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the past is another country

WATCH: A treasure trove of old Irish newsreels has gone online for the first time

Walt Disney meets Dev, Miss Ireland 1942, and the ESB in Bahrain, 1977.

Katie Laden, Liscannor, Co Clare, 1929. British Movietone British Movietone

Updated: Monday, 11.20 pm

ONE OF THE world’s largest troves of vintage newsreels has just been digitised and uploaded to YouTube, by the Associated Press and British Movietone.

For its part, the AP said it had made available more than 550,000 videos, dating back to 1895, including footage of the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the assassination of JFK, and video of icons like Elvis Presley and Muhammed Ali.

And among 1 million minutes of footage are hours from Ireland throughout the 20th Century – some raw and silent, some in rare colour and full sound. has picked out some of the most amazing moments, and strangest slices of life.

Many of these videos are uncut, and don’t have captions or voiceovers – if you recognise anyone in them, please email

A Glimpse Into the Heart of Ireland, 1929

This is an astonishing video. In full sound, an old woman outside Killarney can be heard saying “good day, good luck” to neighbours as she wheels away on a donkey and cart.

A town crier rings his bell and brings the square to attention as he makes his announcement, and locals dance in “primitive” Inishmore.

Then, a young girl named as “Katie Laden” steals the show with her beautiful rendition of a nursery rhyme.

British Movietone / YouTube

After this article was posted, the girl’s family contacted, with some fascinating details.

Katie Laden was in fact Catherine Leyden, who went by “Kate.” She was born on 19 April 1919 in Ballyherragh, near Hag’s Head, making her around 10 years of age at the time of this video.

Kate went on to marry Denis Vaughan of Moymore in 1945, and died in 2002, at the age of 83.

She lived in Ennistymon as a farmer, housewife and craftswoman who made sheep-skin rugs and Aran sweaters.

Her family told that while she probably never got to see the video, she used to get some friendly slagging from neighbours, who would say “hushabye baby” to her.

Walt Disney meets Dev while ‘seeking the elusive leprechaun’, 1946

In May, historians at the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy archive discovered a 69-year-old letter arranging for Walt Disney’s visit to Ireland.

He was planning a “research mission, with the intention of making cartoon motion pictures dealing with Irish life and folklore,” and wanted to meet Taoiseach Eamon DeValera.

This amazing little snippet from the British Movietone archive shows Disney’s head-to-head with Dev, as well as President Seán T O’Kelly.


(Click here to watch this video)

Mike Meaney – Underground Champion of the World, 1968

Some time in 1968, British Movietone dropped a mic down a drainpipe to Irish grave digger Mike Meaney, during his attempt to break a world record by living underground for two months.

British Movietone / YouTube

Island for Sale – Inishanboe, Co Galway, 1994

“I’d like to see Bob Hope or one his associates buy it,” says Oughterard man Tom Mallon, as he chats in the pub with a couple of friends, discussing the impending sale of Inishanboe island on Lough Corrib.

I know [the Rolling Stones] were interested…There are a lot of other people interested. This U2 man, Bono, he’s alleged to be interested.

The asking price was $2.25 million (£1.35 million at the time), according to AP.

AP Archive / YouTube

Michael Dukakis meets Cearbhaill O’Dálaigh, 1976

To mark the US bicentennial in 1976, Governors and other high-ranking officials from the 13 founding colonies visited Ireland en masse.

Among them were 1988 Democrat presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, then Governor of Massachusetts.

Look out for: A fantastically dated 70s soundtrack, 13 of America’s most powerful men piled into a bus tour of Dublin, and the wives enjoying a linen-and-cotton fashion show.

British Movietone / YouTube

A snowball fight in St Stephen’s Green, 1941

Filmed in January 1941, this silent video shows a group of girls rolling a snowman, a woman feeding the pigeons, and what looks like a couple of dozen college students engaged in a mass snowball fight, on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Look out for: A little girl in the foreground at 1:07, not sure whether to join in the fun, and a quick shot of deer grazing in the snow in the Phoenix Park.


(Click here to watch this video)

Children riding horses at the Ballymun Towers, 1995/96

They’re good pets, and during the summer it keeps you away from the drugs.

That’s what one boy tells a visiting English journalist, reporting on what we assume to be the then imminent Control of Horses Act of 1996.

These shots of horse stables and children riding around the Ballymun Flats, where IKEA now stands, will stir up bittersweet memories for many viewers.

AP Archive / YouTube

Crowds cheering JFK at Dublin airport, 1963

No set of vintage Irish newsreels would be complete without one of President Kennedy’s visit.

Here’s some raw British Movietone footage (without a soundtrack or voiceover), of crowds greeting his arrival on Irish soil with deafening cheers.

British Movietone / YouTube

Peggy Whittle – Miss Ireland, 1942

Despite the lack of sound, this one is an absolute gem.

Row after row of ‘lovely girls’ step through a massive shamrock in contemporary swimwear, as World War 2-era US military officers take notes and adjudicate.

According to a note by AP, the eventual winner was Peggy Whittle.

If you recognise her, or any of the other competitors, or if you know where in Ireland an outdoor swimming pool could be found in the 1940s, let us know.

British Movietone / YouTube

Showing off Poolbeg to the Bahrainis, 1977

This one is a bit bizarre, not least due to the raw, silent footage, and because British Movietone hasn’t give us much in the way of context.

In 1975, Ireland signed contracts with several Arab and African countries, to help them build their electricity and water infrastructures, and this visit by Bahrain’s Power Minister probably has something to do with that.

This second video shows ESB engineers in Dublin, Tarbert, Co Kerry, and Bahrain, training their Middle Eastern students, and a few Irish families cooling down in their very own swimming pool.

Look out for: Interiors of the Poolbeg Power Plant (defunct since 2010), looking like a Bond Villain’s control room.

British Movietone / YouTube

Blueshirts’ fascist salute & the Irish Brigade home from Spain, 1930s

It’s easy to forget the tensions that existed in Ireland in the years after the Civil War.

These two clips are a good reminder.

In the first, from November 1933, members of the Young Ireland Association are ordered to cover up their blue shirts, before marching from Inchicore to Bluebell cemetery in Co Dublin.

When they arrive, they lay a wreath, and join in a fascist salute.

British Movietone / YouTube

The second video, from June 1936, shows General Eoin O’Duffy having his bags checked by customs after returning from Spain, along with 633 of the Irish Brigade, who had fought with Franco’s fascists in the Civil War.

British Movietone / YouTube

Richard Nixon in Co Kildare, 1970

It’s largely forgotten now, coming as it did seven years after Kennedy’s trip, and two before Watergate, but President Nixon’s visit to Ireland in October 1970 was documented by the Associated Press at the time.

In this uncut footage, the motorcade passes through what could be Kildare town.

Look out for: Some chancer trying to hand Nixon a “Boston Bruins #1″ banner. For some reason.

AP Archive / YouTube

The Dev Files, 1962

As the dominant figure in Irish history during the 20th Century, it’s not surprising that Éamon de Valera casts a long shadow over the newly-digitised archives.

There are videos of him laying out Fianna Fáil’s programme for government in 1933, his election and inauguration as President in 1959, and extraordinary colour footage of his funeral in 1975.

But this is probably the most intriguing – a 12-minute interview on the occasion of his 80th birthday, in 1962.

Sitting on the lawn outside Áras an Úachtaráin, President de Valera gives an unusually personal account of his childhood and early life, and offers his own regrets about the past, and hopes for the future of Ireland.

British Movietone / YouTube

Funerals for Omagh bombing victims, 1998

The newly-digitised archives contain a wealth of material on the Troubles, as you might imagine.

But this mostly “natural sound” footage of the funerals of schoolboys James Barker, Sean McLoughlin and Oran Doherty, in Buncrana, Co Donegal, is particularly devastating.

They were three of the 29 people killed in the Real IRA’s car bombing of Omagh town centre in Co Tyrone, on 15 August.

President Mary McAleese can be seen among the many mourners, along with Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.


(Click here to watch this video)

Pilgrimage to Knock, 1905 & Climbing Croagh Patrick, 1959

Ireland’s Catholic heritage has always been a source of some curiosity to rest of the world’s media, so it’s no surprise that British Movietone sent cameras to our two biggest religious traditions.

First, there’s this amazing footage from the 1905 “pilgrimage of peace” to Knock. Bear in mind that the first apparition there had only occurred 26 years before that.

Fr Collier (most likely Daniel Collier) of Inchicore, told the thousands in the congregation that they “represented a nation which never bent the knee to false gods.”


(Click here to watch this video)

And for the day that’s in it – Reek Sunday – here’s a second video, also narrated, with some beautiful shots of the Mayo countryside, and 50,000 pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick, in 1959.

British Movietone / YouTube

You might want to set aside about nine hours, but here’s how to start watching hundreds of thousands of vintage newsreels from the last 120 years:

To browse British Movietone’s archives, click here.
To browse the Associated Press archives, click here.

If you want to narrow down the results to Ireland, or any other particular interest, just use the search function.

WATCH: This colour video brings 1950s Dublin to life>

PHOTOS: These images from 1970s Limerick are fantastic>

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