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Saturday 25 February 2017

Colourful take on the Rising

A new documentary series paints a vivid picture of Ireland's struggle for independence using colourisation.

Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Edward Carson addresses unionist supporters. It was the militancy of the Ulster Volunteers that led to the foundation of the Irish Volunteers.
Edward Carson addresses unionist supporters. It was the militancy of the Ulster Volunteers that led to the foundation of the Irish Volunteers.
A group of children with a baby playing in the tenements before the Easter Rising. During this period, Dublin had some of the worst slums in Europe.
Redmond addresses a group of party supporters from the back of a car.
Molly Childers and Mary Spring Rice travel with a shipment of arms on board the Asgard in 1914. Some of the weapons, which arrived in Howth, were used in the Rising.
The Irish Citizens Army assembles outside Liberty Hall in 1914 under the banner “We serve neither King nor Kaiser”. Led by James Connolly, they were to play a crucial role in the Easter Rising and the occupation of the GPO.
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, the Fenian leader, on his deathbed. His funeral became a rallying point for militant nationalists, and was addressed by Padraig Pearse.
A group of National Volunteer officers at the Court House in Waterford, April 1915. They were part of the majority who sided with the Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond after the Irish Volunteers split in 1914.
Roger Casement, who had been caught trying to smuggle arms into Ireland at Banna Strand in Kerry, is led from court during his trial in London. He was executed on August 3, 1916, after his conviction for treason.

If you took away the guns, the scene could look like a leisurely summer afternoon cruise. But Molly Childers and Mary Spring Rice were part of a crew carrying a massive shipment of arms bound for Howth and the Irish Volunteers.

Some of the 900 rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition from Germany, brought into Howth by Erskine Childers and his crew, were later to be used in the Easter Rising. This historic photo on board the Asgard is one of the many images and clips of newsreel footage that have been colourised for a two-part series that will start on TV3 tomorrow evening - Revolution in Colour.

Filmmaker Martin Dwan has used techniques seen in the popular documentary series World War II in HD Colour to bring the Irish revolutionary period to life for the first time.

"When I saw the WWII series, I was blown away, and I thought we could do the same for the Irish War of Independence," says Dwan.

With restored newsreel footage and photographs from the period, colourisation presents viewers with a life-like picture of the era in a way that black and white never could. The film has been cleaned up to take out scratches in the frames and has been transformed into Higher Definition.

The viewer is right there in the squalid tenement buildings of Dublin with the muddied children in the run-up to the Rising, and the image of the dying Fenian leader Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa is immediate and vivid.

When Eamon De Valera speaks at a rally in a piece of newsreel footage, the picture is as clear as that of a modern news report.

"When you watch black and white, you are detached from the personalities and the history. There is something about colour that triggers some empathy with the people," says Dwan.

The programme, written by the Trinity College historian Eunan O'Halpin, tells the story of the struggle for independence from before the First World War to the Civil War. The parades and drills of men in uniform show how this was an era when politics became heavily militarised.

Thousands were signing up to fight for the British Army in the First World War, and unionists and nationalists had set up their own volunteer forces. All this military activity - the drilling and the marching - was to erupt into violence during the Easter Rising and the War of Independence that followed.

Dwan found the film footage in the British Pathé archive, with more clips from the British Film Institute and the Irish Film Archive. Most of the footage was originally shot to be shown in the cinema.

Coverage of the Rising relies on photographs, including the scene as Padraig Pearse was surrendering. There is a later clip of Collins sitting at a desk in a Sinn Féin fundraising film.

An early photo of James Connolly's Irish Citizen's Army assembled outside the old Liberty Hall gives an idea of what the scene must have been like on the first day of the Rising. The slogan "We serve neither King nor Kaiser" is emblazoned across the front of the building.

The programme shows how the military tactics during the War of Independence were markedly different to those used by rebels during the Rising. The IRA relied less on the occupation of buildings and pitched battles and more on the hit-and-run tactics of guerrilla warfare.

Through these methods they succeeded in making the country ungovernable, and this led to the Truce and the setting up of the Free State.

* The two-part series Revolution in Colour starts on TV3 tomorrow at 6pm

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