Researching Ireland

Irish Film & TV Research Online is a monument to the passion for national film history. It is a website that serves as a focal point for Irish and Irish-themed film and television of all kinds. It is hosted by Trinity College Dublin, and it is mainly comprised of three searchable databases, each of which has extensive content relevant to the study of silent film (and beyond, of course).

Irish Film & Television Index
The Index documents “all Irish-made cinema and major television productions as well as Irish-themed audio-visual representations produced outside of Ireland.” It’s a bold claim, but it would be a challenge to prove them wrong, as its coverage is extensive – nearly 40,000 titles – and it includes important areas that other national filmographies often ignore, such as newsreels, interest films (and indeed silents). It based on the book publication by Kevin Rockett, The Irish Filmography: Fiction Films 1896-1996 (1996), with additional material chiefly researched by Eugene Finn. The database includes films of uncertainty identity which exist in film archives, as well as films which are now lost. As noted it includes bot Irish production and Irish-themed productions – so the researcher will find plenty of American films included because of their Irish themes and characters. However it doesn’t document the films of Irish filmmakers who operated out of Ireland if their films did not have Irish themes (so Rex Ingram is represented in the Biographies section but not in the Film Index).

There are simple and advance search options, the latter enabling you to refine searches by country, genre, reference, location, years, songs, or date – including date range, so it is possible to isolate films from the silent period (just under 1,000 titles, fiction and non-fiction), though seemingly no way of arranging by date order, which prevents the researcher from getting an idea of chronology and change (unless you seach year-by-year, which is laborious). The records themselves are often extensive, as this record for Kalem’s The Lad from Old Ireland demonstrates:

Production company Kalem Co
Country of origin USA
Producer OLCOTT, Sidney
Director OLCOTT, Sidney
Script/Adaptation GAUNTIER, Gene
Photography HOLLISTER, George
Cast Sidney Olcott (Terry O’Connor), Gene Gauntier (Aileen), Arthur Donaldson (priest), J P McGowan, Robert Vignola (men in campaign office on election night), Thomas O’Connor (Murphy, a landlord), Jane Wolfe (Elsie Myron, an American heiress), Laurene Santley, Agnes Mapes.
Colour b&w
Sound sil
Footage 8241009 [it’s not explained what this means]
Release date 1910
Summary In the rural Ireland location of Rathpacon, County Cork, Terry is working in the fields. Determined to improve his poverty-stricken existence, he decides to emigrate to America. He bids a sad farewell to Aileen, his sweetheart, who is left in the care of her mother, but he promises to return to her. Arriving in New York, Terry works on a building site and eventually rises to become the Tammany Hall mayor of the city. Forgetting about Aileen, he is seen in the company of an American heiress on the night of his electoral victory. However, he finds a letter from Aileen informing him of her family’s desperate economic plight and declaring that they are in danger of being evicted from their home. Returning home, Terry is seen on a ship in mid-ocean conjuring up an image of Aileen. When he arrives at Aileen’s cottage the eviction is in progress. He enters the cottage and confronts the landlord. He thrusts the rent arrears into his hand and sends him out of the house. The following Sunday the banns are read by the priest announcing the forthcoming marriage of Terry and Aileen. (V).
Note USA Rel 23/11/1910; re-issued 1/8/1914. GB distr: Markt & Co. Filmed in Ireland and USA. Farnham, whose names are sometimes given as ‘Al(l)an’ or ‘Farnum’, did not participate in the production of scenes taken in Ireland, as Herbert Reynolds points out, but would likely have been responsible for the New York studio interiors. Unpublished cast members Donaldson, McGowan and Vignola have been identified by Reynolds in the extant film. THE LAD FROM OLD IRELAND is regarded by some as the first American-produced fiction film made outside the USA (Sight and Sound, Oct-Nov 1953:96), though this may have been confused with what is contemporaneously described as ‘the first production ever made on two Continents’ (Bio 12/1/1911:47). It may also be the first fiction film made in Ireland, but see note with A DAUGHTER OF ERIN (USA 1908). The available print, with intertitles in German, ends with the penultimate scene, at the cottage.
Reference Bio 12/1/1911:47; Bio 6/4/1912:v; Bio 21/8/1913:21; Kalem Kalender 1/8/1914:2 (reissue); MPN 10/12/1910:9; MPN 17/12/1910:19; MPN 21/10/1916, Sec 2:109-10; MPW 26/11/1910:1246, 1249; MPW 3/12/1910:1296,1343; MPW 17/12/1910:1405; MPW 1/8/1914:732; NYDM 2/11/1910:29; Var 3/12/1910. AFI Cat 1893-1910:574; Bowser, 1990:153-5; Rockett et al, 1987:7-8.

All reference materials cited below are held at the Tiernan McBride Library of the Irish Film Institute.

Old file record giving film stock details, plot summary, review and subjects references for film (D.C. Swift)

The Bioscope, 12/1/1911:2, plot-synopsis of the film.

Sight and Sound, Dec. 1953:96-8, ‘Ireland’s first films’, article on Sidney Olcott’s contribution to early Irish films (Proionsias O Conluain).

‘Kalem’s Great Trans-Atlantic drama…’, copy of advertisement for the film.
Format 35mm
Distributor Markt & Co
Language English
Production credits p.c/distr: Kalem Co, p/d: Sidney Olcott, c: George Hollister, sc: Gene Gauntier, scenic dsgn: Henry Alien Farnham.
Location Cork, USA
Genre/Category Short Film Drama, Historical Drama
Keywords Migration, Labourers, Politics, Rural Ireland, Evictions, Landlords, Tenants, Priests

However there is no hyperlinking for these results e.g. you can’t click on ‘Kalem’ in this record and go to other films produced by the American company, which is a shame. This is a fine resource for the extensive information it contains, but it is fundamentally a book catalogue with some search functions rather than something fully re-imagined as an electronic database.

Irish Film & Television Biographies
Described as a work in progress, the Biographies database documents conributors to the history of both cinema and television in Ireland and those who have worked on Irish-theme films made outside the country. It is a work in progress, and unfortunately it doesn’t seem to cover anyone from the silent period of film production (e.g. Sidney Olcott, Norman Whitten, John McDonagh).

Irish Film & Television Bibliography
Another work in progress, ths Bibliography lists books, articles in journals, chapters in collections, and selections from specialist magazines. As well as being able to search across the whole database, you can browse by title or author.

The site also contains details of an annual Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar and a links page. Irish Film & TV Research Online has been overseen by Professor Kevin Rockett, a noted historian of Irish cinema. He describes the website as a living archive, and additional information and amendments are welcomed. No database should ever be static, but the price of relevance is eternal vigilance, as records have to be maintained and resources hosted. Hopefully Trinity College will continue to support it and researchers as dedicated as Rockett and Finn will always recognise the importance of sustaining it.

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