In 1916, the newsreel industry was still in its infancy. It was often difficult to cover sporadic news events as they unfolded and so during this era it is common to see “aftermath” pictures. Given the lack of sustained local production, Irish audiences mostly watched newsreels provided by British companies and it would have been particularly problematic for British cameramen to gain access to any of the action unfolding in Dublin during the rebellion.
The Aftermath of the Easter Rising is film from the vaults of the Imperial War Museum covering the events of the insurrection. Details on its production are sketchy, but it was most likely an official film. It includes library pictures of the Irish volunteers drilling before the rising followed by scenes of destruction in its aftermath. As is often the case with newsreels covering Irish politics, there is no contextual information given about the events depicted. The film does however, gives some clues to its ideological leanings in its depiction of wounded British soldiers being treated by medical staff and this operates as a reminder of Irish soldiers who had enlisted in the British army and were off fighting at the front.
Scenes in Dublin After the Suppression of the Easter Rising, a Topical Budget film, takes this link even further. It also shows the battered skyline of Dublin and after lingering on the various architectural damage caused by the insurrection, cuts to another story with a clear reminder of the larger global conflict raging elsewhere. The images of the rising are juxtaposed with a story about the Allies’ bands in Paris and the singing of the national anthems of France, Italy and Britain by the French actress Paule Andral (see above), who also poses as the feminine personification of each of the countries (Marianne, Italia Turrita and Britainnia). This reminder of the war may have been an attempt to evoke the sympathies of the wives of Irish soldiers off fighting in the Allied war effort. Known as the “separation women” because of the separation allowance paid to them while their husbands were away fighting, they were concerned that the rebels’ actions jeopardised the financial assistance afforded to them by the British army.
But the real propaganda clincher took the form of a film that was released twice, in slightly different formats, to counteract the images of insurgency after the rising and to return to issues associated with the Irish desire for self government at the end of the war.
With the North and South Irish at the Front was originally released by the War Office as With the Irish at the Front on 1st May 1916. The film depicted soldiers in the 16th Division, which was made up largely of Irish nationalist volunteers. It was later re-edited to include footage of the 36th Division (comprising mostly members of the Ulster Volunteer Force) which suffered heavy losses during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
The final version of the final was released in 1918 as With the North and South Irish at the Front. The later version depicted northern and southern soldiers serving together in the war effort in order to suggest unity amongst the Irish in their support for Britain. Crucially, the first version of the film had been released at time when the newspapers were reporting the aftermath of the Easter Rising and was a clear reminder to cinema audiences of Irish soldiers serving in the war. The timing of the release of the second version of the film was also crucial: as the war was ending, it was clear that Home Rule would once again appear on the political agenda and the British government was keen to evoke unity rather than tension in Ireland.
The film ends with images of soldiers attending Mass in Armagh Cathedral and a plea from Cardinal Logue is relayed through an intertitle: “we are all longing for peace, but it must be a just peace, it must be a stable peace, it must be a permanent peace, and not a halting one.”
The final message of the film clearly refers not just to international conflict, but also to political instabilities closer to home. As was often the case, the newsreels were overly simplistic with the suggestion that communities in Ireland with diverse political leanings could work together against a common enemy and that these efforts might alleviate some of the pre-war political tensions. In reality, somewhat different from the newsreel ideal, as World War I ended, Ireland was about to be plunged into one of its most turbulent political periods.