Mise Éire – The day I met… George Morrison

Like Godzilla rising from the depths, here’s another entry in the The Day I Met… Competition. This tale comes from Pól Ó Duibhir aka Póló in Ireland.

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.

George Morrison and Pól Ó Duibhir

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.

Póló was also involved – with Alan Dukes! (ex Fine Gael leader, ex Finance Minister, Anglo Irish Bank board member – hmm…) – in reshowing the original film here. Which you can also buy on DVD here.

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.)

Mise Éire:
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.

Mise Éire:
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,
oaths made
by the animal tallows
of the candle–

land of the Gulf Stream,
the small farm,
the scalded memory,
the songs
that bandage up the history,
the words
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–

who practices
the quick frictions,
the rictus of delight
and gets cambric for it,
rice-colored silks.

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.

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.



Filed under The Day I Met... Competition

17 responses to “Mise Éire – The day I met… George Morrison

  1. 29

    Give me Eavan Boland’s poem any day. Voices snaring young men to cruelty and death do not appeal to me.
    Celebrity, who decides. Certainly this person that I saw does not count as a celebrity so I am outside the book competition.
    One evening after constant walking week after week with a heavy pack up hill and down dale I looked in a mirror and saw my father, long gone, looking out at me. It has taken fatherhood and even grandfatherhood to show me just how great a man he was, a man of Biblical proportions.

  2. Sorry boys.
    In 1961 we girls from a convent school were forced to endure Mise Éire, yet another dreary dirge of darkness, with guns and mass slaughter. I have never denied that I was a slow student. The Irish language was a great burden for me to learn and the whiney narration of the film did nothing to encourage me to listen. The story has been the same since Adam was a boy and alas, today, the world has not improved. The shooting and killing still goes on.

    Perhaps at that young age, facing the fourth year of both my parents being ill and the main day to day running of the house (for eight people) on my shoulders (well, I was the eldest GIRL), school, homework and as I saw it – stupid films – were way down my list.

  3. Being from America, a country too young to have the rich history of Ireland, it’s hard to take it in. I prefer to cling to my image of dancin’ lassies and impish leprechauns.

    Aaand the Blarney Stone.

    Blessings – Maxi

  4. …and equally interesting to read are the comments!

  5. My primary concern in my post was George Morrison and the job he did on Mise Éire. He was clearly limited by the material available to him and, while he states that his intention was to make an inspirational documentary, he clearly was not making an anti-war or women’s lib film at that time. That said, he certainly brought the given history to life for me. The background of the time was a more or less idealised fairy tale. At least, that’s what was handed down to me and that is why this piece of cinematic realism made such an impression at the time.

    The screening of the forthcoming TG4 tribute had all the more impact against the current economic and social background. Paul has quoted Pearse’s poem in full and the dominant line in that poem now for me is “Mór mo náire/Mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair.” Sold out by our own for greed and gain. I spent a lifetime working for the State. Yes, I was paid for it. But I always felt I was in there, working in however small a way for what was right, and when abroad, I was always conscious of representing the country. Sadly, I may have been wasting my time and working for what turned out to be a crowd of gangsters.

    Clearly there are deficiencies in the historical narrative, in general and not just as reflected by Mise Éire. @Grannymar has rightly drawn attention to the appeal of the military narrative to boys. She has also underlined the airbrushing of (most of the) woman out of the story. Hopefully after almost 100 years some start has been made on rectifying this unforgivable omission. Or was it something more willful than simple omission. That great Dublin blog “Come Here to Me” has drawn attention to the relatively recent airbrushing of Elizabeth O’Farrell from the picture of Pearse’s surrender on the cover of Tim Pat Coogan’s book. Indeed, the contribution of women to society has always been denied full recognition and the girls landed with most of the hard work seen by their male siblings as beneath their dignity. Hopefully that is changing too.

    [Nurse Farrell airbrushed.
    http://comeheretome.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/poster-for-the-ngasave-16-moore-street-committtee-meeting/ ]

  6. Póló, I apologise for my outburst yesterday. My anger was not meant for you or Paul, but for the Ireland of ‘my’ childhood. It was a male world. Women were second class citizens in the eyes of the church (who really ruled the land), education and employment. Not many people outside Ireland realise that a student like me – weak at Irish – might be a star pupil in eight or nine other subjects, but failing Irish would mean failing the whole examination. Thankfully that is no longer the case. These Uprisings, even to this day, across the world as usually let by idealists more used to having their heads stuck in books. Books don’t feed the hungry or heal the sick.

    I am not bitter, I have lived a full life, seen it from all angles with all the highs and lows. Perhaps I have spent far too long in Northern Ireland and weary of all the unnecessary hatred and death in my 35 years here.

    • @Grannymar

      I didn’t really take it as directed against me. I just had my baloon punctured and I was sorry you didn’t have a better experience of it.

      But, of course, you are right. I am a product of the same society but without the added discrimination that affected women. While I think I had a reasonable childhood it was certainly not helped by the narrow authoritarian, conservative and self agrandising attitudes of many of those around me, particularly those in positions of authority.

      I always found it difficult to understand how, in the real world, the question comes first and the answer afterwards, while in my religious upbringing the reverse was true. Clearly that did nothing to help cultivate a curious mind.

      I always remember the christian brother in charge of our class. He was forever warning us off girls and their wily and seductive ways (you wish) but he then went on to idolise the christian mothers of Ireland. Where these mothers came out of was very difficult to fathom in the circumstances.

      Censorship, among other attitudes, effectively made sex dirty, and while that might have had its own excitement it was not a positive in forming relationships. I always held the view that it was a mortal sin if one went to England and came home without at least one dirty book, which I usually succeeded in doing.

      And then, as far as women were concerned, they bore the brunt of raising a family and running a household. They had to quit the Civil Service on marriage and were effectively excluded from most professions. Where they were working alongside men they were paid less and in general ended up in the more menial jobs. Educating them to 3rd level was seen as a waste of resources as they would eventually become homemakers and not “use” whatever skills they had acquired at such expense. The idea that running a house and raising a family was no mean enterprise and that they were the primary passers on of virtue, skills and knowledge to their offspring didn’t seem to count for anything much. Sick,

      As far as the Uprisings are concerned you have a point. They are often caused by the booky boys whose idealism outruns their common sense. In 1916 it was the British reaction more than any sucess by the rebels that shaped the future course of events. A lot of todays Uprisings are sponsored by external forces in a bid to control resources. So, while brought up on it, I am more ambiguous about 1916 itself as I get older. I’d be less ambiguous about the burning of the British embassy in Dublin in 1972 though. I thought it was justified at the time and events have only made me firmer in that conviction. I was there that day, but didn’t have anything worthwhile to throw.

      As far as the Irish language is concerned, my own view is that it is dead and has been for a long time now. That is not to say that it is not a very rich language with a worthy past. But the fact of the matter is that it has not been the vernacular of most of the country for over a hundred years and that efforts to revive it have been misdirected and only led to hostility and cynicism. I ended up doing my schooling through Irish by accident. I still interact with some of my friends in Irish but that is a personal choice and is of no great relevance to the wider issue. Your example of your whole exam depending on passing Irish is a good example. Promotion in the civil service used to be conditional on passing an Irish oral. The net effect of this was not to deny people promotion but to dumb down the oral and this only increaded the prevailing cynicism.

      I’d better stop or WordPress will start charing Paul rent.

      On the more mundane matter in hand, I think George did a great job and it was an honour to have met him.

  7. Cormac O Grada

    Good post and good discussion. I was one of those ‘Mhuire’ lads who saw Mise Eire that same day in the old Theatre Royal. And I remember being quite moved by the film.

  8. Being Irish decent, poet, and self proclaimed amateur historian, I shamefully admit my total ignorance to everything Polo had to say here…of course, as far as the part of being on his knees before Morrison, well, anyway, I admit my total embarrassment…but, if he is anything like “Van the Man Morrison”… He’s got my vote!!!

  9. I’ve been (mostly) keeping out of this so far, because it’s Póló’s show as guest poster. But, like Cormac, I’ve also enjoyed reading the comments and discussions he’s provoked. All fair and measured comment – going for the ball, not the man – in my opinion.

    I’ve just been reading Maire Cruise O’Brien’s autobiography. Among other things, she was a big Irish speaker and scholar – so it’s interesting to read quite different, much less keen, perspectives here. The little I know I picked up from friends and neighbours, without the pain of schooling, so I’ve a different attitude again.

    As for Mise Eire – I’ll watch it on You Tube – though if it’s all as slow as the beginning, it may be an ordeal that I won’t promise to complete. I’ll let you know when I succeed or give up.

  10. A good debate. Hope we keep it up.

    And in its own way it vindicates the film and the subsequent revisit programme.

    You do really need to see the original film on the big screen with the full sound. though.

    And thanks again for the opportunity to contribute.

    By the way, I think someone is going to drag George over to your site. Not me, I don’t have any contact details for him.:)


  11. Hi Polo, I have never forgotten the Mise Eire preview. I was there with you and all of the other Colaiste Mhuire lads on that same day. It did have a profound impact on me at the time and I clearly remember that the score was quite moving. The problem for me then, as now, is that I didn’t fully grasp the message of Mise Eire. I came away somewhat bewildered by the magnificence of the sound and the film but was not sure what it all meant. I figured at the time it was for those with greater intellectual horsepower than I had back then. Not a great deal has changed in the meantime.

  12. Miss a meal if you have to, but don’t miss a book. Jim Rohn

  13. Thank you for this backlink, I really appreciate it and am most grateful for your generosity.

  14. Chappi Krueger

    Very nice post.

  15. Póló

    Just realised I should have said 1960 rather than 1961. Well it was a long time ago and what’s a year between friends.

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