Film, Cinema, Irish Film, hurling, gaelic football, Peil, Christy Ring, Ireland, nationalism
The sports coaching film has a long history, dating from at least 1932 with the production of Paulette McDonagh’s How I Play Cricket which featured the legendary Don Bradman. However, coaching films dedicated to indigenous Irish sport, or Gaelic games, are a more recent development, emerging at the beginning of the 1960s. This article considers two such films – Peil (Louis Marcus, 1962) and Christy Ring (Louis Marcus, 1964) – dedicated to Gaelic football and hurling respectively and produced by the Irish-language cultural organisation Gael Linn. The principal concern in undertaking this examination is to identify the process by which these films configure Irishness, not just through the depictions of the indigenous sports themselves but also through the manner in which these depictions are framed. In ‘configuring Irishness’, I am referring specifically to the manner through which these films articulate Irish identity and its constituent properties, particularly in terms of language, geography, politics and religion. The relationship of sport with national culture and identity is a complex yet crucial one in understanding the popularity and passions that sport evokes internationally. A key force in the promotion of nationalism is culture; as Ernest Gellner notes ‘culture is now the necessary shared medium’ (Gellner, 1983, pp. 37–8) and sport is one of the most popular of such cultural activities, contributing considerably to citizens’ identification with particular nations. Indeed, in emphasizing the banality of nationalism as a ‘natural’ and often unnoticed part of everyday life, Michael Billig has argued that modern sport has a social and political significance that ‘extend[s] through the media beyond the player and the spectator’ (Billig, 1995, p. 120) by providing luminous moments of national engagement and national heroes whom citizens can emulate and adore. As Billig’s remarks suggest, the mass media (including the cinema) has had a crucial role to play in the popularisation of sport and, indeed, in asserting its political significance. Film’s potential as a powerful vehicle for the articulation and affirmation of the nation has been recognised in critical studies (Higson 1995; Hjort & MacKenzie 2000). Susan Hayward in her study of French cinema identified how film may function
as a cultural articulation of a nation …[it] textualises the nation and subsequently constructs a series of relations around the concepts, first, of state and citizen, then of state, citizen and other … a ‘national’ cinema … is ineluctably ‘reduced’ to a series of enunciations that reverberate around two fundamental concepts: identity and difference (2005, p. x).
This article will examine, through close readings of Peil and Christy Ring, precisely this process whereby these coaching films ‘textualise’ the Irish nation.