Skip Trinity Banner Navigation

Skip to main content »

Trinity College Dublin

Skip Main Navigation

THE COLLEEN BAWN (1911)

Production company: Kalem Co.
Country of origin: USA.
Producer/director: Sidney Olcott.
Script/adaptation: Gene Gauntier from the play The Colleen Bawn, or The Brides of Garryowen by Dion Boucicault (first performance, New York City, 29 March 1860).
Photography: George Hollister.
Scenic artist: Henry Allen Farnham.
Locations: Killarney and surrounding area, Co. Kerry.
Black and white; silent; length: 2,817/3,050feet; format: 35mm.
USA release 16 October 1911; GB release 10 December 1911; re-issued USA 16 March 1914.
Copy: Irish Film Archive; National Film & Television Archive.

Cast: Gene Gauntier (Eily O’Connor, the Colleen Bawn), Jack J Cark (Myles na Coppaleen), Sidney Olcott (Danny Mann), J P McGowan (Hardress Cregan), George H Fisher (Kyrle Daly), Arthur Donaldson (Father Tom), Robert G Vignola (Mr Corrigan), Alice Hollister (Anne Chute), Agnes Mapes, (Mrs Cregan), Anna Cark (Sheelah).

Summary: Hardress Cregan of Tore Cregan, a vast estate, is introduced to Eily O’Connor, the Colleen Bawn, and the daughter of one of the estate’s tenants. Hardress proposes marriage to Eily, but Father Tom warns her against marrying her highborn lover, but she consents to a secret marriage which is performed by a defrocked priest beside her mother’s grave and witnessed by Danny Mann, a half-witted cripple and faithful servant to Hardress. Facing the prospect of losing the Cregan estate which is heavily mortgaged, Mrs Cregan plans to have her son marry Anne Chute, his wealthy cousin. Knowing nothing of the marriage, Mrs Cregan resents the attentions of Kyrle Daly to Anne, and when informing her son, is shocked by his indifference. Squire Corrigan, the holder of the mortgage, offers Mrs Cregan two alternatives before foreclosure: she must either marry him, or secure Anne’s written consent to marry Hardress. He also tells Mrs Cregan of Hardress’ meetings with Eily, which Hardress admits, but makes no mention of their marriage. To protect Hardress, Danny Mann takes a note to Anne, given him by Eily for Hardress, and states that it was for Daly, whom he was to row across the lake to meet Eily. Anne’s confidence in Daly is therefore shaken. Myles na Coppaleen, who also loves Eily, pays her a visit with Fr Tom. Hardress arrives and begs Eily for the marriage certificate. She gives it to him, but Myles recovers the paper and returns it to Eily. When Hardress departs, Eily promises Fr Tom that she will keep the marriage certificate. Reel 2. Finding Hardress after his ineffectual meeting with Eily, Danny tells him that if he were to give him his glove as a token, he would do away with The Colleen Bawn. Infuriated, Hardress attacks Danny. Nonetheless, Danny goes to Mrs Cregan, to whom he outlines his plan, and secures the glove, thinking she has influenced Hardress to give his approval, whereas she has taken it without his knowledge. Danny meets Eily and tells her that she is to meet her husband that night at a lonely spot on the lake. On the lake, Danny throws her into the water. Myles, who has a secret whiskey still on nearby Devil's Island, hears the commotion and taking his gun, hurries to the scene, where he shoots Danny, mistaking him for an otter. When Myles goes to retrieve his game, he comes across the unconscious Colleen Bawn. Reel 3. Badly wounded, Danny manages to crawl home, but he is in a feverish state. In his delirium, he tells of the supposed murder of Eily. His mother, Sheelah, hurries to get Fr Tom to whom he confesses that he killed Eily. Corrigan overhears the confession and he determines to arrest Hardress. Meanwhile, Eily’s cloak is discovered by Sheelah, who shows it to Hardress. Hardress concludes that Eily has committed suicide. There is now no impediment to Hardress’ forced marriage to Anne, who has paid the mortgage after being misled by Danny into thinking that it was Kyrle who was meeting Eily. Hardress confesses to her that he was married to Eily. Thinking Myles knows something of the affair, Fr Tom goes to his cottage only to discover Eily, who has been nursed back to health by Myles. Meanwhile, Corrigan gathers soldiers and marches to where Hardress and Anne are about to be married. He confronts Hardress with Danny’s confession, which reads that Danny committed the deed at his master’s instigation and received Hardress’ glove as a token of agreement. Just as Hardress is being absolved of the crime by Mrs Cregan’s declaration of her role in providing the glove, the door opens and Father Tom, Myles and Eily enter. Hardress and Eily, and Anne and Kyrle, are all finally reunited, while Mrs Cregan bows to the inevitable and gives her blessing to Hardress and Eily, as Corrigan is humbled.

Note: Filmed around Beaufort and the Lakes of Killarney, Co Kerry. The bed in which ‘Danny Mann’ confesses to the supposed murder is stated in the credits to be one belonging to and used by Daniel O’Connell. When re-issued just before St Patrick’s Day, 1914 publicity by Kalem for the film announced that enough ‘real Irish soil’, which had been brought from the Colleen Bawn Rock, Killarney, was available to fill a box four feet wide, two feet long, and one inch deep and would be supplied with the film. Exhibitors were encouraged to invite their patrons to ‘Come and tread on Irish Soil!’, and ‘the multitude that respond will literally stand on Irish soil as they purchase their tickets’. The advertisement added that ‘Copies of affidavits from Father Fitzgerald, the parish priest, and municipal officials of Killarney, vouching for the authenticity of the soil, will also be furnished free of charge’. (Kalem Kalender, 1 March 1914:2). Irish distributor, Bradbury Films, Belfast.

Loosely derived from Gerald Griffin’s novel The Collegians (1829), The Colleen Bawn concerned the real events surrounding the elopement and murder of a sixteen-year-old Limerick girl, Ellie Hanley (the ‘Colleen Bawn’, or ‘Fair-Haired Girl’), in 1819. As a young reporter. Griffin covered the subsequent trial of the girl’s lover, John Scanlan, a squire, who was defended by Daniel O’Connell, and the trial of his servant, Stephen Sullivan, who impersonated being a priest to ‘marry’ them. Both were found guilty and executed in 1820. See The True History of the Colleen Bawn by Rev. Richard Fitzgerald (1869). Boucicault’s play alters the ending and focuses on events whereby ‘The Colleen Bawn’ is rescued by her real lover, ‘Myles-na-Coppaleen’, or Myles of the Horses. The first film version of the play may be A Daughter of Erin (USA, 1908). Three film versions were made in 1911 alone, including another American one and one in Australia. An opera, Lily of Killarney, by Sir Julius Benedict (1862), which is derived from the Boucicault play, was also produced as a British feature, Lily of Killarney (1922), with a sound version made in 1934.

References Bioscope, 26 October 1911:307; Bioscope 30 October 1911:xi; Kalem Kalender, 15 February 1914:20; Kalem Kalender, 1 March 1914:2-3 (reissue); Moving Picture World, 23 September 1911:911 (ad); MPW, 30 September 1911; MPW, 14 October 1911:144; MPW, 31 January 1914:557; MPW, 14 March 1914:1414. Vision, spring 1967.

Back to top

Contact: irishfilm@tcd.ie | Last updated: Nov 09 2011.