Shot in the style of the old news reels, this short film project aims to emphasis the role of women in 1916. With just days left on their Fund:it appeal, we caught up with comedian Elaine Gallagher to chat about the centenary year.
Hi Elaine, so how’s the Fund:it campaign going? Fairly stressful?
Hey, it’s going okay. It’s a full time job, constantly plugging the campaign and you start to feel you’re annoying people after a while but I suppose it’s all part of the process – keep informing people about it until they finally contribute and/or tell their friends about the project.
You talk about how the women of the 1916 rising have been airbrushed out of history, and in the case of Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, she was literally airbrushed. Can you give us some more examples of women being airbrushed out, in the metaphorical sense this time perhaps?
It is astonishing that it’s only with the centenary commemorations that we’ve started to learn names like Dr. Kathleen Lynn, Helena Moloney, Margaret Skinnider, Winnie Carney and Elizabeth O’Farrell; all extraordinary individuals and yet largely unknown.
The only female figure from that time I remember learning about in school was Countess Markievicz, or perhaps Maud Gonne (who wasn’t present during the Rising) but Gonne came up more in English class as Yeats’s muse than in history class as a republican and activist.
There were hundreds of women involved in the changing political landscape a century ago; some focused of women’s suffrage, some cultural nationalism, as part of the Gaelic League and Literary Revival, many got involved in trade unionism, and many more still in the fight for self-government and yet it is only now that we have begun to learn their names. Why is that? How could so many be forgotten for so long?
No doubt the fact that most of the women involved in the Rising ended up being Anti-Treaty was a significant factor. The conservative Ireland that emerged after the civil war had no time for revolutionary women so they simply ignored them.
How have you felt about the 1916 celebrations in general? There really has been some highs and lows. Anything stick in your throat about it?
I think for the most part they have been carried out in a tasteful manner. I went to the commemoration in Ashbourne on Easter Monday and found it very moving. I also went to Reclaim ’16 on the 24th of April, the actual anniversary date of the Rising.
The entire event was great, with a notable highlight being Stephen Murphy’s reading of his poem Was It For This?. It was good to see ordinary citizens gather outside the GPO because the commemoration on Easter Sunday, as well conducted as it was, was only for dignitaries, which strikes me as going against the egalitarian grain of the Proclamation.
I also thought the banner outside of the Bank of Ireland, with Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell and Redmond to be a rather odd addition.
The opening gambit of your Fundit spiel talks about Ireland being one of “the most progressive countries in the world for women.” Can you expand a little on that? It might seem a rather odd statement on its own. Like where did it all go wrong so?
Some of the political movements taking place at the turn of the 20th century included the fight for female suffrage, cultural nationalism, socialism and of course the drive for Irish independence from Britain. Irishwomen were an integral part of all of these movements; they worked alongside men in some cases, like in Abbey Theatre and the Irish Citizen Army, and they also formed their own organisations, like Inghinidhe na Éireann and later Cumann na mBan.
It was undoubtedly a time of tremendous possibility and idealism for everyone. There was a belief that a new Ireland could and should be created, as the Proclamation states, “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”.
In the election of 1918 Countess Markievicz won a seat in Westminster, the first woman in history to ever do so. As a member of Sinn Féin, she refused to take her seat; instead she took her position in the Dáil and was Minister for Labour from 1919 to 1922. Another woman would not hold a cabinet ministry until 1979. The fact that most of the revolutionary women were Anti-Treaty was a great factor in their alienation from politics from the civil war onwards.
Then the conservative constitution, stating that a woman’s place was in the home – a far cry from the progressive Proclamation – and the involvement of the Church in state affairs for decades to come all eroded women’s involvement in political life.
Why did you opt for the news reel style aesthetic? How are you creating that? Is it all filters and After Effects or did ye nick one of those old cameras from a museum?
As well as being appropriate for the period, the use of silent film embodies the silenced voices of the women of the Rising. The newsreel conceit also lends a legitimacy to the footage, as though we are watching archive, however this project is not news or archive, it is a (semi) fictional film, which draws attention to the constructed nature of news reporting of the past and of today; decisions were and still are made about what is shown and what is kept from the viewer.
What we see is taken as truth when in actual fact it is not without an agenda. Unfortunately, I did not have the budget to shoot on film, which would have been my preference. Instead we shot on a Red One MX at 16 frames per second to achieve the under-cranked, fast-motion of silent film. The rest of the old film effect will be created in post-production.
What’s the final product going to look like? Is it a feature or a short and have you any plans for screenings around the country?
It’s a short film, about 7 minutes in length. I’ll be submitting it to film festivals and there’s talks of showing it at the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan as the Meath County Council kindly gave me a small amount of funding to get the project off the ground. However, to complete the project, I’m depending on the contribution of the public via our fundit.ie campaign.
What’s your own background? You do some stand up comedy I believe?
I’m a TV Production Manager by trade, but I write and direct shorts and sketches and I do stand up comedy as well. Last year I wrote for RTÉ’s The Mario Rosenstock Show, which was a great experience.
Who else is involved in the crew and have you anything else planned down the line?
I worked with a brilliant cast and crew, a great deal of whom were women. My DP was the extremely talented Gosia Zur, whose previous work includes the feature, “Monged” and my cast included Rachael Dowling (John Huston’s The Dead, Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture, The Field, In The Name Of The Father) as Countess Markievicz.
As for what’s next, besides completing Reel: Irish Women and distributing it; I’m going to Edinburgh in August to perform at the Fringe Festival and I’ve a couple of comedy scripts I’m working on but they’re very much in their infancy.
There’s just a few short days left for the project to hit its target. Donate what you can over on Fund:it.