British Pathé brings colour to Irish revolution

Revolution in Colour deploys technique used for vaunted second World War in HD Colour

Newly-colourised original footage allows people to see the events of the 1916 Rising as it was at the time. Video: Pathé

Film footage covering the Irish revolution has been colourised and put into a feature length documentary.

Revolution in Colour tells the story of the tumultuous years from the turn of the 20th century to the end of the Civil War.

It includes footage of some of the seminal events of the revolutionary period such as the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, the aftermath of the Easter Rising, the Treaty negotiations and the shelling of the Four Courts which started the Civil War.

British Pathé, which owns the rights to much of the footage extant from that time, has used the same techniques as was used for the groundbreaking TV series World War II in HD Colour.


The 90 minute film, narrated by Downtown Abbey's Allen Leech, features some of the best known historical figures from that time like Michael Collins, Patrick Pearse, Edward Carson and John Redmond.

British Pathé had attempted to make a similar film in 1935, but were thwarted from doing so by the De Valera government of the time.

Pathé sent the then government 43 reels which were confiscated. Historian Kenneth Shonk said Fianna Fáil was not comfortable with some of the Civil War footage as it was trying to escape the "shadow of the gunman".


Prof Shonk of the University of Wisconsin told a recent conference that the Fianna Fáil party did not want its past to be a barrier to respectability.

“When viewed within the context of 1920s and 1930s Irish politics, the desire to suppress this visual archive can be seen as an act of political survival, for the recalling to memory of the militant past of certain party figures could threaten Fianna Fáil’s tenuous but increasingly influential position of leadership within the Irish Free State,” he said.

Fortunately Pathé kept the negatives which now constitute much of the footage in Revolution in Colour.

The documentary is the result of a collaboration between the British Pathé archive and Zampano Productions, the producers of Seven Women, TK Whitaker – Seirbhíseach an Stáit and The People's Tenor.

"When you watch black and white, you are detached from the personalities and the history," said director Martin Dwan. "There is something about colour that triggers empathy with people."

The 90-minute film is scripted by Trinity College Dublin historian Eunan O'Halpin.

A trailer is available to watch now on the subscription channel

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times