Narrator Liam Neeson contributes to introduction
The Debartolo Performing Arts Center hosted a premiere showing of the new documentary, 1916: The Irish Rebellion, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, a pivotal event in Irish history.
Several Notre Dame faculty members contributed to the production of the film and gave opening remarks at the premiere. Briona Nic Dhiarmada, Thomas J. and Kathleen M. O’Donnell Professor of Irish Studies, wrote and co-produced the film, and Christopher Fox, Professor of English, worked as executive producer. Fox is also the director of the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, which produced the film.
Also present were University President Father John Jenkins, CSC; Irish ambassador to the United States Anne Anderson; and Oscar-nominated Irish actor Liam Neeson, who narrated the documentary.
“We believe in stories … that shape our past, shape our present, and inspire our future,” said Fr. Jenkins in his welcoming remarks. The rebellion, he noted, which took place during Easter Week in 1916, is one of those important stories. He emphasized the connection between Notre Dame and Ireland, recalling how the sole surviving leader of the Easter Rising, Éamon De Valera, visited the university in 1919 and was welcomed by 1,500 students.
Ambassador Anderson echoed Fr. Jenkins’ words, noting that the American Declaration of Independence had three signatures from Irish-born men and that five of the seven signers of the Irish Declaration of Independence had visited the United States.
Anderson also acknowledged that commemorating the Easter Rising goes beyond the borders of Ireland and the campus of Notre Dame. “The resonance of 1916 was felt worldwide,” she said. As the documentary demonstrated, the rebellion inspired several other British colonies to rise up against oppression and seek liberty. Because these themes still resonate today, she described the documentary as “a film that interrogates and challenges.”
Nic Dhiarmada and Fox also spoke, thanking the many people who worked with them over the course of five years to produce the documentary. Liam Neeson delivered the final speech before the film began.
Neeson said he had been in Dublin for a juvenile amateur boxing championship in 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. At the time, he admitted, he did not recognize the images throughout the city as the leaders of the rebellion, “but the experience of being there for that week at Easter,” he said, “with all the city’s flags and pageantry … [recalled] to my soul a national pride and a pride of Irish identity.”
Describing how Tom Hugh invited him to narrate 1916: The Irish Rebellion, Neeson said, “I knew it was going to be quite special if the Keough-Naughton Chair for Irish Studies here at the University was involved … [and] of course I leapt on board.” Neeson concluded by reading a poem reflecting on the rebellion, “Easter 1916” by William Butler Yeats.
The documentary incorporated rarely-seen footage of events leading up to the Easter Rising, the rebellion itself, and interviews with family members and friends of the leaders. The film also included modern shots of Ireland, England, and other captivating landscapes. This combination created an engaging experience that linked past and present.
In addition, experts from universities around the world were interviewed regarding the Easter Rising. They described how ideas of the Enlightenment, such as natural freedom and equality, inspired a desire for autonomy among the Irish population and led to several smaller uprisings in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The documentary also related the harsh difficulties surrounding the rebellion. While leaders such as Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, and Tomás Clarke worked to stir up resistance to the British government, many unionists staunchly opposed “home rule.” After the bloody, six-day fight, the Irish eventually surrendered, and most of the rebellion’s leaders were sentenced to execution.
The documentary dedicated several moving minutes to the leaders’ final moments, portraying their readiness to die for their cause, as well as their hope for the future. Despite the apparent failure of the Easter Rising, the film related the rebellion’s widespread repercussions around the world. By 1919, the Irish Republic finally had been established with an independent parliament.
The premiere showed the condensed, 90-minute version of the film. A three-part series, with parts of one hour each, will air on over 250 public television stations across the United States, as well as in other countries. In the South Bend area, it will air on WNIT-TV throughout April, with dates and times available at 1916.nd.edu.
Sophia Buono is a sophomore PLS major and ESS minor living in Lyons Hall. She enjoys road trips—although the 10-hour bus ride home can be draining. Luckily, thinking about spring break and listening to recordings of Liam Neeson while writing this article kept her going strong. If you would like to bond over a favorite Neeson film (anything from the Batman trilogy to The Lego Movie), email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.