Ireland 1848

by Jim Vaughan

Steve Woods went to extraordinary lengths with animation to show what film footage mgiht have looked like at the time of the famine in Ireland

At the time of the Famine in Ireland one of the leading photographic studios in Dublin was allowed entry to Kilmainham jail to make a portrait of William Smith O'Brien and his companion Thomas Francis Meagher, popular figures of the Young Ireland Movement, before they were transported to Van Diemens Land. This group portrait was displayed in the window of the studio and proved very popular with the public, selling in the region of 200 copies in one week. A rival studio, being refused entry to the jail, but commercial interests before journalistic accuracy and staged their own group portrait substituting actors in place of O'Brien and Meagher. The constructed photograph has since found its way into history books and has assumed the value of historical document.

Animator Steve Woods came upon this photographic oddity while researching material on the Famine for a proposed documentary. This prompted him to wonder at the nature of photographic authenticity and led to his ten minute film Ireland 1848, which has since been shown on RTE and at various film festivals throughout the country. This film proposes to be the work of one Lucien P.Horgan Esq. and his revolutionary "portable artistic camera" which produces moving images - forty years before the Lumiere Brothers were to amaze audiences with a similar technique. (In fact, our fictional cameraman's name is an amalgam of Lucien Ball and P.Horgan, pioneering figures in Ireland in the fields of photography and animation respectively). Horgan uses his invention to show the world the horrors of the Irish Famine to arouse sympathy for the starving victims and to raise funds to help end their plight. Because he has never seen a film before (his is the first one ever made), his directing seems at times unfocused and contrived. But rather than distract the present day viewer, this uncertainty of technique lends a certain naive charm to his vision.

The remainder of this article can be found in Film West 28.