘Ladies Face Competition’ with the prize announced as an ‘engagement in the new Irish film, ‘Irish Destiny’ for the winners’. It was a gamble for the novice film producer but the publicity of both the competition and the subsequent reporting, including photographs of the winner elevated the film from an amateur production to an attempt to create a fledgling Irish film industry on the back of the expected success of the Irish Free State’s first venture into domestic movie production.

 

The Bray competition was won by sixteen-year-old Evelyn Henchie, the daughter of a Commercial traveller who lived on Palmerstown Road in Rathmines. The competition runner ups, Eileen Grennan from Bray and Miss Hogan from Dublin were offered smaller parts in the forthcoming production. ‘Irish Destiny’ was the brainchild of a Dublin Pharmacist and leading member of the Dublin Jewish community Dr. Issac Eppel. Eppel had begun to act as an amateur impresario by booking acts for the Rathmines Town Hall variety shows. He used the funds generated from that enterprise to purchase the Palace Cinema on Pearse Street.[1] The cinema was often used as a meeting centre for the Irish volunteers in the run up to the 1916 Easter Rising and as a meeting place for dissident and underground groups.

 

Eppel decided to not just show movies at his cinema but to make the first feature film to be entirely made in the new Irish Free State. In September 1925, Eppel’s Films Limited was registered in Dublin by Eppel with a capital of £5,000.[2] Eppel acting as both producer and script writer, gathered a crew and employed both professional and amateur silent actors to perform in his movie. He employed a veteran of the British silent screen, Preston born George Dewhurst to direct the film. However, whether there was a disagreement between Eppel and Dewhurst or that Dewhurst did not want his name associated with the picture, the opening credits state that the film was ‘written and directed by I. Eppel’


The script was written by Eppel and shown on screen through 120 text frames. Some of the other crew included Joe Rosenthal who was in charge of cinematography and Jack Plant who created the special effects. In September 1925, filming began with outdoor scenes filmed in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, which became the fictional town of Clonmore. When O’Hara arrives back in Clonmore by train, the railway station at Rathdrum doubles as Clonmore. Scenes are filmed around Glendalough and at the Powerscourt waterfall. The chase scenes were filmed near the Sugar Loaf mountain while the set piece of the film, the battle scene was filmed on the open spaces of the Wicklow hills. The cast and crew then travelled to film studios in London to film the interior scenes. Eppel then edited the movie in London against the deadline of having it ready to screen on the tenth anniversary of the Easter Rising.

According to the Movie website IMDB, the film’s plot was,

‘When the notorious "Black and Tans" arrive at his village of Clonmore, IRA man Denis O'Hara discovers a plan to raid a secret IRA meeting, and he races to Dublin to warn his colleagues. He reaches the city but is shot and captured by British soldiers. Denis is imprisoned in Kildare but manages to escape along with his fellow prisoners. Believing him to be dead, his mother goes blind from the shock, and his girlfriend Moira is abducted by fellow villager Beecher, who is in league with the Tans. Denis arrives back in Clonmore just in time to rescue Moira. With the burning of the Customs House in Dublin, the War of Independence is soon over and a truce is reached with the British.’

 

To give the film a sense of authenticity, Eppel added newsreel footage filmed in Dublin during the War of Independence including the destruction of the Custom House in Dublin and the burning of Cork. This was cut with recreations filmed around the city making it at times difficult for the viewer to differentiate between fact and fiction. When Eppel was finished editing and his silent movie was ready, it consisted of eight reels and was seventy-three minutes long. According to the Trinity College database,

 

‘There are graphic depictions of "occupying" British soldiers being attacked and shot dead, a spectacular mass jailbreak by republican internees and scenes of jubilant villagers celebrating the success of the "armed struggle". The film also features a parish priest openly condoning the violence and assuring grief-stricken parents that their son's valour is "God's will" and will bring "peace and happiness to Ireland". A racy sub-plot involves O'Hara's sweetheart, primary school teacher Moira Barry, being abducted and threatened with rape by a sinister gang of poteen distillers led by an "informer" and his malevolent dwarf sidekick.’

 

A more detailed description of the film taken from Irish Destiny shows that it was set during the War of Independence and up to the Anglo-Irish Truce of 1920- 21. At the heart of the film is the love affair of Denis O'Hara and his fiancée, schoolteacher Moira Barry. The film scenes are interwoven with incidents from the war shown through newsreel material including the burning of Cork City[3] and of the Customs House[4], and the mass escape from the Curragh Camp[5]. In the peaceful village of Clonmore, Black and Tans arrive to terrorise the people. O’Hara’s mother is badly affected by these disturbances. Her eyesight begins to fail from the shock and in reaction to the unfolding events in the country, her son decides to join the IRA and is handed a weapon. Following an ambush of a troop convoy by the IRA, an important communique is found on one of the officers. This is the major battle scene and with a sense of reality it portrayed casualties on both sides. The battle is depicted as a David v Goliath attack.  The intertitle[6] states,

‘at dawn, a small number of volunteers with only a few rifles and shotguns, prepare to attack lorries of powerfully equipped and numerically superior forces of military and Black & Tans.’



The films showed the IRA is numbered at thirteen and they take on three tenders of British forces with approximately fifteen men on each, a total of forty five men. As the battle progresses, the British casualty numbers increase and eventually the survivors climb onto one tender abandoning the other two. This indicates thirty casualties on the British side. In this attack and a subsequent raid on an abandoned house the IRA Volunteers were using there were two IRA casualties. To lend sympathy to the Irish cause in the film, the Black and Tans abandoned the dying and wounded as they fled, while the IRA are seen picking up both of their casualties and removing them from the battlefield.

 

O’Hara is asked by Captain Kelly, the commandant of the Clonmore Battalion, IRA to take the information to the IRA's Dublin headquarters. He gets a horse from the jarvey’s stable but before setting off he sees Moira and tells her why he needs to go to Dublin. After he leaves, Moira's horse is startled by a shot, and O’Hara gallops to catch the trap. Also on the scene is Beecher, leader of a gang of poteen-makers based at the Haunted Mill. Beecher offers to look after Moira, but when she recovers, he tries to molest her. He becomes suspicious of Denis' activities. Arriving at the 'Meeting of the Waters', Denis rests his horse, but he is spotted by a British army sentry on the bridge who opens fire and this alerts a British army motorcyclist. During the chase, Denis shoots the soldier on the roadway and steals his motorbike, which he uses to get to Dublin. The film footage includes a camera mounted on a van filming the following motorcycle through the Dublin streets. As he is driving down O'Connell St, Denis believes he is being followed. At the IRA headquarters, Vaughan's Hotel, Parnell Square, Denis delivers the message to an intelligence officer.

 

However, the Black and Tans arrive outside on the Square, having been tipped off by Beecher, and Denis is shot and captured. His parents and others, including Captain Kelly, believe he is dead, but he is being cared for in a hospital. A sympathetic nurse smuggles out a message[7], and when he recovers, he is imprisoned at the Curragh Detention Camp. There, in September 1921, Denis, along with 200 other prisoners, escape from custody. Despite a search, including by aircraft shown through a newsreel footage the aircraft flying in formation, Denis remains free. He is given help by an old woman, and eventually finds his way to Shanahan’s, where he finds Kitty, the jarvey's daughter. He enquires about Moira, who has gone by car with Beecher who falsely tells her that there is a wounded IRA Volunteer on the road needing attention. When he reaches the Mill, Beecher stops the car and violently drags the protesting Moira into the Mill. Meanwhile, Denis and Kitty get on a horse and give chase. In the Mill, Moira is tied to a pillar and is drunkenly assaulted by Beecher and the dwarf poteen-maker, as Beecher accuses her of providing information about the Tans to the IRA. A dispute breaks out between Beecher and the dwarf which leads to Beecher shooting the dwarf dead. As a result of the shooting the Mill is accidentally set alight. Denis and Kitty arrive at the Mill and Denis becomes locked in struggle with Beecher, whom he subdues. He frees Moira as the flames engulf the Mill and Denis and Moira join Kitty in safety outside, as the Mill burns. Peace descends on Clonmore with the Anglo-Irish Truce. People dance on the roadway, while in Dublin crowds celebrate the coming of peace. Though blind by now as a result of the nervousness induced by the trauma of her son’s actions, Mrs O'Hara is happy to have her son home, where he arrives with Moira, as his father and the local priest give their support

 

There was little surprise that the film was banned by the British censorship board but Eppel believed that much needed revenue to recoup his investment would be generated by the Irish audiences’ response being publicised in the United States. The novelty of the first Irish film was expected to play well with the Irish diaspora across the United States. On March 24th 1926 the film was premiered to cinema owners and managers at the Metropole Cinema on Dublin’s O’Connell Street, nest door to the iconic GPO. Also in attendance was much of the cast including the extras, many of whom were IRA men who had seen action during previous decade. Once seen, the cinema managers or owners would then bid on which cinema would get the public premiere and the all-important first run. After the screening the owners of the Corinthian Cinema on Aston Quay signed what was described as ‘the highest price paid for a film in Ireland’. On April 3rd 1926, the film opened in the Corinthian.

 

This was the opening credits of the film, listing the characters and the actors.

 


The new Irish State was emerging from a war of independence with Britain and struggled through a violent and vicious civil war and any movie that would have been seen as perhaps re-opening some of those wounds was always going to be controversial. There was a genuine fear of the threats of violence against those involved with the film. As a result, many of those who appeared in the film did so by using pseudonyms but appeared with the real names in Irish newspaper advertisements. The actual cast were,

Paddy Dunne Cullinan as Denis O'Hara. This was Cullinan’s only film credit. He was employed for the role primarily for his horsemanship. He had been a popular sportsman in Ireland especially in the equine business. He was a well-known point to point trainer and jockey and a number of his horses would go onto win some of the racing world’s biggest races including the Irish Grand National. He was a leading polo player in Dublin’s Phoenix Park and while on holidays in Europe discovered winter sports including skiing and bobsledding.

 

Frances McNamara as Moira Barry, a schoolteacher and Denis' fiancée. This was Ms. McNamara’s only screen credit.

 

Daisy Campbell as Mrs. O'Hara, Denis' mother. Ms. Campbell was an English actress, popular on the London Theatre scene, who had been in a number of silent pictures prior to her role in Irish Destiny. She was well known for portraying aristocratic white-haired matrons and Lady’s. Her final film role would be as Mrs McPhillips in the film ‘The Informer’ based on Liam O’Flaherty’s work about an IRA informer. But she was not the first choice to play the role.

 

Originally cast as Mrs. O’Hara was Sarah Allgood, who had been the first Irish voice to be heard on radio in the British Isles appearing on the forerunner of BBC Radio, 2LO. On the day before Eppel showed his film to the assembled cinema owners in Dublin, he appeared in the Dublin District Court before Justice Piggott. He was being sued by Allgood under her married name Sarah Benson for a breach of contract as Eppel had agreed to employ her for two periods of six days each, six in Ireland and six in the London studios at a rate of four guineas per day. But when she arrived in Greystones in September to begin filming, Eppel told her that she looked too young to play the part of the mother. She told Eppel that she had played motherly roles in the past and said ‘if you give me the part, I will give you the emotions you want’ but Eppel said no and Allgood retuned to London. She won her case and was awarded £29 8s.

 

But Allgood wasn’t the only one to take Eppel to court. A year after her case was heard, another case was taken against Eppel. John Byrne, a horse and jarvey owner of Queensboro Road, Bray took a case against Eppel for the non-payment of £30 for the hire of his horse and cart. He claimed that he had to be on call for a full month but would only be used when weather was permitting and this was only fourteen days. He sought payment for the other days. He said in court that his pony and trap was used in the ‘runaway scene’ and that he would have to travel to the Sugar Loaf, Greystones or Shankill depending on the filming schedule. He was awarded £14 by Justice Davitt at the Dublin Circuit Court.

 

Clifford Pembroke as Mr. O'Hara, Denis' father. He was born Thomas Jones Williams in Pembrokeshire, Wales in 1867 and appeared in over a dozen British silent films. He died in London aged sixty-five, his last film was The Woman from China in 1930, written by George Dewhurst who directed Irish Destiny.

 

Brian Magowan as Gilbert Beecher, a gang leader of the poteen-makers. McGowan appeared in a number of the early Irish located silent films with Fred O’Donovan including Knocknagow and Willie Reilly and his Colleen Bawn.

 

Cathal McGarvey as Shanahan, a jarvey. McGarvey was a well-known and popular veteran Dublin entertainer known for his performances on stage at the Queens Theatre. In 1924, he had been the beneficiary of a celebration night at the Queens and appearing with him on stage was the aforementioned Sarah Allgood and the newspapers reported that a highlight of the show was his music and comedy duets with Jimmy O’Dea. He also recorded for the Gaelic League with future Irish president Douglas Hyde. His fame from the film would be short lived as he passed away in November 1927.

 

Evelyn Henchie as Kitty, Shanahan's daughter. Evelyn, having won the competition in Bray, was 16 years old when the film was made, only appears in outdoor scenes, because these were filmed in Ireland. She was not allowed to travel to London where the interiors were shot in a studio.[8] Later Evelyn would marry Sir Raymond Grace and become known as Lady Evelyn Grace, living in Dublin splendour on Sussex Road, off Leeson Street in Dublin. She would become well known as a dog breeder and exhibitor of pedigree bull terriers.

 

In 1927, when the movie opened in New York, the Evening Independent reported on April 20th that,

‘Peggy O’Rorke, the young Irish woman who plays the leading part in ‘Irish Destiny’, the all-Irish film play will arrive in New York in June and it is considered likely she will appear in pictures in this country. She will also make personal appearances with the film, as it is shown in theatres throughout the country. ‘

 

While Eppel was in the United States promoting his movie, his Palace Cinema on Pearse Street[9] was badly damaged by fire. In a telegram from New York, he immediately informed his sister Olga Weiner, who had been running the cinema in his absence, that he intended to rebuild and refurbish the cinema and reopen it under its original name ‘The Ancient Concert Rooms’.

 

A letter appeared in The Irish Times on October 1st 1984 from Evelyn reminisced about the making of Irish Destiny and wondered, "Does anyone else remember?" The letter stirred some memories, but all copies of the film were believed to be lost. And that was almost the end of the matter until, a few years later, by truly serendipitous coincidence, two original colour posters advertising the film were found under linoleum during a house renovation in Ringsend, Dublin.

 

The Irish Film Archive triggered a painstaking worldwide search of film archives on the remote chance that a copy might have survived somewhere. Then Patrick Sheehan, who worked in the Library of Congress, made his remarkable discovery, a copy of the film, lodged there for copyright purposes.


Kit O'Malley as Captain Kelly, commandant, Clonmore Battalion, IRA. O’Malley acted also as a consultant on the movie as well as acting in it. 'Kit' O'Malley had been Adjutant in the Dublin Brigade of the IRA during the War of Independence and he also assisted in directing the battle scenes in the film.

 

Val Vousden as the Catholic Priest. Carlow born Bill McNevin had a long career on stage, radio and in films. In 1914 while travelling in a repertory company in England he joined the British army during World War One and saw action of the green fields of France.[10]

 

Tom Flood as Intelligence Officer, IRA headquarters. He was involved on the attack on the Custom House. Tom Flood was arrested at the Custom House while is brother Eddie who was also on the raid, escaped. It is said Tom was jailed in Mountjoy and sentenced to death. Only to be reprieved first by appendicitis and then the Truce.

(The unusual story of Tom Flood can be found here https://www.customhousecommemoration.com/2018/04/21/mystery-tom-flood-harry-houdini-custom-house-custom-house-burning/ )

 

Tom Flood, with the red star above his head, pictured several times 
after his arrest outside the Custom House

 Two of Eppel’s sons also appeared in the film as extras. Derek Eppel as Schoolboy, while Simon Eppel portrayed a man with cigar at Vaughan's Hotel.

 

The film, despite its pre publicity did not wow the critics. The Irish Independent reported on that day after it had been shown to Cinema owners and newspaper reporters that,

‘What is known an s a trade show; of the film ‘Irish Destiny’ was given ay the Metropole today. The house was crowded and included many of the men who formed the backbone of the old pre-truce Volunteer force who carried on the great struggle against Great Britain. Frankly, we were not impressed by the production. It has, however, several good points but it has bad ones as well. Opinion will very likely differ on those matters.

To begin with, if we exclude what we might describe as the Hollywood atmosphere which surrounds part of it, the film is an advance from the point of view of film production on anything attempted here so far. The photography leaves nothing to be desired, the light is good, the scenery quite pleasing and with the exception of the work of one of the artistes, the hero, torn between love and duty, is a tribute to Irish talent and is creditable to those who took part.

 

They are worthy of a better story, a more suitable groundwork, something which would bring out more and, in a manner, which would appeal to those who lived through the trying period, the real spirit of those times, with particular relation to the work of the Volunteers. There is nothing derogatory said of them, but there is little either that is forceful or satisfying. What outsiders will think about it will probably be quite different. We see a disconnected story. People in America may consider it all right but as an insight into the past it is a pity that something better could not be put upon the record.

 

There are clashes in arms which are vivid enough and incidents which are week. The Customs House burning is amongst the latter. It would probably be difficult to reconstruct scenes to depict those happenings and to have them brought out with more thoroughness, is probably expecting too much. We are given the impression of what the agony of the struggle meant in the homes of the people, to the mothers whose sons were fighting and to the men themselves as well. This is all right and is well acted by Daisy Campbell as the mother, Clifford Pembroke as the father and Val Vousden as the parish priest. Cathal McGarvey as the jarvey is suited to the part and Peggy O’Rourke and Una Shields, the latter as the heroine cover themselves well. ‘Kit O’Malley’, the IRA Commandant and Denis O’Shea, the hero, are also good. Bryan McGowan as the poteen maker and treacherous character, handles his role skilfully but the scene in his den appears to strike a foreign note so as this country is concerned.

 

We are hurried through the hectic period from 1916 to 1921 in whirlwind fashion. We see Black and Tans, military tanks, armoured cars and we get glimpses of war. Sections of the audience applauded. British arms were answered with hisses and we came away unconvinced by the story or the theme.’

It must be remembered that for many cinema goers accustomed to US and British made movies, the views of an Irish countryside were a novelty. For those viewing the film in rural Ireland, who had often read or heard about the importance of Vaughan’s Hotel to the Michael Collins led war, would have been exited to see action filmed outside the Parnell Square location. The use of actual newsreel film confused the supposed timeline of the film. There was some confusion in the film about its exact periodisation in 1921. While the escape from the Curragh Camp occurred on 9 September 1921, it appears in the film’s timeline to be followed by the Anglo-Irish Truce, which came into effect on 11 July 1921, two months earlier. The impression one is left with it is that it is the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 which ends the film.

 

The other point made by the Irish Independent was scene filmed in the poteen makers disused mill headquarters. He had kidnapped the heroine, O’Hara’s girlfriend and his actions intimate that she is about to be raped. The fact that a number of criminals are there would seem to suggest that she was going to be gang raped and when one of the criminals developed a conscience, he was killed by the villain. She is tied up in a scene reminiscent of a BDSM scene from the modern era. The scene itself seems gratuitous and unnecessary to the plotline, as the kidnapping alone would send the hero into action to save his girl. There was also criticism from the Catholic Church of these scenes especially as a Parish priest played a central role in the film, although his acceptance of IRA violence was subsequently called into question when it was first shown in cut form in Britain.

 

On the front cover of Peter Cotterill’s book ‘The War for Ireland 1913 -1923’ is a photograph that is credited as,

‘This remarkable photograph, taken on 14 October 1920 by 15-year-old John J. Hogan, an apprentice photographer, is of British intelligence officer, Lt Gilbert Arthur Price RTR, only seconds before he was killed in a gun battle with the IRA during a raid on the Republican Outfitters in Talbot Street, Dublin. IRA leader Seán Treacy was also killed during this incident.’


The same photograph captioned ‘14 October 1920 Lieutenant Price, British intelligence officer, opens fire on Sean Treacy in Talbot Street, Dublin’ appears accompanied by an article on the January 1919 Soloheadbeg ambush in the Spring 1997 issue of History Ireland.[11] The photograph while it was taken by Hogan, who would later become the Chief Photographer at the Irish Independent, it was not from events in 1920 but a photograph of Paddy Dunne Cullinan acting out the seen where he fires on the ‘Black and Tans’ who attempt to arrest him outside Vaughan’s Hotel.


 In Britain, Irish Destiny achieved the dubious distinction of being one of only five films banned in 1926, another was the Russian produced Battleship Potemkin. In 2012 Battleship Potemkin was named by the British Film Institute as the eleventh greatest film of all time. Irish Destiny was cut by almost five minutes including much of the centrepiece battle scene and was released under the title An Irish Mother, but it flopped at the box office. Part of the problem for Eppel was that movie technologies were moving faster than distribution of his film, making his amateurish production look poor in relation to US imports. British audiences and audiences in general did not care about its uniqueness as the first domestically produced film. The story, acting and photography ranked higher in the minds of those paying in at the box office. In America, where Eppel travelled to, to promote the film, it received a snooty review in the New York Times, a newspaper with a fearsome reputation for making or breaking movies published on March 29th, 1927, under the headline "Dublin Fighting".

 

The critic noted that the film "was presented at Daly's Theatre[12] last evening to an audience composed largely of persons of Irish birth or extraction" and described the acting and direction as "very amateurish" and the photography as "deficient". But the audience didn't give a hoot. "The scenes of Irish Destiny elicited constant waves of applause. The spectators manifested their enthusiasm when the Black and Tans fell, and they hissed, as in the days of old melodrama, when a Black and Tan bullet struck an Irish Volunteer". The film was shown at Daly’s for five weeks. When it was released in Britain under the title ‘An Irish Mother’ the Daily Sketch said of the film,

‘There is freshness as well as the charm of naivete about this Irish contribution to the screen, albeit it would be useless to deny that the firstling has faults which would or should not be found in the output of more experienced producers.’

It was re-released in Ireland in 1927 with extra scenes of newsreel footage added and it continued to sell out cinemas but despite its popularity in Irish, audiences in Ireland alone would not return Eppel’s investment on the movie. The English premiere of the edited version of Irish Destiny, retitled An Irish Mother, took place on October 27th 1927 in Newcastle. The Kinematograph Weekly reported,

‘An Irish Mother The premier presentation in England of Mr. Eppel's Irish-made picture, "An Irish Mother." took place on October 27 at the Futurist, Newcastle, where an excellent attendance was addressed by Walter C. Scott. chairman of the North Western branch of the C.E.A. who briefly welcomed this Irish production to the screen. Before the picture a prologue was presented, showing "Mother Machree " seated at her spinning wheel, whilst an unseen vocalist sang the song of the film.’


On December 1st 1927, it opened in two picture houses in Liverpool. The project drove Dr Eppel to the brink of financial ruin and he emigrated to England in 1928, having sold the Palace Cinema to his brother and brother-in-law and the rights to his film to a European production company[1]. His Eppel Film Company had debts of £13,000 when he met with creditors at his solicitor’s office[2]. His marriage was also troubled and he moved alone to England where he resumed practice as a GP, never making another film although the trade papers reported that he had been appointed in April 1929 as the Four Northern Counties representative of the British Talking Pictures Company.  Before he left Ireland in 1928, Eppel found himself in Court once again in relation to his movie. He appeared before the Irish Supreme Court as a case reached the top court for a decision. He sued Ernest Tahon of Brussels for unpaid instalments of £500. The court awarded £375 to Eppel when the objection to a Tahon affidavit being taken by an English commissioner was rejected. Eppel died in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1942. By then, Irish Destiny was already long forgotten. That was until the copy used in New York theatres was found in the film archive.



On December 11th 1993 at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, the complete restored copy from the Library of Congress was screened at this invite only event accompanied by a new score written for the film by Michael Ó Suilleabhain. 'Mother Machree' and 'Danny Boy' were recommended as musical accompaniments on the film itself when it was first released. The event was attended by President Mary Robinson. Alas the woman who lit the spark to find a copy of the film Evelyn Grace (Henchie) died the previous March.

 

The National Concert Hall is once again the venue for a special screening in 2006, the eve of St Patrick's Day. The score was again performed by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, together with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra conducted by Prionnsías Ó Duinn. It was described in the Evening Herald, ‘It is an intriguing aide-memoire for a society reflecting on the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising’.[15]

 



[[1] The Bioscope, June 20th 1928

[2] The Bioscope March 8th 19281] Later to become the Academy Cinema and Theatre

[2] September 10th 1925, The Bioscope

[3] December 11th 1920

[4] May 25th 1921

[5] September 9th 1921

[6] An intertitle is the subtitle screen in a silent movie

[7] The message is never seen reaching its intended recipient, Moira.

[8] IMDB

[9] Originally known as Great Brunswick Street, the street was renamed after the executed 1916 leader Patrick Pearse in 1925

[10] From his autobiography ‘Val Vousden's Caravan.’

[11] Page 43

[12] New York

[13] The Bioscope, June 20th 1928

[14] The Bioscope March 8th 1928

[15] Irish Times March 11th 2006

 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Thirst For Freedom Free Zoom Lecture, March 24th 2021

On Wednesday March 24th @ 8pm join Trasna na Tire and historian Eddie Bohan as he journey's through his new book 'Thirst For Freedom'. This is the story of the role of pubs, publicans and their staff in the role of Irish independence. Without the Pubs of Ireland, we could still be part of the British Empire. 

The lecture is free via zoom, sign up HERE


Signed copies of the book 'Thirst For Freedom' are available HERE





Sunday, March 14, 2021

Pictures of the Actual Equipment & Aerials used by the 1916 Rebels to Broadcast to the World

 

In the early 1990’s I read Maurice Gorham’s book ’40 Years of Irish Radio’ and after a couple of pages I came across the startling discovery for me that the rebels during the 1916 Easter Rising ‘broadcast to the world’. I thought,

‘why are we not celebrating this unique historical fact more?’

I began to research the subject slowly to find out if it was, as some history books put it ‘a happenchance event’ or that it could not be really described as a radio station as no one had heard these broadcasts. In an old Jackdaw publication from the 1970’s, that my parents had bought me as a birthday present’ was many facsimiles of documents relating to the Rising and one of those was a signed order from James Connolly ‘to protect our wireless station’.

For the next twenty-five years when work and family time allowed me, I continued to research the subject and the picture emerged of a truly historical event, that Ireland became the first nation in the world to be declared by radio. The culmination of that research was my 2016 book ‘Rebel Radio’ published by Kilmainham Tales Teo. It sold extremely well, and it led to the commemoration of the rebel broadcasts erected at the site of station, now the Grand Central Bar on the corner of O’Connell Street and Middle Abbey Street.

Since the publication more information has come to light of both the scope and success of the station and I want to share some of it here with more appearing in the next edition of the book due out in 2022.

First are pictures of the actual aerials and equipment that was used by rebels in 1916 and taken in the rooms that the rebels seized in April 1916. These pictures were taken when the Irish School of Wireless Telegraphy originally opened in March 1913 as a subsidiary of the Northern Wireless School, that was based at 47 Market Street, Manchester. Photographed sitting at the table in front of the receiver in the station is the School’s chief instructor when it opened A. P. Corcoran, a former Naval Marconi wireless officer. We know it is the equipment used by the rebels as the School was closed in 1914 by the British authorities under the Defense of the Realm Act at the beginning of the First World War.

AP Corcoran behind the desk in the Wireless School on the top floor of Reis's Chambers
The aerials on the roof of Reis's Chambers. Taken down after the enforced closure at the beginning of the First World War. They were left on the roof and partially re-erected by the rebels including John Blimey O'Connor and Fergus O'Kelly to allow the rebel broadcasts. 


 In the aftermath of the Rising and Reis’s Chambers completely destroyed where the rebels had broadcast from, the Marconi Company who had leased the equipment to station owner Phillip Keston Turner (later to be one half of the duo who invented Hi Fi), claimed for damages for the loss of the equipment used to run the Wireless School.





For any radio stations listeners as a valuable commodity. In the book we already discovered that the rebel station was heard by the wireless operator on board HMS Adventure, the journalist Sidney Cave and an amateur wireless operator in Wales. This letter that appeared in the Irish Times in March 1961 written by J G Reid, reveals that the station’s broadcasts were also picked up by the wireless operators at the Naval wireless station in Skerries.

(c) 1916 Easter Rising Coach Tour 2021


Friday, February 12, 2021

The Tenth Anniversary of the Easter Rising on 2RN in 1926


The tenth anniversary of the Easter Rising would have been ideally commemorated on the new radio service 2RN in Ireland but the opportunity was missed. The new station had begun broadcasting on January 1st 1926. The new service, while in pole position to bring takes of the Rising to a wider audience was hampered by two rules. Firstly, the station director Seamus Clandillon was urged by the Government to avoid any political discussions on the airwaves and with the bitterness of the Civil War still fresh in the minds of many, discussions on the Easter Rising was not about to be allowed rock the boat. 


Some of those who had taken part in the Rising did appear on air over the Easter period 1926 but they were confined to performing musical items. The second problem for 2RN was that for much of Easter weekend 1926 they were off the air. As part of their license from the Government the station was silent on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The rest of the weekend Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday was devoted to orchestral and classical music performed live in the 2RN studios on Little Denmark Street. On Saturday the station was on air for just three hours 7.30pm to 10.30pm with the following schedule,

7.30—German Lesson

7.45—Irish Talk

8. 0—Station Orchestra. 8.20—Songs—Mr. A. J. O'Farrell (Baritone). 

8 30—Organ Recital from St. Patrick's Cathedral

9. 0 — Songs Miss Edie O'Dwyer (Soprano). 

9.10 — Recital Mr. Frank Fay and Party. 

9.40  - Station Orchestra. 

9.50 — Songs—Mr. A. J. O’Farrell. 

10.0—Weather Forecast. 

10.01-10.30 - Choir and Orchestra Station Mr. Joseph O'Neill (Tenor).

Closedown

 

While on the Sunday there was only two hours broadcast which was entirely made up of music from the Army Band conducted by Colonel Braise. Easter Monday's programmes were again on air for three hours from 7.30 with the entire schedule presented by the Gaelic League, whose then President Douglas Hyde had been the first voice on the new station the previous January. 


On the streets, there were parades and commemorations which were widely reported in the newspapers but the new 2RN did not even have a news service to report on the 1916 events. As the years moved on from the iconic events of 1916, Irish radio and later television extensively covered the events that took place to commemorate the Rising but in 1926, the new medium of radio did not feature. 


Sunday, February 7, 2021

2020 SUCKED!! THANK GOD FOR 2021

 


For reasons that will probably become clearer shortly, I have recently been attending counselling and one of the ‘tricks’ she encouraged me to follow was to write down all the negatives in my life and then find the positives within them and write them in a separate column. This is the result, I hope it helps someone else, even a little bit.

 

January 1st 2020 began like most other New Years with the fervent hope that we would have a good year. I was happily working away as a pub day manager in one of Dublin’s finest establishments, change was on the horizon as I reduced my workload there and began to focus more on my hobby, that was now paying, lecturing on aspects of Irish history. There was so much to look forward to. In March, I was invited on a funded trip to Washington DC to lecture the following October and my youngest daughter was going to go with me. In early March we sat down to plan the trip, flights, accommodation and events including a visit to the home my sporting hero’s the Washington Redskins.  Two weeks later, some new words were in our vocabulary Covid 19, self-isolation and lockdown. Paddy’s Day came and went but I was suddenly feeling unwell. I just had a cold and an irritating cough, I told myself repeatedly. It got progressively worse and two weeks later on a bright March morning, I was being wheeled out of the house by an ambulance crew in full PPE, much to the upset of my eighty-year-old mother. More new words, low blood oxygen level, temperature spikes, ICU. I had Coronavirus and I was ill, very ill.

 

I spent those first few agonising days in St. Vincent’s hospital, in an out of consciousness, well aware from the constant news reporting that so many were going into hospital and not coming out. I rang my children to reassure them I was OK, firmly believing that it would be the last time I would hear their voices. It was a dark time. Medical care was delivered through a glass window, communication by phone, this was no ordinary hospital stay. After pumping me full of drugs I turned a corner, the first real positive. As I was moved from ICU to an isolation room, the scariest moment happened. As an orderly in a full hazmat suit wheeled my gurney down those long plain painted hallways, a gentleman, about twelve feet in front, blew a whistle and everyone darted out of the hallways into doorways as I passed. ‘Unclean’ was the overriding feeling but the need for caution overrode everything. Another ambulance ride and a transfer to St Michaels Hospital in Dun Laoghaire was a step in the right direction. I never knew this wonderful hospital existed. The care was outstanding. I felt human again. The food was magnificent not least because my appetite and taste were back. I should have put up a TripAdvisor post to signpost their wonderful facility. Another positive as I was wheelchaired out to be collected by my sister, the feeling of wind and a light shower on my face was truly a positive.

 

After two weeks, I was home, still required to self-isolate, the great news was that despite the fact that she was the only person in the house with me, my mother never caught the ‘bug’. The pub was closed, the university was closed and I was the recipient of another new term ‘the Government Covid payment’. I was now out walking every day, enjoying the fresh air and occasional summer sunshine. I built up enough strength to for the first time run (truthfully a fast walk) the Women’s Mini Marathon with my family to raise funds for the Blackrock Hospice and yes, I know I’m a man but hey it’s 2020. That was a huge milestone. Then one Sunday evening as we were conducting our family Zoom quiz (yes, another new word in our vocabulary ‘Zoom’), I was rocked to the core when I was told my friend Declan, a year older than me had been found dead. He was the first person I asked to be best man at my wedding but he turned it down simply because he hated priests. But he did enjoy the reception. We were Rovers fans together travelling Ireland on the supporters’ bus, away days in Bray, no match, just a pub crawl. A road trip to London to see the first ever WWE event held this side of the Atlantic now we lined the avenue outside Mount Jerome as the hearse passed, we all popped open a can of beer and toasted his memory. It created a positive memory from a sad day. Funerals are a centrepiece of grief in Ireland, cathartic, but Covid dehumanised it, robbed the dignity of a poignant farewell, left us feeling guilty. At least the small socially distant tribute outside for Declan was a far cry from Ronan O’Rahilly’s funeral, a friend and fellow free radio advocate, whose coffin sat alone in a country church with just a priest and a web link to embrace the grief of others. It was perhaps a jolt into the reality that Covid was having in our so called normal daily lives. 

 

The pub briefly reopened under strict restrictions. It was OK but it was tough dealing with idiots who thought they knew better and refused to follow the rules. I had been forty years working in pubs and during this period and for the very first time one afternoon, I was bitten by a drunken female customer, who did not like being told that she was not being allowed in. Another trip to St Vincent’s A&E for treatment, a tetanus shot and scarily, a HIV test. I did not realise how badly that would rock me not least the mental trauma of finding myself going back through the doors of that A&E.

 

On the positive side, a book I had written was published in the strangest of times but I am very proud of it, as it brought my two loves, pubs and history together and thanks to the publishers they found a perfect title ‘Thirst for Freedom’. It tells, for the first time, the story of the role of pubs, bar staff and alcohol in the fight for Irish Independence.

 

Then the devastating news that my Uncle in New York was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was a fine hard-working man, a true humanitarian and he helped me and my family so much. When our own pub suffered badly after the financial crash, he rode in like the ‘Knight in Shining Armour’ and provided financial help not as a loan but as a gift. The gift wasn’t to keep the pub open but to relieve the stress of raising a young family at the time. His death hit me like a rock and to make matters worse because of Covid, I couldn’t fly over to pay my respects. A webcam of the mass was how we said our goodbyes, sanitized and impersonal. When his son died in the line of duty with the NY Fire department, I made a day trip to the big Apple to be there to say my farewells. How times had changed so dramatically.

 

Surely the year could get no worse. I was sorely mistaken. After feeling a bit below par and a visit to my doctor, I was back at Vincent’s hospital to be diagnosed with long Covid. Once again, the huge positive here is the care, the professionalism and the dedication of those frontline workers who have dragged us through this swamp of pain to firmer ground. I found myself back out to St Michaels for pulmonary rehab, the torture chamber of exercise. The positives are that my lungs are getting better, the lack of ‘umpf’ was lifting, I realised I wasn’t alone and the phycologist was making me write these lists of positives and negatives.

 

In 1992, I married the most beautiful lady in the world. We had three wonderful children together but as a famous Princess once pointed out, there was someone else in the marriage. She had the cruellest disease of all, she alas had a dependence on alcohol and it took her life. I am heartbroken, words will not reach this page to describe that pain and even though we separated some years ago, we never divorced. The hardest part was not being able to say a proper goodbye and thank her for what she had done in her short but amazing forty-nine years. She studied hard part time at Maynooth and offered her experience and knowledge learned to help children less fortunate than ours and single mothers struggling after giving birth. She spent hours in the cells of Pearse Street Garda station soothing the panic of often homeless children, who had been arrested for vagrancy and petty thefts.  But her demons got the better of her body and she slipped from this mortal earth.

 

The positives of that part of the story are those three wonderful strong children. I am so proud of them, how they stuck together in difficult times, there for each other, caring and wanting to do the right thing. They are her legacy and she would be proud. It gave me enormous relief that all their partners, who care for them, were there by their sides, offered support and comfort. Now for the real positive of his tale of woe for 2020, I am the proudest father of three gay children, yes, all three. I’m probably the only father in Ireland that can attest to that wonderful claim. They are in great relationships and even if they don’t last, their partners support during my three’s mothers passing, will live long in my memory. I believe in the old adage of live and let live but some narrow minded people have belittled me for admitting to three gay children, their pathetic insults do little justice to their education or background. One woman who I had got to know through a social media app during the lockdown was very happy to converse with me for almost three months but as soon as I revealed that my three wonderful children were gay. She reacted with,

‘is there something wrong with you?’ and end of conversation.

 

The Redskins, as a positive reinforcement of inclusivity, dropped the name and became the Washington Football Team, slowly moving with the times and into the playoffs. As I look at a different person in the mirror, yet it’s me, we have all lost in 2020, personally, emotionally, financially, physically, mentally and humanity is not the same anymore, the one important positive I will leave you with and perhaps the reason I have put these words down, is my tree looks the same as it did in 2019 and it will once again in 2021, the constant that life goes on, the fight must remain and our faith in our fellow Irishman or woman must and should stay strong.