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Thursday 23 January 2020

Treasure trove of our heritage on film finds new home

Director Neil Jordan and Minister for the Arts, Jimmy Deenihan, in the Irish Film Archive in Temple Bar.
Director Neil Jordan and Minister for the Arts, Jimmy Deenihan, in the Irish Film Archive in Temple Bar.

Louise Hogan

FROM silent footage of a former Taoiseach, William T Cosgrave, looking awkward while in the garden with his mother, to images of firemen on manoeuvres in Dublin from 1897, a treasure trove of historic film has been given a new home.

Actress Saoirse Ronan fronted a campaign to fundraise for a new preservation centre for the Irish Film Archive.

The current space in Temple Bar, Dublin, was full to the brim with reels collected over more than 50 years. Now these will be stored at a new research centre, which is to be built on the NUI Maynooth campus.


And it is not just the work of the well-known film-makers that will be preserved. In amongst the 30,000 films and 10,000 tapes is amateur footage of family life gathered from dusty old trunks in attics, footage by foreign film-makers and old GAA clashes.

"Every time I finish a film they preserve a print of it," explained film-maker Neil Jordan at the launch.

"It is more a preservation of the print, so they are there if they ever want to show them again in the cinemas. It is brilliant for me, as otherwise I wouldn't have any copies for them."

Professor Philip Nolan, president of NUI Maynooth, said the amateur footage offered insights "into our culture, history and place in the world. It is a rich source for scholars."

Eve-Anne Cullinan, chair of the Irish Film Institute (IFI), said the collection had previously been described as an "attic" where you could happen upon unexpected treasures.

"What is fantastic is that those great films by Ireland's leading film-makers are in the collection -- but preserved right alongside are those amateur collections -- the newsreels, the ads," she said.

"It is not just a chronology of Irish film but a chronology of Ireland's story of stories at social, political and cultural levels throughout the years."

The oldest item in the archive dates from 1897. It was made by Alexandre Promio, who was an agent of the Lumiere Brothers.

Sunnita O'Flynn, the curator of the archive, explained: "They filmed in Belfast and on Sackville Street, Dublin -- now O'Connell Street -- and filmed on board the train from Belfast to Dublin, which is quite evocative footage."

"They filmed firemen's manoeuvres at the top of Grafton Street, which are very interesting. (These films) are not unique, though. When they (the film-makers) went into cities, they would contact local fire men to ask, 'Would you put on a manoeuvre?'"

The archive will retain its presence in Temple Bar and the additional centre will be built on the Maynooth campus at a cost of €530,000.

Around €141,000 of this was raised from the IFI through public donations and the remainder came in funding from the Irish Film Board, the Department of the Arts and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Irish Independent

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