Next Monday sees RTE’s huge ‘Road to the Rising’ event on O’Connell Street, with vintage carousels, restored trams and historical walking tours among other attractions. The aim is to transform the street into Dublin 1915, when the city was on the eve of rebellion and many of its men were fighting in the trenches of Europe. There’s a very varied line up of talks too, but for me the highlight of the event will be the screenings of ‘Insurrection’, an eight part television series from 1966, which was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Rising and which left a lasting impression on many who saw it. It will be shown in eight separate parts in Liberty Hall as part of the event. The blurb notes:
On the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, Telefís Éireann produced a range of programmes about the events of 1916. Among these was ‘Insurrection’, an ambitious and groundbreaking television drama that has been stored in the RTÉ Archives for the past 50 years.
This eight-part series, broadcast nightly in 1966, told the story of the Rising as it might have unfolded had television existed in 1916. As part of RTÉ Road to the Rising, a charity screening of the restored series of ‘Insurrection’ will be shown at Liberty Hall Theatre over a single day.
Information on the screenings can be obtained from the links above, and there is no need to book in advance. The images in this blog post are taken from the 1966 RTE guide, and my thanks to Martin Thompson of the Fire Service Trust for providing CHTM with the publication, which is much appreciated.
Hugh Leonard, who wrote the script for Insurrection, would recall that:
From the point of view of a dramatist, my favourite character turned out to be James Connolly – bow legged, fiery, an unquenchable optimist; cheering his men on with ‘Courage boys, we are winning!’ while the GPO roof blazed overhead; or lying wounded, a cigarette in one hand and a detective novel in the other, announcing with sybaritic satisfaction that this was ‘revolution de luxe.’
The production was certainly lavish, involving 200 extras and 300 members of the defence forces, and historian Diarmaid Ferriter has noted that ‘Insurrection was broadcast twice in 1966 and never since, not, it has been maintained, due to the Troubles or political correctness, but because of the cost of repeat fees, an explanation that appears far-fetched.’ Journalist Fintan O’Toole would contend that Insurrection had ‘huge’ influence on Sinn Féin’s revival in the north of Ireland, while Harvey O’Brien has written in his study on the evolution of Ireland in documentary and film that ‘though it saluted the bravery of the Irish, it was unusually evenhanded in its portrayal of the British armed forces. It depicted, for example, a growing respect between a British medic trapped in the GPO and wounded rebel commander James Connolly.’
Along with the key figures of the insurrection who were well known to the general public, the series looked also as events like the bloody and brutal Battle of Mount Street Bridge, where a small band of Irish Volunteers inflicted huge casualties on the Sherwood Foresters, who were among the very first British regiments to arrive in the city to suppress the uprising.