Gaelic games on the big screen – Hollywood and Irish sports

Gaelic games on the big screen – Hollywood and Irish sports

While Gaelic games, football, hurling, camogie etc, are the biggest realm of sports in Ireland, people might be surprised at the long relationship they have with cinema.

A new book Gaelic Games on Film: From silent films to Hollywood hurling, horror and the emergence of Irish cinema from Dr Seán Crosson at NUIG’s Huston School of Film & Digital Media examines the history of Irish sports on the big screen.

As early as 1901 the Irish Animated Photo Company filmed a Cullen’s Challenge Cup hurling game between ‘Rovers’ and ‘Grocers’ played at Jones’ Road – now Croke Park – on Sunday, December 8.

This was screened as a film the following Wednesday as part of a ‘Grand Gaelic Night’ at the Rotunda on Parnell Street.

In all the years since then filmmakers have used different Gaelic games as a recurring motif to represent Irish identity in all its complicated and problematic glory.

“Perhaps the most extraordinary and fascinating aspect of this story is the enduring relationship between hurling and Hollywood,” Dr Crosson said.

Most of the major Hollywood studios, including MGM, Paramount, and Warner Bros, have produced films that focus on Irish sports at some point in their history he said, though this hasn’t been without issues of its own.

In 1936, MGM released a short, simply titled Hurling as part of their highly-popular ‘Pete Smith Specialities series’.

“This extraordinary depiction described hurling as Ireland’s ‘game of assault and battery’ and drew heavily on established and problematic stereotypes concerning Ireland and Irish people at the time.”

“The peak for Hollywood short films on hurling came in 1955 when the ‘Paramount Topper’, Three Kisses, was nominated for an Oscar.”

While these international depictions of Gaelic games provide revealing insights into the depiction of Ireland and Irish culture often from afar, the emergence of an indigenous film culture is inextricably linked to the representation of Gaelic games.

The earliest surviving depictions we have of Gaelic games are a 1914 actuality of the All-Ireland football final replay of that year between Kerry and Wexford, and a sequence in the 1918 feature film Knocknagow.

These were brought to light by the efforts of pioneering companies and individuals in the story of Irish cinema, including the Irish Animated Picture Company (the first indigenous film producer and distributor) and the Film Company of Ireland, Ireland’s first producer of feature films.

In the aftermath of World War II, an Irish Film culture began to coalesce around the efforts of the National Film Institute of Ireland and subsequently Gael Linn.

Both institutes were deeply concerned with the film depiction of Gaelic games and featured among their most popular productions Gael Linn’s coaching films Peil (1962) and Christy Ring(1964).

Dr Crosson Co-Director of the MA Sports Journalism and Communication and Director of Graduate Research and Teaching at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media at NUIG.

He published widely on film, focusing in particular in recent years on the representation of sport in film including the award-winning Sport and Film, (as co-editor) Sport, Representation and Evolving Identities in Europe, and a special issue of Media History journal on ‘Sport and the Media in Ireland’.

Gaelic Games on Film: From silent films to Hollywood hurling, horror and the emergence of Irish cinema will be launched at Irish Film Institute in Temple Bar, Dublin on Wednesday, May 15, followed by screenings of rarely seen films featuring Gaelic games, including Rooney (1958).

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