It’s the tale of his encounter with the man who put Mise Eire on the screen – George Morrison.
Mise Eire began as a 1912 poem by teacher and executed 1916 Easter Rising leader Padraig Pearse. (It’s also the title of a 1987 poem by Eavan Boland.) George Morrison made his iconic Irish language historical drama, using news footage from the period leading up to and around the Rising. It caused quite a stir when it came out in 1959.
So here’s Pól Ó Duibhir’s tale, of The Day I Met…George Morrison
I sat there, the tears streaming down my face; the gentle wavelets of the incoming tide were slowly obliterating the vulnerable footprints in the sand; the powerful air of Róisín Dubh was rising to a crescendo; the deep sonorous voice of the commentary underscored the cycle of decay and renewal; I was caught in a raging emotional storm of birth, life and death, and identity.
And behind all this was George. I had only met him for the first time some minutes before. How could this frail elderly man have plunged me into such emotional depths in minutes? Well that’s George. Fifty years ago he had taken Ireland by the scruff of the neck and shaken her till she rattled. Now he was out of the backroom and himself on the big screen in a film which was paying tribute to him and to his stunning creation of fifty years ago: Mise Éire.
Ireland, at the end of the 1950s was a depressing place.There had been no economic development since the end of WWII, quite the reverse – poverty and mass emigration. It had been like this almost since the foundation of the State. The glorious dream of the revolutionaries had gone flat as a loosely tied baloon and a meanness of spirit stalked the land.
There were small signs of a new awakening in the background. Seán Lemass had started to seriously tackle the stagnant economy; there were intellectual rumblings which were to lead to change over the following decade; but it was all very slow.
Mise Éire burst into this unsettled scene with a mighty crash that startled, challenged, provoked and overwhelmed the land. The film was devoured by the people all over the island. When it was banned by the Belfast City Council from being shown in the cinemas there, because of its exclusively Irish language soundtrack, it bobbed up in GAA and parish halls, sometimes even in a 16mm version.
This was surely George Morrison’s greatest achievement, the work of a lifetime, and he wasn’t yet even forty years of age. George had long had a deep seated ambition to make a historical documentary. He painstakingly amassed a vast store of relevant film archive material from all over the world, which, with Louis Marcus, he wrought into a powerful narrative. He got Seán Ó Riada to write what must be one of the most powerful musical film scores in existence. He recruited the two magnificent rich resonant voices of Pádraig O Raghallaigh and Liam Budhlaeir for the Irish language commentary. And, he got Gael Linn to finance it.
My school class were then taken to the preview in 1961 and it made a powerful and lasting impression on us. Now fifty years later I was watching a preview of a documentary (made by Midas Productions) about the making of Mise Éire and in which I had a small bit-part, talking about the impact of the original film.
When I finally emerged, battered, from the small cinema at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin’s Temple Bar, I was determined to get a photo of myself with George, who had been one of my heroes since I first saw Mise Éire. I asked Dermot, who was his driver for the day, if he would oblige and I then approached George and asked if he’d mind. He was sitting at a table and I was on my hunkers beside him. He made to get up for the photo. I told him to sit where he was and I would hunker down beside him. He agreed, only if I never let anyone see me on my knees in front of him.
I told him it would not be obvious in the photo, so just let it be our secret.
You can read Póló’s report on the documentary about Mise Eire on his Irish language blog An Cnagaire. (Worth dropping by for a look even if you don’t read Irish. Lots of pictures. And you can find out what An Cnagaire means. No. I’m not telling you. Go and look.)
The current documentary is called Lorg na gCos: súil siar ar Mise Éire. (Which in English is something like Footprints: revisiting Mise Éire.) Due to be on RTE telly this year either around Easter or in the Autumn apparently.
Here are the two poems to compare. Pearse’s Ireland is an old woman bereaved, betrayed, bitter and harried. Boland is less enthralled by the good old bad old days and challenges the male war-waging view of history. (Pearse’s poem is in Irish first and then an English translation. Boland’s is at the bottom. I got the text of Pearse’s work here.)
Sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra
Mór mo ghlóir:
Mé a rug Cú Chulainn cróga.
Mór mo náir:
Mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair.
Mór mo phian:
Bithnaimhde do mo shíorchiapadh.
Mór mo bhrón:
D’éag an dream inar chuireas dóchas.
Uaigní mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.
And the translation into English:
I am Ireland:
I am older than the old woman of Beare.
Great my glory:
I who bore Cuchulainn, the brave.
Great my shame:
My own children who sold their mother.
Great my pain:
My irreconcilable enemy who harrasses me continually…
Great my sorrow
That crowd, in whom I placed my trust, died.
I am Ireland:
I am lonelier than the old woman of Beare.
And here’s Eavan Bolan’s take on it…
I won’t go back to it-
my nation displaced
into old dactyls,
by the animal tallows
of the candle–
land of the Gulf Stream,
the small farm,
the scalded memory,
that bandage up the history,
that make a rhythm of the crime
where time is time past.
A palsy of regrets.
No. I won’t go hack.
My roots are brutal:
I am the woman–
a sloven’s mix
of silk at the wrists,
a sort of dove-strut
in the precincts of the garrison–
the quick frictions,
the rictus of delight
and gets cambric for it,
I am the woman
in the gansy-coat
on board the Mary Belle,
in the huddling cold,
holding her half-dead baby to her
as the wind shifts east
and north over the dirty
water of the wharf
mingling the immigrant
guttural with the vowels
of homesickness who neither
knows nor cares that
a new language
is a kind of scar
and heals after a while
into a passable imitation
of what went before.
Thanks Póló for the story, the picture and the links. You too, dear reader, are welcome to add your contribution to the list of illustrious contributors. I’ll send you a book (I’ll have a rummage around and give you a choice) if you do. Just email your own tale of a celebrity encounter to me here at paulwaters99 at hotmail.com and you can even read the original set of simple rules. But only if you can be bothered.
We’ve had some great ones already about a disparate bunch of singers, actors, politicians and others. Click on any them below to get a flavour of what has gone before.
- The Day I Met… Pavarotti
- The Day I Met… My Nemesis and discovered his secret
- The Day I Met… Jim Jarmusch
- The Day I Met… The Queen
- The Day I Met… James Nesbitt
- The Day I Met… met Her!
- The Day I Met… the Colonel
- The Day I Met… Indira Gandhi
- The Day I Met… Billy Bragg
- The Day I Met… Gerry Adams
- The Day I Met… Telly (Kojak) Savalas
- The Day I Met… Frederick (Day of the Jackal) Forsyth
And for the really hard core, here are the opening minutes of the original Mise Eire film. Nowt happens till about 1’40 in – and even then it’s fairly slow-paced.