Recalling the dawn of a stunning piece of Irish film

Credit: Dawn. Photos of original film by Michelle Cooper Galvin
Credit: Dawn. Photos of original film by Michelle Cooper Galvin


A LANDMARK movie filmed in Killarney and considered one of the most important pieces of Irish film history will be screened next week to mark the 75th anniversary of its release.

The Dawn, the brainchild of local entrepreneur, Thomas G Cooper, was filmed in and around Killarney in 1934 and 1935, and was the first length "talkie" filmed in Ireland. What makes the film all the more intriguing is the fact that all of the actors were amateur performers, as were many of the crew members. The script was also adapted by Thomas G Cooper with the assistance of Dr DA Moriarty and Donal O'Cahill, while Cooper also directed and produced the film.

And, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its release, on May 27, 1936, the Cooper family, whose ties to the film industry remain, through Killarney Cineplex, will screen the groundbreaking film on Monday, June 6, and Tuesday, June 7 next.

May 27, 1936, was a momentous day in the history of the fledging Irish State. Not only had a Killarney man witnessed his dreams come to fruition on the silver screen, Ireland's newly formed airline, Aer Lingus, made its maiden flight between Baldonnel Airfield in Dublin and Whitchurch in Bristol.

The Iolar six-seater aircraft used by Aer Lingus for that debut flight, subsequently met an unfortunate end — sold to an English company and believed shot down over the English Channel in 1941 — however, luckily for Killarney, The Dawn survived, and now has its place as probably the most unique movie ever filmed in this country.

Killarney already had a history of film-making before Thomas G Cooper took the bull by the horns and decided to make his own feature length production. Between 1911 and 1914, a New York-based company, The Kalen Film Company, made 28 films in and around the Killarney area, and while six or seven of these movies survive in the Irish Film Archive, The Dawn, by virtue of being a full length feature and a talkie, stands as a red letter piece of Irish film history.

The story behind The Dawn makes for fascinating reading. Thomas Cooper, owner of the local cinema and the Glebe Hotel, went to London and purchased film equipment, came back to Ireland, gathered a local cast and crew, and filmed the movie in and around Killarney, at locations instantly recognisable even today.

The film tells the story of a family wrongly accused of betraying their country during the Fenian Uprising of 1866. The story then advances three generations to the end of the first World War, with the family still ostracised by the community.

Tired of the way that they have been treated, one becomes a British cop, while the other drops out of society and remains isolated. When British troops invade the family's village, the policeman leaves his post to join the rebel IRA.

The family name is finally cleared, and later when the drop out dies, it is revealed he was a high-ranking IRA spy. The plot is intermingled with a love story between the main character and his sweetheart.

The Dawn features some well known local characters in starring roles; Brian O'Sullivan (Brian Malone), Eileen Davis ( Eileen O'Donovan), Tom Cooper ( Dan O'Donovan), Donal O'Cahill (Billy Malone), Jerry O'Mahony (Black and Tan OC), Bill Murphy ( Sergeant Geary), James Gleeson (John Malone), Marian O'Connell ( Mrs Malone), Jack Scully, John McCarthy, Dado Hurley, John Cooper, Paddy Looney, Dan Culloty, and Tommy Cooper amongst many, many others.

The Dawn will be screened at the Killarney Cineplex at 7pm on bank holiday Monday, June 6, and Tuesday, June 7, at 7pm.

Admission is free, however patrons can make a donation to local healthy heart group, Heartbeat, who will have collection boxes in the cinema on both nights.