Lost Irish language ‘talkie’ featuring Man of Aran cast discovered in Harvard archives

The first Irish language ever made has premiered at a renowned Italian festival of rediscovered and restored film; the short, by Man of Aran director Robert Flaherty and featuring some of the main cast of the Aran feature, was thought to have been lost forever when all known copies were destroyed in a fire more than 70 years ago.

Oidhche Sheanchais, an 11-minute film featuring Aran islanders from the Man of Aran cast listening to a story told by seanchai Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin, was the first ‘talkie’ to be filmed in Irish and was made in London in 1934 while the cast were recording post-synch sound for Man of Aran.

All copies of Oidhche Sheanchais were thought to have been destroyed in a fire in 1943, but a nitrate print of the film was discovered at Harvard University in 2012. The copy, purchased by the university’s department of Celtic languages and literatures in 1935, was found by curators while updating the library catalogues.

The Harvard Film Archive worked with the university’s Houghton Library and Celtic department and Harvard’s Office of the Provost, to preserve Oidhche Sheanchais on 35mm film and in digital formats, as well as translating the film and creating a subtitled version.

The film originally had a short cinema run in Ireland in 1935, and was never subtitled in English. It featured Colman ‘Tiger’ King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane, and Patch Ruadh of the Man of Aran cast sitting around a hearth listening to Ó Dioráin’s story, interspersed with footage of seascapes shot while filming Man of Aran.

The restored film premiered at the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, Italy, last week, and the Harvard Film Archive also plans to premiere it in the near future before making copies available for loan.

Michael Dirrane was among those to feature in Oidhche Sheanchais.


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