REVIEW: 1916 The Irish Rebellion

1916: The Irish Rebellion is the best TV yet in this media-intensive year of 1916 commemorations.

By Nicola Stathers


From the opening strains of a momentous new soundtrack by Patrick Cassidy, to the recognisable voiceover by Liam Neeson, this three-part documentary has the makings of a classic.



Thankfully, it has more substance than stardust. There are interviews with notable historians from across the United Kingdom, the United States as well as Ireland. The storytelling is nuanced and highly contextual, at once rooted in history and illuminated by a much-needed international perspective.


Without being overtly political, 1916: The Irish Rebellion covers both the wider backdrop to the Easter Rising and the individuals who made history. Produced by Bríona Nic Dhiarmada and directed by Ruán Magan, Irish talent is showcased in this big-budget production funded by the University of Notre Dame.

Americans will love this documentary, and you will too.

Rigorously historical, the introduction warns that ‘the trouble with most accounts of the Rising is that they give to everything the look of inevitability…’  Context does not imply causation, but the powerful storytelling here gives many reasons for reviewing over 900 years of Irish history.


The philosophical origins of Irish Republicanism get a full airing against the backdrop of European Enlightenment in the late 18th century. This able introduction has been done many times over – most notably in Ireland by the 1798 interactive exhibition in Enniscorthy and which is well worth a visit – but film portrays it well.


This first installment of the documentary brings viewers up to the cusp of Easter week 1916. Biographical introductions are given for each of the leaders of the rebellion. There is brief review of the Fenian Rebellions and prominent figures like O’Donovan Rossa and John Devoy.


It is good to see the American organisers getting their full due, but there is a tendency to understate tensions within Ireland around issues such as labour agitation and the Home Rule Bill. The prominent role given to these Fenians, especially American organisations which funded the rebellion and the influence of American ideals, is eye-wincing.


It is clear that this survey is intended for an audience ignorant of Irish history – with some glaringly glossy statements that ignore facts which most schoolchildren here could recite.


But in so doing, this documentary develops a voice of its own, in the middle of commemorations which are dangerously repetitive.



The companion book by Nic Dhiarmada, published by Cork University Press, develops these arguments further with academic heft. The stunning footage and compelling storytelling here will surely draw viewers in to learn about the Irish Revolution.


Part 1 has led us up to the brink of the Rising, while Part II reviews the fighting in Dublin City centre with exceptional clarity. It has been well-received on social media.


We should be proud to see this documentary airing on RTE, and even prouder that it will introduce most Americans to the Irish Revolution when it airs on PBS later this spring.


Tune in to Episode 3: Insurrection which airs tonight, February 24, 2016, on RTÉ One at 9:35pm.

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