Story of Easter 1916 flag turned into modern fictional caper

Grandson of man who raised ‘Irish Republic’ flag over GPO inspired to make comic film

Rob Walpole's grandfather Harry hoisted the Irish Republic flag over the GPO in 1916. Now he has made a film about it starring Pat Shortt and Ruth Bradley. Video: Ronan McGreevy

 

Unlike thousands of others who claimed to have been there, Harry Walpole really was in the GPO during Easter Week 1916.

It says so in a statement he gave to the Bureau of Military History 33 years after the event. He was among the considerable number of volunteers who claimed to have hoisted a flag over the GPO.

Upon entering the GPO on Easter Monday 1916, Walpole encountered James Connolly, “a personal friend”, who told him he had a job for him. He gave him the flag of the “Irish Republic” and told him to raise it.

On his way to the roof, Walpole encountered another volunteer, Seán Hegarty, who pulled the flag halfway up the pole. “I pulled the flag to the top and tied it,” Walpole told the bureau in 1949.

Walpole also said the Irish Republic flag was the original flag of the Irish Republican Army and not the tricolour which also flew from the GPO that week.

The flag survived the shelling of the GPO, though its flagpole was shot up. It was taken by the Royal Irish Regiment who posed with it as a war trophy. It was then given to the Imperial War Museum and returned to the Irish State for the 50th anniversary commemorations in 1966. It is now the main display item in the 1916 exhibition at Collins Barracks.

The flag has now inspired a comedy caper movie by film producer Rob Walpole, grandson of Harry Walpole. His company Treasure Entertainment has specialised in small-budget Irish films, mostly comedies, including Man About Dog, The Stag and Viva.

Derring-do

The FlagPat ShorttMoe DunfordRuth BradleyBrian Gleeson

He had originally considered making a documentary but concluded that fiction would be much more compelling than fact when it came to the Easter Rising.

“There is something intrinsically funny and Irish about this because a lot of people claimed to have raised flags on the GPO,” he said.

“I never met my grandfather but there were things in his statement I recognised. I would not be opposed to a little bit of exaggeration. It is not taking the mickey out of the idea of the Rising. While it is an out and out comedy, it is also asking what the Rising is about and the best version of ourselves. These are deep thematic layers behind the comedy caper that is there.”

The film is directed by Declan Recks and written by Eugene O’Brien. Both were previously involved in Pure Mule and Eden.

In the film, Shortt stars as Harry Ambridge, a down-on-his-luck Irish emigrant working on the building sites in London, who returns home for his father’s funeral. He discovers that his grandfather had hoisted a flag over the GPO which had been captured by the British.

The fictional flag is a tricolour, not the flag of the Irish Republic, and instead of being handed back to Ireland, it languishes in a British army barracks hanging upside down as a mark of disrespect.

Emboldened by his grandfather’s tale of derring-do, Shortt assembles a team to break into the barracks and get the flag back.

The Flag will be released this autumn.