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SOURCE: Topical Budget – The Great British News Film by Luke McKernan, BFI, 1992, pp134-137.

Topical Budget in Ireland

 

Topical’s coverage of Ireland in the early 1920s, which saw the creation of the Irish Free State and the civil war, is impressive because of its thoroughness. One of their most notable items in the pre-WOCC period had been THE DUBLIN REBELLION, which showed scenes in Dublin following the Easter Rising. The “troubles” of the post-war period would have been difficult to report without betraying some kind of position, and the evidence does indicate that Topical, rather than attempt to adopt a disinterested stance, put their faith in an equitable peace settlement and validity of the Irish Free State. This they combined with as wide and varied as possible coverage of the visual stories that were yielded up by the situation. From the time of the unrest following the death of Terence MacSwinney in October 1920, to the death of Michael Collins in August 1922, around 10 per cent of all Topical Budget items were devoted to Ireland, rising to 20 per cent at high points in the crisis. It was costly to support a cameraman or cameramen for so long a period, and Topical’s coverage is praise-worthy therefore in extent and kind. It is reasonable to take the main titles employed by the newsreel as statements of attitude and intent, and the following are titles for the majority of the items covering the Irish situation from De Valera’s negotiations in London to Tim Healey’s appointment as the Governor-General of the Irish Free State:

IS IT THE DAWN? (515-2)

I WANT PEACE (516-1)

ULSTER WILL NOT YIELD (516-1)

GETTING ACQUAINTED (516-2)

IRELAND’S FATE DECIDED IN THE HIGHLANDS (524-1)

IS IT PEACE? (529-1)

GOVERNMENT’S ANSWER TO VALERA (529-2)

WILL THERE BE PEACE IN IRELAND? (533-?)

FORGIVE AND FORGET (537-1)

IRISH FREE STATE (537-1)

PEACE COUNCIL AT THE PALACE (537-1)

FURTHER PICTURES OF IRISH PEACE (538-?)

(SINN FEIN MEMBERS MEET AT DUBLIN PARLIAMENT HOUSE) (538-2)

THE SURRENDER OF DUBLIN CASTLE (543-1)

BRITISH EVACUATE IRELAND AFTER HUNDREDS OF YEARS OF OCCUPATION (543-2)

THE GREAT TREK (544-1)

HUNTING IN FULL SWING IN IRISH FREE STATE (544-2)

PEACE IN IRELAND MEANS ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’ AT ALDERSHOT (545-1)

BATTLE OF BELLEEK (564-1)

(IRELAND REFUGEES) (564-1)

IRISH FREE STATE TO MAINTAIN THE CONSTITUTION (564-2)

ASSASSINATION OF F M SIR HENRY WILSON BY GUNMAN (565-2)

CIVIL WAR IN IRELAND (566-2)

DUBLIN, HEMMING IN THE REBELS (567-1)

DUBLIN’S CIVIL WAR (567-2)

ULSTER DAY THE TWELFTH (568-1)

FALL OF THE LIMERICK (570-1)

IRISH NATIONAL ARMY SWEEPING ON (571-1)

FIRST IRISH NATIONAL TROOP SHIP (572-1)

PASSING OF MR ARTHUR GRIFFITH (573-1)

(MICHAEL COLLINS) (574-1)

(MICHAEL COLLINS) (574-2)

LET THE DUBLIN GUARDS BURY ME (575-1)

REBIRTH OF A NATION (589-2)

Two of the above items are particularly striking, demonstrating the varied approach of Topical. IS IT THE DAWN is entirely titles: that is no pictures at all, only a message to Topical’s audience from Eamon De Valera, and (bizarrely enough) some poetry:

IS IT THE DAWN?

Though refusing all interviews De Valera asks “Topical”, Exclusively, to issue his peace message to the whole world.

THE MESSAGE

“Ireland is fighting solely for the right to live her own life in her own way. She loves equally all her children and she needs them all.

And Oh! It were a gallant deed

To show before mankind,

How every race and every creed

Might be love combines –

Might be combined, yet not forget

The fountains whence they rose,

As, filled by many a rivulet,

The stately Shannon flows.

[Signed] Eámonn de Valéra July 4 1921”

it is not easy to say what one should make of this. A statement from De Valera prior to his talks with Lloyd George, together with a portrait shot of him, would have been reasonable, though still remarkable, but bad verse is strange. This is the only occasion Topical ever had an item without pictures and shows quite a strong sympathy for De Valera – while he was taking part in talks and a lasting peace settlement seemed possible.

Another kind of reporting, and one likely to appeal more to the audience, was to show pictures of the fighting. An item such as THE BATTLE OF BELLEEK, showing safe artillery fire and following troops into an empty village, is disappointingly unexciting, but one item at least is far more dramatic:

CIVIL WAR IN IRELAND

“Mr Michael Collins” desperate fight against “Irregulars”. These remarkable pictures of the bombardment of the Rebels’ stronghold in the Four Courts, Dublin, were taken by “Topical’s” operator lying on his back under fire.” Medium long shot of the Four Courts building. “A Sniper’s nest.” Long shot from position by a wall of the top of the Four Courts. “Free Sate guns in action.” Military vehicles in street. “Shells bursting on the Four Courts.” Shell fire and smoke between two buildings to the left of the Four Courts.” Rear view of Irish Free State troops manning large gun in street. View of gunfire and smoke through window. Return to shot of clouds of smoke between two buildings. Sandbags in position beneath broken windows. View through window again. “Snipers emptied the Streets.” Man looking down empty street spanned by an arch. “Homeless!” adults and children seated on pavement. “RORY O’CONNOR” Commandant of the Rebels and defender of the Four Courts [title features still of O”Connor]. Later. The Four Courts go up in Flames” [titles accompanied by picture of the building on fire]. Crowd in street by bridge to the right of the Four Courts and adjoining building [to the left] seen from over the river. Long shot of Dublin with the Four Courts on fire and much smoke over the area. Medium long shot of building to the left of the Four Courts with smoke rising from behind it. Medium shot of great clouds of smoke pouring out between this building and the Four Courts.

It was often very dangerous for the cameraman to report the civil war, and an item of this kind, with the operator apparently under fire, is remarkably modern in manner. Certainly nothing in the War Office Official Topical Budget took the cinema audience quite so near the fighting. Overall, Topical’s coverage of this whole period seems engaging in every sense, a good example o the newsreel during its finest period, at its best.

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