Wild Irishmen and lovely hurling to showcase arts festival


RECENTLY DISCOVERED documentary films about “wild Irishmen” playing hurling, made for American cinema audiences during the early 1930s, are to be shown for the first time in Ireland next month at the Kilkenny Arts Festival.

The films had not been seen for 80 years until they were discovered by Dr Seán Crosson, director of the Huston School of Film and Digital Media at NUI, Galway. His research into Hollywood’s treatment of the GAA had led him to Wisconsin where the films were found in an archive at the University of Madison.

Warner Bros studios made a series of documentaries called Sport Slantsand Sport Thrills, which occasionally featured lesser-known sports, narrated by famed commentator Ted Husing.

Hurling was featured in two episodes. The first, made in 1931, contains rare footage of the then All-Ireland champions Tipperary during their team visit to New York; the second, from 1932, features the unlikely combination of moose hunting in Wyoming and images of hurling matches played between various New York GAA club teams.

Dr Crosson will also show a 10-minute film Hurlingmade by Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1936 and which promised audiences: “Shillalah Swing Time . . . You’ll thrill each time a wild Irishman’s skull shatters.”

Unlike the earlier films, he said that this “slapstick” film, which included scenes of players lying on the pitch “laid out as if they were dead on a battlefield”, was shown in Irish cinemas in the 1930s. However, an infuriated GAA sent a delegation to the office of the Irish Film Censor demanding that “objectionable scenes” be cut. But the censor “refused to cut the film on the grounds that it could not be regarded as blasphemous or obscene”. Eventually the distributor bowed to pressure from the GAA and agreed to the cuts.

Dr Crosson, described the films as of historic importance in charting the evolution of the Irish-American identity. He said in the 1930s many Americans regarded the Irish as “dangerous and threatening” but such films had helped to change stereotypical perceptions and “showed the Irish to be comic and unthreatening”.

Dr Crosson contrasted the tone of the American films and the “condescending” manner in which British cinema newsreels of the era depicted the GAA. While “Americans were more concerned with the comic potential . . . British commentators, especially for Gaumont and Movietone News, didn’t understand the games and couldn’t pronounce the names of the counties”.

Copies of the 1930s films have now been acquired by the Irish Film Archive and will be screened during a symposium, presented by the Irish Film Institute, entitled: Ireland’s Athletic Assault and Battery? – Hollywood and Hurling, in Kilkenny on August 9th.