Many of us are currently enjoying RTÉ’s Rebellion, the flagship drama from the national broadcaster to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising. In 1966 the 50th anniversary commemorative offering was very different.
When planning for the golden jubilee schedules started in the summer of 1965, the view of the broadcasting authority was reportedly that all programming should place more emphasis on the surviving participants of the Rising, rather than a re-assessment by historians. Outside broadcasts of the many commemorative ceremonies were planned and RTÉ production staff were advised to view further Easter Rising projects ‘through the eyes of 1916’.
With this in mind the specially-commissioned series Insurrection was devised as 8 half-hour programmes to be filmed as news reports reconstructing as drama the events of each day of Easter Week 1916. The reportage style was designed specifically to transport the viewers back in time. The series was written by author Hugh Leonard with historian Kevin B Nolan acting as advisor and Louis Lentin as the director and producer tasked with condensing nearly three hundred events into 4 hours of viewing time over 8 months.
The RTÉ outside broadcast unit had won plaudits for the coverage of the 1963 Kennedy visit, but had never attempted drama on this scale before. The crew had to get used to handling casts of over two hundred, with eighty speaking parts. Filming began in the harsh winter of 1965-1966, dramatically different conditions to the unusually warm Easter of 1916. Michael Garvey was dispatched (with extras provided from the Defence Forces) into the November snow to film the Battle of Ashbourne; the designer Alpho O’Reilly built sets for the interiors of the GPO, Clanwilliam House and the South Dublin Union, which were all squeezed into Studio One.
Louis Lentin started his filming ambitiously enough with the charge of the Lancers on Sackville Street (O’Connell
Street). Filming on O’Connell Street in 1966 proved to be quite a challenge, not only due to the proliferation of contemporary signage, bus stops, TV aerials and cars, but also because of the large numbers of interested onlookers, many of whom claimed to have been there ‘first time round’. He remarked in the RTV (RTÉ) Guide for Easter 1966, ‘There were of course, time and time again, many others, all well meaning, who were certain it didn’t happen like that at all, and said so!’
The series was heavily promoted in the RTV Guide special anniversary edition published on 8 April 1966 and was shown on eight consecutive nights from 10-17 April 1966 to great acclaim. It was also sold overseas, to the UK (BBC2), Australia (ABC), Norway, Belgium, Sweden and Canada.
Louis Lentin died in 2014 and his archive was generously donated to the Library by his family in 2015. The papers contain scripts, production notes and snapshots of cast and crew taken by Lentin himself during the filming of Insurrection. The collection is currently awaiting cataloguing.
RTÉ would like to get in touch with cast members who appeared in the original series and further information is available on their website.
Manuscripts & Archives Research Library
Brian Lynch, History Ireland Issue 2 Mar/Apr 2006
RTV Guide, 8 April 1966