Irish Film Institute release treasure trove of GAA archive

All-Ireland films from the 1940s onwards will be available on the IFI Player

The Irish Film Institute GAA archive goes full colour from 1958 onwards. Photograph: IFI

The Irish Film Institute GAA archive goes full colour from 1958 onwards. Photograph: IFI

 

When the world shut down in late spring and the Irish Film Institute had to close its doors like everybody else, they set about finding work to do until they could open again. Long-term projects that nobody had been able to find the time for previously were suddenly the only thing on the agenda. Chief among them, a push to put their GAA archive up on the IFI Player.

As keepers of the Irish Film Archive, the IFI have had a collection of All-Ireland final films from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s in their possession down through the decades, without always putting them to the optimum use. They have released various DVDs over the past decade to varying levels of success – although that says as much about the rise and fall of DVDs as it does about the collection itself. But from today, for a limited period, the whole collection is being made free-to-view on the IFI player.

If your image of the Irish Film Institute is a bunch of cinema nerds more at home breaking down the finer points of Kurasawa than those of Keher, then you’re not necessarily far wrong. Luckily for the IFI, they have a GAA mole on the inside in Annmarie Gray, daughter of Dublin hurling’s Lincoln figure Jimmy Gray and the writer of the accompanying notes for each of the films.

“I’ve been working in the IFI for 20 years,” she says. “On the first day I started, they gave me a tour of the place and brought me in to see the archives. ‘And we have all the All-Ireland finals . . . ’ And I went, ‘Oh! Do you have the 1961 hurling final by any chance?’ And they said yeah.”

Jimmy Gray was the Dublin goalkeeper in an epic All-Ireland final against Tipperary in 1961. The city team came up a point short against a Tipp side that was in the middle of a run in which they would pick up five All-Irelands in eight seasons and nobody got closer to them in a final than that Dublin team. It was the last All-Ireland final Dublin contested and for Annmarie Gray, the fact that there was footage of it just sitting there in her new workplace was an impossible gift.

“It wasn’t publicly available. But I was able to get a copy made up and that became my dad’s Christmas present sorted for that year. We all sat around and watched it and teased him for his short passing and his soloing from the goalmouth. So it is a collection that I have always thought was a fantastic thing to have.”

A camera operator at the 1957 All-Ireland hurling final. Photograph: IFI
A camera operator at the 1957 All-Ireland hurling final. Photograph: IFI

In the collection, each All-Ireland final in football and hurling has a 10-minute film made about it. The tenor changes from year to year but in general it’s an attempt to capture the festival atmosphere around the matches, the crowds, the bands and everything else. Plus, of course, a good five or six minutes of game action. From 1958 onwards, everything is in full colour. Alongside are Gray’s notes, giving the context of the teams and players involved.

“Just over this past summer with us being closed, it really just focused the mind on getting our GAA stuff up on the player. The life has more or less gone out of the DVDs so now we’re able to get this all online. That’s what the team were working on over the summer.

“I was tasked with putting explanatory notes along with the films so I actually watched a few of them with my dad. He was put out that the goal scored by Dublin in 1961 was attributed to Tipperary because one of his claims to fame is that he kept a clean sheet in an All-Ireland final. So I made sure to include that in the note that went alongside it.”

Each year is a treasure onto itself. The games look so different – lots of ground hurling of the sliotar, even more head-down kicking of the football. And Croke Park is itself, swaying with people in all four corners but still recognisably Croker. Everything has changed down the decades and everything is still what it is. The beauty of this kind of archive footage is its facility for connection to a time we don’t think about.

“When we had the launch of the football DVD around a decade ago, we invited the Dublin team from 1958 to come along and watch it,” says Gray. “And I got a lovely letter the following week from one of the Dublin players saying that the 1958 final up to then had been a report and a scoreline and a statistic. But now it was so much more than that.”

The collection can be viewed at ifiplayer.ie/gaa.

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