by George Morrison; music by Seán Ó Riada
Gael Linn ORIADADVD01; 132 minutes; 2006
George Morrison’s film Mise Éire (‘My Ireland’) has held an iconic status in Irish cultural history since its release in 1960, yet remains more often associated with its musical rather than cinematic director. Seán Ó Riada’s orchestral score (available as Gael Linn ORIADACD03) drew heavily from Irish traditional sources and has regularly been available ever since its first release as a 7” EP, right through to various LP and CD formats.
Mise Éire was actually the first Irish feature-length film that utilized an orchestral soundtrack, but its renown also rests on its director’s then relatively novel technique of recounting historical events entirely through existing archive material. And what a story he was able to relate, covering twenty or so years of political change in Ireland from the 1890s to 1918. This period witnessed the flowering of Irish Nationalism, not just from a political standpoint, but through cultural and social conduits harnessed by the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletics Association and given artistic impact via the founding of the Abbey Theatre by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory. Morrison adroitly draws all the strands together through some remarkable footage, placing especial emphasis on the abortive Easter Rising of 1916 and populating his composite with numerous archive shots of key players such as Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly, Éamon de Valera and one of the leading post-1916 figures, Michael Collins.
The film’s release in 1960 was timely since the appointment of Seán Lemass as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) the previous year had heralded a revitalisation in Irish life and a subsequent strengthening of national identity. Mise Éire was greeted rapturously by Irish audiences, enabling Gael Linn and Morrison to follow up the process in 1961 with Saoirse? (‘Freedom?’), covering the gaining of independence and the bitter civil war which ensued.
However, many of Mise Éire’s artifices are clearly of their time, not least the somewhat stentorian commentary provided by two broadcasting stalwarts, while Morrison’s creation is unquestionably partisan and Ó Riada’s score sometimes veers towards the cloying. The DVD also includes An Tine Bheo (‘The Living Fire’), Louis Marcus’s 1966 film (music also by Ó Riada) which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising and includes some remarkable shots of sixties Dublin.
This review by Geoff Wallis was written for Songlines magazine – www.songlines.co.uk.