History on the screen

Donal Kennedy delves into the Pathe-News archives and picks out a few of the gems which are now available free-to-view on the world-wide-web

MOTION PICTURE newsreels from 1897 to 1970 world-wide are available free through the internet. From the early 1930s much of it has a soundtrack.

All human and much animal life is there. Actresses and Bishops, sportsmen and statespersons, singers, gangsters, dictators and revolutionaries, are all there.

If it's aviation you want you can see the portly ex-president Theodore Roosevelt take to the air with one of the Wright brothers in 1912 in an aircraft which looks like it is made from orange boxes. Or you can see James Fitzmaurice of the Irish army air corps being decorated by US president Calvin Coolidge at the White House in 1928 for co-piloting the first east-west flight.

You can see separate receptions of Fitzmaurice in Dublin by W T Cosgrave and the Archbishop of Dublin, and a civic reception in Bremen for Fitzmaurice and his two German crew-mates.

If you want an exhibition of Machismo you can watch the recently installed Duce Mussolini wrestling with a lion cub in Rome. Easy, you might think, compared with the issues today's government leaders must wrestle with.

You can see Jack Doyle sing, Marilyn Monroe interviewed with Arthur Miller in London and Manchester United beat Benfica in a game which starred George Best.

There had long been a rumour rife in north Dublin about the victory of the local horse "Caughoo" at 100/1 in the 1947 Aintree Grand National.

Caughoo was never even placed in another race in its life. It was a small horse, there was mist and driving rain at Aintree, and the story was that instead of attempting two circuits of the course like the other contenders, Caughoo hid behind a fence and completed but one circuit to be acclaimed winner, to the great comfort of north Dublin punters and the near ruination of the bookies.

The newsreel shows the whole race, or as much of it that the foul weather allowed. About 60 horses started and most of them fell and riderless horses were all over the place.

Ireland is very well covered. Key in your own county and watch hurling and football matches, for instance. I started to key them alphabetically. I got to 'Carlow' and saw a top-hatted Bishop digging the first sod for the Sugar Factory in the 1920s. That same day I read in the Irish Times of plans for the use of the site of the factory which had recently closed.

I keyed in De Valera, Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy, Frank Aiken, Sean Lemass, Sean Hales, John Redmond, Edward Carson, and many more. I keyed in Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail, Dail Eireann and IRA.

I got results for each, and many for some.

I found Terence MacSwiney presiding over a meeting, in Cork's City Hall, I believe. His funeral in London and in Cork was covered at length. There were many movie photographers shown at the grave, hand-cranking their cameras.

Coverage of the 1932 election of Fianna Fail and the Easter 1932 IRA Dublin parade following the lifting of the ban were lengthy and instructive. The supercilious commentary on the election and on the incident when Dublin's Lord Mayor, Alfie Byrne ducked a punch aimed at him and floored his attacker might tempt anyone to re-commission their old Howth guns. But that was in the days before John Prescott. Some of the archive available here was never screened. Commentary was generally fair. But the unarmed Dubliners shot down by the King's Own Scottish Borderers in July 1914 are wrongly described as 'Gun-runners'. The actual gunrunners had evaded confrontation with police or military.

Key in 'Macroom' and watch the 1920 Aldershot funeral of 'the police cadets' ambushed at Kilmichael. The caption wrongly says '1923'. But it records the attendance of parties of the various units of the Aldershot army command with which the deceased had held commissions during the first world war. There was neither sight nor citation of any policeman.

The Easter 1941 Dublin army parade was extremely impressive. It seems that, twenty-five years after the rising, Irish citizens were proud of the insurgents, appreciative of their achievements and determined not to relinquish them.

It is purely a personal theory, but the British did not dare to attack Ireland, the Germans decided it more prudent to attack Russia and Japan thought that a combined onslaught on the United States and the British Empire a smaller risk than incurring the wrath of the Irish.

By December 1941, when I first saw the light of day, the Wehrmacht had reached tram-stops in the suburbs of Moscow, the United States was reeling from Pearl Harbour and the British Empire was beset worldwide.

Most of Ireland was at peace.

The newsreels, which have been digitised with a grant from Britain's National Lottery can be accessed by logging into British Pathe's website

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2009-09-21 15:42:45.
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