O’Donovan Rossa documentary to screen at Galway Film Fleadh

Great grandsons of fenian began film after finding out about dynamite campaign

A 90-minute documentary on the life and legacy of Fenian leader Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, made by two of his great grandsons, is to be shown at the Galway Film Fleadh next week.

"Rebel Rossa! " has been made by Williams Rossa Cole and his brother, Rossa Williams Cole, and was shot in Ireland and the United States.

A documentary filmmaker, Williams Cole revealed how he and his brother were always conscious growing up in New York of the part played by their great grandfather in the fight for Irish freedom.

“There was always a formal photographic portrait of our great-grandfather Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa on the wall of our apartment,” he said.


“In this photo, Rossa looks dignified, dressed in a 19th-century suit and broad-rimmed hat, his clear eyes giving the impression of strength, clarity and determination,” he recalled.

Writing in Irish America earlier this year, the brothers revealed that although their late father William Rossa Cole loved Ireland and all things Irish including music and song, he was not a political man.

Although their link to the Irish revolutionary leader was commemorated in their names, the two brothers explained that they didn’t get lectures from their father on Irish history and politics.

“Besides knowledge of his brutal time in English prisons, his huge funeral on August 1st, 1915, and the famous oration by Pádraig Pearse at his grave, we didn’t know too much about the life of Rossa.”

When their father died in 2000, Williams inherited a trove of O’Donovan Rossa’s material that come down through their maternal grandmother, Margaret,- O’Donovan Rossa’s youngest daughter.

“At some point, perhaps five years ago, my brother, Rossa told he me he saw on Wikipedia that O’Donovan Rossa after his exile to New York had waged a dynamite campaign on English soil.

The discovery piqued Williams’s interest in his great grandfather and together with Rossa, he set about making a film about their ancestor and his life as a revolutionary in Ireland and in exile.

Over 18 months, the brothers travelled to Ireland, capturing a recreation of O'Donovan Rossa's Funeral and Pearse's oration in Glasnevin in August 1915 as well as travelling to West Cork.

“Being a relative is simply something you are born into but it is what you do with that role that is important - how you carry the stories and the name onto future generations,” said Williams Cole

"Rebel Rossa !" is being screened at the Galway Film Fleadh on July 7th and at the Skibbereen Arts Festival In West Cork on July 23rd.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times