George Morrison’s film Mise Éire (‘I am Ireland’) – based on the poem by Pádraig Pearse – has held an iconic status in Irish cultural history since its release in 1960. Seán Ó Riada’s orchestral score drew heavily from Irish traditional sources and has regularly been available ever since its first release in 1960.
Mise Éire was actually the first Irish feature-length film that utilised an orchestral soundtrack, but its renown also rests on its director’s then relatively novel technique of recounting historical events entirely through existing archive material. And what a story he was able to relate, covering twenty or so years of political change in Ireland from the 1890s to 1918. This period witnessed the flowering of Irish Nationalism, not just from a political standpoint, but through cultural and social conduits harnessed by the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletics Association and given artistic impact via the founding of the Abbey Theatre by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory. Morrison adroitly draws all the strands together through some remarkable footage, placing special emphasis on the aborted Easter Rising of 1916 and populating his composite with numerous archive shots of key players such as Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly, Éamon de Valera and one of the leading post-1916 figures, Michael Collins.
The film’s release in 1960 was timely since the appointment of Seán Lemass as Taoiseach the previous year had heralded a revitalisation in Irish life and a subsequent strengthening of national identity. Mise Éire was greeted rapturously by Irish audiences, enabling Gael Linn and Morrison to follow-up the process in 1961 with Saoirse? (‘Freedom?’), covering the gaining of independence and the bitter civil war which ensued.
Photo: Mise Éire was a sensation and it was widely shown during the 1966 commemoration of the Easter Rising in Dublin