Seán Crosson “Ar son an Náisiúin”

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“Ar son an Náisiúin”: The National Film Institute of Ireland’s All-Ireland
Seán Crosson
Éire-Ireland, Volume 48, Issue 1&2, Spring / Summer 2013, pp. 191-210
Published by Irish-American Cultural Institute
DOI: 10.1353/eir.2013.0014
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Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 191
Seán Crosson “Ar son an Náisiúin”:
The National Film
Institute of Ireland’s
All-Ireland Films1
On 4 september 1948 the Irish Independent carried a small announcement on page ten indicating that the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) had authorized the flming of the All-Ireland hurling
and football fnals of that year. These fnals were to be flmed by the
National Film Institute (NFI) of Ireland, set up three years earlier,
and this announcement marked the beginning of the frst sustained
period of indigenous flming of Gaelic games in Ireland. Although
important research has been done on the crucial link between the
codifcation and popularization of Gaelic games in Ireland and the
development of Irish nationalism in the late nineteenth century, the
role that flmic representations of sport may have played in this developing process in the twentieth century has as yet been the subject of
limited investigation.2 This article builds on previous research about
the representation of Gaelic games in early newsreels between 1920
and 1939 in order to consider the flmic depictions of All-Ireland fnals produced by the NFI and their role, particularly in the 1940s
and 1950s, in representing and affrming the Irish nation through
1. I want to acknowledge the generous support of the staff of the Irish Film
Institute’s (IFI) Irish Film Archive, especially that of Kasandra O’Connell, Sunniva
O’Flynn, and Rebecca Grant, in the completion of this article, including the archive’s
permission to use screencaps from its flms and records featured in this article. I also
want to thank Bill Morrison, former senior publicity offcer with Bord Fáilte, and
Professor Mike Cronin, academic director, Boston College-Ireland, for information
provided regarding Bord Fáilte and Aer Lingus.
2. See, for example, W. F. Mandle, The Gaelic Athletic Association and Irish Nationalist Politics, 1884–1924 (London: Christopher Helm, 1987); and Mike Cronin,
Sport and Nationalism in Ireland: Gaelic Games, Soccer, and Irish Identity since 1884
(Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999).
192 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
sport.3 These flms also offer fascinating insights into Irish society
in war period, while sharing intriguing links with one of the
most accomplished (and controversial) sports flms ever made, Leni
Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938).
Filming Gaelic Games after Irish Independence
The frst two decades of independence saw little indigenous flm
work produced in Ireland, with coverage of Gaelic games left primarily to foreign newsreel companies. These representations, found in
Pathé, Movietone, and British Gaumont Newsreels and less often in
some American major studio shorts, though important as among the
only moving-image representations of players of the period we have,
nonetheless sometimes presented these games condescendingly.
Even where depictions were more positively disposed, the narration,
offered in contrived, clipped, upper-class “Oxford” accents, often indicated less about the sport and more about the lack of understanding of Gaelic games among British commentators.4 The GAA itself
expressed alarm at some of the more questionable representations;
the release in Britain and Ireland in 1937 of one particularly offensive
depiction of Irish sport, the short flm Hurling (fgure 1) produced
by MGM in 1936, motivated a delegation from the GAA to visit the
Irish flm censor and demand that offensive scenes be removed.5
The NFI of Ireland
The year 1936 would also be crucial for the facilitation of indigenous flming in Ireland, including that of Gaelic games. In 1936
Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical “Vigilanti Cura,” which recognized the potentially “great advantage to learning and to educa-
3. See Seán Crosson and Dónal McAnallen, “‘Croke Park Goes Plumb Crazy’:
Pathé Newsreels and Gaelic Games,” Media History 17, no. 2 (2011): 161–76.
4. Ibid., 165–67.
5. For further information on this flm, see Seán Crosson, “‘Shillalah Swing
Time. . . . You’ll Thrill Each Time a Wild Irishman’s Skull Shatters’: Representing
Hurling in American Cinema, 1930–1960,” in Screening Irish-America: Representing
Irish-America in Film and Television, ed. Ruth Barton (Dublin: Irish Academic Press,
2009), 148–64.
Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 193
tion” of the cinema.6 Pope Pius’s
words inspired clergy members to
get more involved in flm production and eventually to organize
the NFI of Ireland in 1945 under
the patronage of Dr. John Charles
McQuaid, archbishop of Dublin. The Institute was initially set up
to import and distribute educational flms around Irish schools
and parish halls but soon began making flms of its own. From
the beginning these flms would place a strong emphasis on affrming and celebrating the still relatively new independent state
of Ireland. This is apparent in one of its frst documentary flms,
A Nation Once Again (Brendan Stafford, 1946), made to mark the
centenary of the death of Thomas Davis, the leader of the nationalist
Young Ireland movement of the 1840s. Described by Ruth Barton as
“a classic instance of the use of history as a legitimizing discourse,”7
the flm provided, as the title suggests, a nationalist and uncontested
account of Irish history and identity. While exploring Davis’s legacy
and celebrating his political ideals, it prominently featured Eamon de
Valera, the then taoiseach, as well as aspects of Irish society and culture, including Gaelic games. In one sequence, narrating over images
of Gaelic football and Irish dancing, Dan O’Herlihy reminds us that
Davis’s teaching is “the sure basis on which to plan a united nation,
free from shore to shore, and the hope of all true Irishmen is that in
6. Pope Pius XI, “Vigilanti Cura: Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XI on the Motion Picture,” The Holy See, accessed May 2012,
7. Ruth Barton, Irish National Cinema (London: Routledge, 2004), 67.
Figure 1. Press sheet for the 1936
MGM flm Hurling, which described
the game as “Ireland’s athletic assault
and battery.”.Press sheet kindly supplied by Paul Balbirnie. Copy available
194 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
this as in most things else this man was prophet as well as leader.”
Thus O’Herlihy connects Gaelic games, a set of sports that operated
then as now on an All-Ireland basis, with Irish nationalism and its
ambition for a united Ireland, a theme that would be continued in the
Institute’s highlights flms of All-Ireland fnals.
Among the original directors of the Institute was Pádraig
Ó Caoimh, the then ard-rúnaí (general secretary) of the GAA. Following the 1947 All-Ireland football fnal between Cavan and Kerry
in New York, Ó Caoimh realized the importance of and demand in
Ireland for quality moving-image representations of Gaelic games.
The highlights footage of this match,
shot by New York–based Winik flms
under Ó Caoimh’s supervision, was a
major attraction in Irish cinemas and
parish halls, particularly in the counties
featured. This is evident, for example, in
the flm’s prominence in advertisements
from the period where it was frequently
given billing above popular Hollywood
fare (fgures 2 and 3). Inspired by this
success, Ó Caoimh set about facilitating through the Institute the flming of
highlights of all subsequent All-Ireland
Figure 2. Advertisement for fnals.
screening of the 1947 All-Ireland
football fnal, The Anglo-Celt, 20
September 1947.
Figure 3. A further advertisement from The Anglo-Celt, 11 October 1947.
Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 195
The NFI’s All-Ireland Films
The Institute’s flms of All-Ireland fnals are each about ten minutes
in length, following the pattern of the popular short of the 1947 fnal. This was also the approximate length of the one-reel flms that
preceded features in Irish cinemas during this period, including
sport-themed shorts such as Hurling (1936). Although this brevity
was criticized in the press at the time,8 these highlights packages were
nonetheless a considerable improvement on previous newsreel depictions of Gaelic games, which were rarely longer than 2½ minutes,
and offered more detailed accounts of the buildup and the role of
these games in national life. In some instances, as in the highlights
of both the 1949 All-Ireland football and hurling fnals, additions include footage of teams in training before the fnal itself. Some of the
highlights packages, such as the flm of the 1948 hurling All-Ireland,
also feature the arrival of supporters from all over the country to
Dublin on fnal day, while scenes outside Croke Park prior to the
throw-in are found on many of the packages. Some flms featured the
parade of supporters to the stadium, as in the shots of Dublin followers processing from Fairview and Marino behind a horse-drawn
carriage prior to the 1958 football fnal. These shots offer fascinating
renderings of the urban space prior to games—with crowds arriving
at Kingsbridge Station (renamed Heuston in 1966) and gathering on
O’Connell Street—as well as visual depictions of the various means
of transport to games during that period, from bicycle to horse and
cart, to car and bus. One shot from the 1948 football-fnal highlights
shows the back of an open-top cattle lorry packed with standing supporters. Most of the flm packages also include highlights of the minor fnal that preceded the senior game.
Film production of the games themselves now involved two
cameras rather than the one used previously in newsreel footage;
the flms also provided considerably fuller coverage (though by no
means comprehensive), including identifcation of prominent players by name, a rare occurrence in previous newsreel footage of AllIreland fnals. Given the stature of the players and teams featured
in these highlights packages, including nine players from the GAA
hurling and eleven from the GAA football teams of the millennium,
8. “All-Ireland Final Film,” Tuam Herald, 3 Nov. 1956.
196 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
it is not surprising that they became popular cinema attractions in the
pre-television era.9 These flms also provided vital instructional tools
for Gaelic clubs training young players in both Gaelic football and
hurling across the country throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
However, correspondence between the NFI and the GAA indicates
that the Institute had some diffculties extracting payment for flms
hired, and not all flms loaned were returned. As the Institute’s secretary G. J. McCanny remarked in one letter to the association’s
development director, “The attached invoice has been treated as if
it were a hurling ball, having been pucked to and fro between here
and Croke Park, and I’m anxious it should come to rest.”10 It would
appear that the NFI had particular problems in reacquiring flms
loaned to clubs across the border, as is evident in another letter
from McCanny to the GAA: “We cannot agree to supply Six-County residents with flms. We have experienced too much diffculty in
the past even in cases where the flm has been collected here, and
too many flms which we know were defnitely posted to us failed
to reach us.”11
Production, Distribution, and Reception
of the NFI’s All-Ireland Films
The All-Ireland flms were initially shot with two cameras, each positioned on the Hogan stand side of the feld, and the rushes were
sent on Sunday evening to London for development. The next morning, Seán O’Sullivan, the frst secretary of the NFI, accompanied
by Mícheál O’Hehir (who provided the commentary until the late
1950s), traveled by plane to the Carlton Hill Studios in London,
where the sound and commentary were added.12 These flms, dis-
9. See, for example, “Competitions for Sixty Juvenile Hurling Teams,” Kerryman, 27 Mar. 1965, for a report of the use of the NFI All-Ireland flms for instructional purposes in County Kerry.
10. G. J. McCanny to Mr. Prenderville, Gaelic Athletic Association, 5 Oct. 1977.
See Irish Film Institute (IFI), Item Number 16245, Box 317.
11. G. J. McCanny to M. de Prionnbhiol (draft), Gaelic Athletic Association, 25
July 1975. See IFI, Item Number 16256, Box 317.
12. These details were given by Seán O’Sullivan in the documentary series Memories in Focus (Peter Canning, Memories in Focus [Dublin: RTÉ, 1995]).
Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 197
tributed initially by Abbey Films, were screened as short attractions
before feature flms in cinemas around the country by Friday of the
following week. They proved popular above all in the counties featured in the All-Irelands themselves, particularly before the advent
of live television coverage of All-Irelands after the establishment of
Telefís Éireann in 1962.
Beginning in 1948 George Fleischmann (fgure 6) flmed the
matches with assistance from the English-born sound technician
Peter Hunt. From 1953 onward, Brendan Stafford, assisted by Robert Monks, took on the flming responsibilities, supported by various
other cameramen including Vincent Corcoran, Tommy Hayde, and
Pádraig Thornton, and continuing in the role into the mid-1960s. In a
signifcant piece of self-reflexive footage, the buildup to the 1957 football fnal includes images of the cameramen climbing to their elevated
position before the game and beginning to flm (fgure 4).
Particularly in the early years, the footage is clearly the work of cameramen learning the art of flming Gaelic games and challenged above
all by the speed of play and the size of the ball used in hurling, as well
as by the limitations of the technology that required reloading of flm
stock at short, regular intervals. During the period of Monk’s involvement cameramen shot the games on Newman Sinclair 35 mm cameras
hired from London. These were clockwork cameras that could hold a
maximum of two hundred feet of flm—equivalent to approximately
two minutes of footage—before the magazines had to be reloaded.13
13. Robert Monks, Personal Interview, 17 Apr. 2008.
Figure 4. Cameramen
preparing to flm the 1957
All-Ireland football fnal.
Courtesy of the IFI Irish
Film Archive.
198 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
As a result, flmmakers missed many of the scores, and it is sometimes diffcult to follow individual passages of the play, although the
commentary of Mícheál O’Hehir in particular nonetheless manages to
communicate some of the excitement and signifcance of the occasion.
Another commentator who featured regularly in the packages by the
late 1950s was Frank Ryan, who spent a period as secretary of the NFI.
As with the 1947 fnal flm, announcements for these flms featured
prominently, sometimes above titles of popular Hollywood releases,
especially in local newspapers (fgure 5), while newspaper reports indicate that local audiences took considerable interest in the sports
screenings. The Meath Chronicle of 9 October 1954 describes the flm
of the 1954 Meath-Kerry All-Ireland football fnal, for instance, as
one that viewers “should not miss,” after being screened to “enthusiastic audiences” in the Lyric and Palace cinemas at Navan and in the
Savoy at Kells.14The Tuam Herald of 3 November 1956 also described
the “great interest taken in the NFI’s flm of the All-Ireland football
fnal shown at the Mall and Odeon cinemas this week. Sean Purcell
and Frank Stockwell [two of Galway’s star players at the time] were
guests at the Mall on Monday night, and the two Tuam men heard
the Croke Park plaudits re-echo in the cinema when they flashed on
the screen.”15
In addition to the 35 mm prints sent to cinemas until the late
1950s, 16 mm prints produced from the mid-1950s were exhibited
in clubs and parish halls around the country by using mobile projectors from the NFI. By 1958 the Institute was flming the games on
16 mm rather than 35 mm and would continue with this format in
subsequent years. Prints of the fnals were also occasionally screened
abroad, including to Irish soldiers in the Congo in 196016 and to
viewers in London, New York, and Cyprus.17 The 1960 Rome Olympics also included a special screening of the Institute’s flms of the
football and hurling fnals from the previous year.18 Footage from
14. “Gaelic Fields and Forum,” Meath Chronicle, 9 Oct. 1954.
15. “All-Ireland Final Film,” Tuam Herald, 3 Nov. 1956.
16. “Final Crowd May be a Record,” Irish Independent, 23 Sept. 1960.
17. “London Calling,” Irish Independent, 27 Oct. 1961; G. J. McCanny to Seán
Ó Síocháin (draft), Gaelic Athletic Association, 8 Aug. 1969 (IFI, Item Number
16267, Box 317); and Tom Hyde, National Film Institute, to unknown recipient, 24
Oct. 1967 (IFI, Item Number 16292, Box 317).
18. “Irish Films for Olympic Games,” Irish Independent, 21 July 1961.
Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 199
the Institute’s flm of the 1962 hurling fnal was incorporated into an
episode of the popular series Irish Diary, broadcast on twenty U.S.
channels in the mid-1960s.19 The British Broadcasting Corporation
aired highlights of the football flm taken from the Institute’s footage
in 1957 before flming highlights from some fnals themselves from
1959 onward.20 The flms also enjoyed some critical success at flm
festival screenings, winning awards in 1956 and 1958 at the Festival
of Sports Pictures at Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.21 Indeed, by the
end of the 1950s the flms had become a crucial source of revenue
for the Institute; minutes from the Institute’s Finance and General
Purposes Committee meeting of 3 January 1958 noted that “the estimated proft on the GAA flms in 1957 would be between £180 and
£200,” a not inconsiderable sum at the time.22
Initially working in black-and-white, the Institute began flming
in color beginning with the All-Ireland football fnal of 1958, partly
in response to competing newsreels of All-Irelands emerging frst
from Universal Irish News in that year and subsequently from Gael
19. Mick Dunne, “U.S. Viewers to See Hurling,” Irish Press, 14 July 1964.
20. “Croke Park Can Hold 76,000 for Final,” Irish Independent, 20 Sept. 1957;
Kenneth Wolstenholme, “Why Keep This Great Game Such a Big Secret?” Sunday
Press, 13 Sept. 1959.
21. “Italian Award for Film of G.A.A Matches,” Irish Independent, 7 Mar. 1956;
“People and Places,” Irish Press, 9 Jan. 1961.
22. Minutes of Finance and General Purposes Committee Meeting, National
Film Institute of Ireland, 3 Jan. 1958 (IFI).
Figure 5.
Announcement for the
showing of the All-Ireland
hurling fnal in 1953,
Munster Express,
2 October 1953.
200 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
Linn’s Amharc Éireann series.23The color footage also provided a distinguishing aspect for the Institute’s flms from the black-and-white
televised images broadcast by Telefís Éireann from the All-Ireland
football semifnal between Kerry and Dublin in 1962.
Parallels with Olympia (1938): “Ar son an Náisiúin”
Of all of the cameramen who flmed All-Irelands for the NFI, George
Fleischmann (fgure 6) had both the most colorful history and arguably the greatest influence on the initial style and focus of the flms
themselves, a focus that continued to be evident after Fleischmann’s
departure in 1953. He was a Sonderführer Lt. (or specialist leader)
with the Luftwaffe during World War II, and his plane was shot down
over Ireland in 1941. Fleishchmann was subsequently interned in the
Curragh until the end of the war, then remained in the country.24
Fleischmann’s arrival in
Ireland, while unexpected
and uninvited, was fortunate for the development of
sports flming in the country. His specialty was operating a camera: he trained
at the Berlin Film Academy and worked for Universum-Film A.G. (UFA),
the major flm studio in
Germany, during the 1930s
and 1940s.25 At the end of
the war Fleischmann received a statement from the German authorities indicating that the
camera was his to keep; it was returned to his possession, along with
23. Louis Marcus to Luke Dodd, Head of Irish Film Archive, 14 Oct. 1998 (IFI,
ARC 52); Monks, Personal Interview, 17 Apr. 2008.
24. Canning, Memories in Focus; Patrick J. Cummins, “Emergency” Air Accidents—
South-East Ireland, 1940–1945 (Waterford: Aviation History Ireland, 2003), 45.
25. Harvey O’Brien, The Real Ireland: The Evolution of Ireland in Documentary
Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 79.
Figure 6. George Fleischmann. Memories in Focus [Documentary Series]. Dir. Peter Canning.
Dublin: RTÉ, 1995.
Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 201
the rest of his flming equipment.26 In a sign of the scarcity of such
equipment in Ireland in war period, Fleischmann quickly became a much-sought-after cameraman.27
During Fleischmann’s time with UFA he had worked as a camera
operator on Leni Riefenstahl’s sports documentary Olympia (1938),
the seminal depiction of the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. Whereas
it would be wrong to overstate the similarities, particularly given the
Fascist context of 1930s Germany and the vastly superior resources
available to Riefenstahl, there are nonetheless intriguing parallels
between Olympia and the early Institute flms of All-Irelands. First,
there are similarities in the flming of the games themselves. This is
most evident when one compares the flming of association football
in the second of the two related flms that Riefenstahl made of the
1936 Olympics, Olympia 2. Teil—
Fest der Schönheit (1938), with
the NFI’s All-Ireland flms in the
late 1940s. Both adopt similar
principal camera positions—one
elevated camera from the stand
at midfeld and one roving camera to the right of this position
behind the goal (fgures 7 and 8,
fgures 9 and 10). As the Institute
continued to flm All-Ireland fnals, their camera positions
evolved to more elevated positions closer to both goals in an
attempt to capture more scores.
A second parallel between
Olympia and the NFI flms is the
prominence of radio commentators in both productions. In the
original version of Olympia, Germany’s leading radio commenta-
26. Canning, Memories in Focus.
27. O’Brien, Real Ireland, 79.
Figures 7 and 8. Screen grabs from the
NFI footage of the 1949 (above) and
1948 All-Ireland hurling fnals. Courtesy
of the IFI Irish Film Archive.
202 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
tor Dr. Paul Laven28 introduces
events, describes athletes, and
provides running commentary
on the various competitions featured in the flm. Indeed, radio
commentators fgure prominently in the flm itself, apparently
(as their language and appearance would suggest) from Italy,
France, Japan, Spain, the U.S.,
and Germany, all of whom are
flmed seemingly broadcasting
the games live from Berlin, although the images were actually
recorded after the event (fgures
11 and 12).
In a similar fashion Pádraig
Ó Caoimh arranged for the leading Irish radio sports commentator of the time, Mícheál O’Hehir,
to provide the commentary for
the NFI All-Ireland flms until
the late 1950s. From the establishment of 2RN in 1926, radio played a
central role in the popularization of Gaelic games via live coverage of
matches, most famously through the distinctive and thrilling voice of
O’Hehir, who began broadcasting in 1938.29 Indeed, O’Hehir is often
prominently featured in the work itself (fgure 13); producers clearly
wanted to build on his huge radio following by depecting him relaying
the action to “wireless” sets across the nation during the game. Some
of the highlights packages also include images of families gathered
around the radio, listening to the games themselves (fgure 14).
28. Larry Hartenian, “The Role of Media in Democratizing Germany: United
States Occupation Policy, 1945–1949,” Central European History 20, no. 2 (1987): 184.
29. Raymond Boyle, “From Our Gaelic Fields: Radio, Sport, and Nation in PostPartition Ireland,” Media, Culture, and Society 14, no. 4 (1992): 623–36.
Figures 9 and 10. Screen grabs from the
1936 Olympic Games Association Football fnal. Olympia. Dir. Leni Riefenstahl.
Berlin: Olympia-Film, 1938.
Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 203
However, the German and Irish productions are most comparable in their affrmation and celebration of the nation through sports
events. Riefenstahl’s flming of the Berlin Olympics in 1936—often
referred to as the “Nazi Olympics”—was centrally concerned with
celebrating the achievements of Nazi Germany and affrming the
German nation.30 As Taylor Downing notes in her study of Riefenstahl’s flm,
It’s clear that it was decided at the highest level in the Reich, probably
by Hitler himself, that the Games should be used as an opportunity
to promote the achievements of Nazi Germany before the war. Hitler
decided that money would be no problem in creating a national spec-
30. Richard D. Mandell, The Nazi Olympics (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois
Press, 1987).
Figures 11 and 12. Some of the radio commentators featured in Olympia (1938)
Figures 13 and 14. Screen grabs from NFI flms of Mícheál O’Hehir at work
(on the left during footage of the 1948 All-Ireland hurling fnal) and of a family
listening to their radio, presumably to his commentary, in the footage of the 1948
All-Ireland Gaelic football fnal. Courtesy of the IFI Irish Film Archive.
204 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
tacle to show off Germany to the world. . . . The Nazis intended the
games to promote the “new order” in Germany.31
Although aspirations for an international audience are less evident
(apart from occasional references to Irish-America) in the Institute’s
All-Ireland flms at least until the 1960s, –World War II milieu after “The Emergency” nonetheless provided the perfect arena
for the popularization of national spectacle through flm. Southern
Ireland’s neutrality during the war reinforced the country’s independence against heavy criticism by Winston Churchill and other world
leaders, and as the Institute’s flms of Gaelic games indicate, celebrating the nation was a recurring concern of the coverage, particularly in
those flms produced until the end of the 1950s.
The focus in NFI All-Ireland flms of this period on the ceremony
that preceded each game provides evidence of this recurring theme.
Such flmic openings included the foregrounding of the national anthem and national flag as well as the focus on the attendance of dignitaries such as the president of Ireland, An Taoiseach, and the various
bishops in attendance, including, at the 1952 football fnal, the Papal
Nuncio, Archbishop Gerald O’Hara (fgure 15). The recurring shots
of religious fgures in attendance is striking, as in the buildup to the
1951 football fnal where O’Hehir commented on the “many personalities of the political, ecclesiastical, and diplomatic world [who]
view the colorful scene below.” Particularly in the case of the football
fnals, it would appear that these bishops were often invited, depending on which county qualifed for the fnal, as in 1955 when Bishop
Denis Moynihan of Kerry and Rev. Dr. Fitzpatrick, a representative
of the Dublin diocese, participated in the prematch ceremony where
both these counties featured. Indicating the church’s dominant role
in the 1940s and 1950s, these bishops initiated proceedings by throwing either the ball (Gaelic football) or the sliotar (hurling) in among
the players, following the singing of the hymn “Faith of Our Fathers”
and the ceremonial kissing of the bishop’s ring by the team captains
(fgure 15). Signifcantly, by the 1959 football fnal the GAA president
Dr. J. J. Stuart, and not a bishop, threw the ball in; the practice of having bishops begin games was discontinued by the mid-1960s.
31. Taylor Downing, Olympia (London: BFI, 1992), 30.
Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 205
These prominent images also provide a further parallel with Olympia, which similarly foregrounds the presence of political leaders, especially Hitler, and dignitaries present at the games from early on
in the flm. These dignitaries and religious fgures in the NFI flms
do not, however, dominate proceedings quite in the manner of Hitler, who appears to preside over events, particularly in the Olympic Stadium; from his opening address to the end of the match, the
camera returns repeatedly to him. Yet as Mike Huggins has pointed
out in respect of newsreel coverage of association football in Britain between 1918 and 1939, the NFI flms were also concerned with
supporting the status quo in Irish politics and society.32 Indeed, the
foregrounding of political and religious fgures in the NFI All-Ireland
flms resembled the prominent depiction of members of the British
royal family in English soccer newsreels: it reinforced the signifcance
of both the sport and the dignitaries featured in national life. Surviving foreign newsreels of Gaelic games held before the Institute
was established focus on the prominent role of the clergy, but Irish
32. Mike Huggins, “Projecting the Visual: British Newsreels, Soccer, and Popular Culture, 1918–1939,” International Journal of the History of Sport 24, no. 1 (2007):
Figure 15. The Cavan captain Mick Higgins is captured kissing the ring of the Papal Nuncio (Archbishop Gerald O’Hara)
prior to the 1952 football fnal. Courtesy of the IFI Irish Film
206 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
political fgures rarely appeared in such footage. The NFI productions, through more detailed portrayals of prematch ceremony, also
confrm the growing importance of such ritual.33
This focus on maintaining the status quo in the Institute’s flms
is also evident in how they portray dissent or downplay controversy.
Spectators, whether wading through the canal next to the stadium
to gain access to games (1958 football fnal footage) or seated precariously on the walls surrounding the stadium or on the roof of the
Hogan stand (recurring images found throughout the 1950s footage),
appear to have taken increasing risks to watch All-Ireland fnals as the
1950s progressed and attendances soared. However, the commentary
gives little sense of the obvious dangers for such spectators. Attendance at All-Ireland fnals in the 1950s and 1960s reached recordbreaking levels, exceeding 90,000 by 1961.34 Such masses far exceeded the capacity of Croke Park and led to serious overcrowding at
times, including the 1953 All-Ireland football fnal, which attracted a
then-record attendance of 86,155 (exaggerated somewhat by O’Hehir
as 90,000 in his commentary). But the dangers of such overcrowding
are downplayed in O’Hehir’s commentary (“even the spacious and
ever-improving Croke Park seems to burst at the seams”), despite the
fact that we see in the footage that a large portion of the crowd had
to be allowed onto the pitch just prior to the game to relieve the dangerous situation on the terraces. All-Ireland fnals during these years
were also occasionally marred by moments of foul play or violence;
yet such moments are rarely evident in the Institute’s footage.
Central to these flms is an emphasis on All-Ireland fnal day as
a national occasion for the whole island, “north, south, east, and
west,” as O’Hehir remarks in his commentary prior to the 1948 football fnal. The 1954 football fnal included a pageant for Irish unity
at halftime—“one Ireland, Ireland one, Éire gan roinnt (Ireland
without division),” O’Hehir comments. Irish nationalist history and
culture are also foregrounded repeatedly, reinforced by the decision
to set opening credits to music on most of the packages released in
the 1950s: the air from the politically charged eighteenth-century
33. Crosson and McAnallen, “Croke Park Goes Plumb Crazy,” 165.
34. Eoghan Corry, The GAA Book of Lists (Dublin: Hodder Headline Ireland,
2005), 371–412.
Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 207
aisling poem, Fáinne Geal an Lae (“The Dawning of the Day”).35
The 1948 coverage of the Gaelic football fnal between Cavan and
Mayo has a strongly nationalist tone, especially in the buildup sequence that recalls Bloody Sunday on 21 November 1920 and the
shooting of Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan by British soldiers
after their invasion of Croke Park. The commentary pays homage
to the 1916 Rising, with accompanying shots of the General Post
Offce on O’Connell Street; O’Hehir refers to the alleged contribution of post-Rising rubble to the building of Hill 16, still one of
the best-known spectator areas in the stadium. Furthermore, a long
take during the parade preceding the 1957 hurling fnal prominently
captures the banner “Ar son an Náisiúin (For the Nation)” (fgure
16). The footage from the 1954 hurling fnal includes the prematch
parade by thirty-two Irish-speaking and flag-bearing boys representing, as O’Hehir remarks, “the counties of our country and each carrying a hurley depicting the aim of the GAA to put a hurley in the
hand of every boy in the country.” The Irish language also features
prominently not only in the credit sequences but also in O’Hehir’s
commentary, which is peppered with passages in Irish, while exhibitions of Irish dancing precede the 1955 and 1956 senior games. In
all of this footage the flms repeatedly affrm the Irish nation and its
35. As George Petrie noted, “The aisling poems used the ‘guise of a love-song
put on to conceal treason’” (George Petrie, The Ancient Music of Ireland [Dublin:
M. H. Gill, 1855], 37).
Figure 16. Parade prior to the 1957 hurling fnal with the
banner “Ar son an Náisiúin” visible. Courtesy of the IFI
Irish Film Archive.
208 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
culture as well as its leading political and social fgures, while downplaying controversy and dissent.
The arrival of live television coverage reduced demand that the Institute continue flming All-Ireland games. The Institute responded
by improving its own coverage of the games, partly responding to
requests from the GAA to focus more on continuous play rather than
scores.36 The coverage during this period focuses more on the games
and less on the buildup; a third cameraman was employed by the
mid-1960s to get better close-up work. Although the NFI intermittently continued flming until the mid-1970s, interest in viewing the
highlights nevertheless decreased; by 1968 General Film Distributors
Ltd. (the company that had distributed the flms in Ireland from the
late 1950s) informed the Institute that it “would prefer not to participate in their distribution, as indeed very little interest had been evidenced by any of our exhibitors in the fnals over the past few years,
due no doubt to the very extensive coverage by Telefs Eireann.”37
The GAA, which had given the Institute £500 each year from
1948 for the production of the fnal flms, discontinued this funding in 1968.38 As the 1960s progressed, the Institute became increasingly dependent on orders from Bord Fáilte and Aer Lingus for its
flms—as the Institute’s Tom Hyde remarked in his response to General Film Distributors’ letter quoted above, “Thank God for Bord
Fáilte and Aer Lingus.”39The beginning of the highlights packages of
both the 1961 hurling fnal and the 1962 football fnal feature an Aer
Lingus plane landing at Dublin Airport. The packages in the 1960s
seem increasingly to be engaged with an international audience; the
nationalist overtones evident in the earlier flms, particularly in the
buildup to games, feature much less. Although reflecting a chang-
36. Seán Ó Síocháin to Desmond Hand, National Film Institute, 12 Aug. 1965.
See IFI, Item Number 16280, Box 317.
37. J. J. O’Brien to Tom Hyde, National Film Institute, 30 Aug. 1968. See IFI,
Item Number 16283, Box 317.
38. G. J. McCanny to Seán Ó Síocháin (draft), 8 Aug. 1969.
39. Tom Hyde to J. J. O’Brien, General Film Distributors Ltd., 5 Sept. 1968. See
IFI, Item Number 16283, Box 317.
Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films 209
ing Ireland during this period, this development also revealed the
Institute’s increasing dependence on Aer Lingus and Bord Fáilte for
funding through the decade; both organizations used the Institute’s
flms for screenings for employees and customers and for promotional purposes.40 The Institute’s accounts from the GAA Film Productions in 1967 and 1968 (fgure 17) exhibit this dependence on Aer
Lingus and Bord Fáilte, with most of the funding coming from these
sources by 1967.
The NFI’s All-Ireland highlights flms represented a crucial step
in the evolution of indigenous-sports flming in Ireland and also constituted an important part of an emerging and distinctive flm culture in the country during war period. If, as Susan Hayward
suggests, flm can function as “a cultural articulation of a nation,”
textualizing “the nation and subsequently [constructing] a series of
relations around the concepts, frst, of state and citizen, then of state,
citizen, and other,”41 these flms represent some of the most pertinent and popular examples of such an articulation. These productions, particularly until the end of the 1950s, repeatedly spotlight the
Irish nation, its language, culture, and political and religious leaders.
Featuring some of the most acclaimed sporting heroes of their time,
the Institute’s productions enjoyed considerable popularity when exhibited in cinemas across Ireland, especially until the arrival of television. Although live-television coverage of All-Ireland fnals would
eventually lead to the discontinuation of the Institute’s flming of
them, the flms continued to offer a signifcant instructional tool for
GAA clubs across the island in the 1960s and 1970s and provided Aer
Lingus and Bord Fáilte with important promotional material. Still,
the most important period of their production unquestionably lay
in the late 1940s and 1950s, a time from which little other footage of
Gaelic games survives. These flms provide rare positive portrayals of
Irish society and its sports culture in a challenging decade character-
40. Bill Morrison, “Re. Bord Fáilte’s Use of the National Film Institute’s AllIreland Films,” e-mail to Seán Crosson, 12 Apr. 2012; Mike Cronin, “Re. Aer Lingus
Screening of National Film Institute’s All-Ireland Films,” e-mail to Seán Crosson,
11 Apr. 2012.
41. Hayward, French National Cinema, x.
210 Éire-Ireland 48: 1 & 2 Spr/Sum 13 The NFI of Ireland’s All-Ireland Films
ized, as Terence Brown notes, by “stagnation and crisis.”42 Although
the NFI flms share some formal similarities with Leni Riefenstahl’s
Olympia, the most signifcant parallel is in how both projects ultimately affrmed the status quo and the reigning political and social
leaders in public life. In Ireland this occurred during a time when
popular protest might well have been warranted. The country experienced a severe depression, and many endured considerable poverty and hardship as employment fell by 12 percent between 1951
and 1958 and emigration passed well over the 400,000 mark by
the end of the decade.43 Yet during that same period attendance at
Gaelic games increased dramatically, reaching over 85,000 for AllIreland hurling-fnal days in the mid-1950s and over 90,000 for the
All-Ireland football fnal by 1961.44 The Institute’s footage of these
All-Irelands—works that were centrally concerned with representing
and promoting the nation through sport—constitute distinctly Irish
sports flms that played an important role in affrming Ireland in a
time of crisis.
42. Terence Brown, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History, 1922–2002 (London:
Harper Perennial, 2004), 199–226.
43. Dick Hogan, “Emigration Study Reverses the Perspective,” Irish Times, 1 Feb.
44. Corry, GAA Book of Lists, 371–412.
Figure 17. National Film Institute GAA Film Production accounts, 1966 and
1967. IFI, Item Number 16238, Box 317.

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