Seven things we learned from 1916 documentary narrated by Liam Neeson on RTE One


Ed Power

Liam Neeson takes time out from rescuing abducted family members and dating mysterious celebrities to narrate a blockbuster new three-part documentary about the 1916 Rising. Here’s what we learned from the first episode.

1: Neeson is the perfect 1916 narrator

Sounding like he’s arrived straight from Taken 3, Neeson delivers his lines with the perfect mix of romantic yearning and wounded anger – as though hefting all of the Old Country’s woes on his shoulders. Just what you wanted from an hour of telly mainly devoted to enumerating Perfidious Albion’s misdeeds in Ireland.

2: It’s Not Really For An Irish Audience.

Co-produced by the University of Notre Dame (yes, home of the, sigh, “fighting” Irish) and to be broadcast in the United States and Britain later this year, 1916 will contain few surprises for an Irish audience. The Famine was a demographic disaster, Unionists opposed Home Rule, Dublin circa 1916 was a slummish hell-hole… There’s little here we didn’t know already.

3: At Least It Was Better Than Rebellion.

With RTE still smarting from the overwhelmingly negative response to the by-turns dreary and hysterical Rebellion, the broadcaster will be glad it played it safe this time around. Though absolutely devoid of surprises, at least 1916 did not attempt to shoe-horn in gratuitous girl-on-girl snogging or paint De Valera as a slithering lunatic.

4: Historians Are Still Doing That Annoying Present Tense Thing.

John Humphrys, the esteemed British newsman, has railed against academics’ insistence on the “historical present” – that is, speaking of events of 100 years ago or more as though they were occurring RIGHT NOW.  “It gives a bogus, an entirely bogus, sense of immediacy; it is irritating, it is pretentious.” Let’s hope he wasn’t tuned into RTE, where the historical present was tonight deployed with mad abandon (“Casement can understand what is being done because he understands Irish history” etc etc).

5: Relax, Diarmaid Ferriter DOES make an appearance.

Thirty minutes in and it seems Ireland’s most ubiquitous historian might have been away the weekend they were filming. Fret not – there he is, adding his tuppence-worth on the 1913 Lockout. Order is restored to the universe.

6: They Really Ought To Have Got An Actual Scottish Person To Voice James Connolly.

In Ireland we are often justifiably aghast when foreigners mangle our accents. But we commit the same violation against Edinburgh-born socialist leader Connolly as an Irish actor tries to sound as if he’s from bonniest Scotland. The result is closer to Gimli from Lord of the Rings.

7: The Mystical Celtic Schtick is Laid On A Bit.

Five minutes in and already we’ve had our first epic panning shot of the Irish landscape accompanied by mournful tin whistles and Enya clearing her throat. Here is one cliche RTE should have vetoed – assuming it had any say in the final content.



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