22 September 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
Sweeney’s ‘The Forgotten Irish’ on TV3
01 Oct 2009 :
The Forgotten Irish
‘The Forgotten Irish’, a new two part doc from IFTA winning director Maurice Sweeney (Cromwell in Ireland) examines the decade following WWII when hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women emigrated to Britain. IFTN spoke to Sweeney and producer Alan Gillespie about the new documentary series, starting Thursday 1st Oct.

‘The Forgotten Irish’ explores the livelihoods of these emigrants in post war Britain - their reasons for leaving and their lives now in a very different contemporary Britain or Ireland. As the production company involved, Animo Television, tells IFTN: “Whether motivated by circumstances, economics or emotions they left behind a country that was enduring some of the darkest days of her history - an Ireland that could never have imagined or hoped for the Celtic Tiger.

”Many did not have a loving family or caring community to leave behind. They sought an escape from the misery and often the abuse, of institutional life. Raised in orphanages and institutions, they had little or no information about their family origins. Their attempts to create a life and an identity were often hampered by hostility and rejection in Ireland and Britain.”

The series producer of the project is Rónán O Múirthile. Editing was carried out in Piranha Bar by editors Jamie Fitzpatrick (prog one) and Paul Giles (prog two). Music was composed by Waveform Studio's Giles Packham. The documentary series is interview-led and makes use of archive footage and paintings by Bernard Canavan. It was shot, mainly by Maurice Sweeney, in London, Birmingham, Leeds and Waterford and takes the form of two x 1 hour documentaries the first of which examines male Irish emigrants and the second of which looks at their female counterparts.

In conversation with IFTN the producer of ‘The Forgotten Irish’, Alan Gillespie, observes that “everybody is aware of the large scale emigration that happened but we came across so many different experiences and we wanted to tell these stories whilst also acknowledging the contribution made by these Irish people to the rebuilding of post war Britain.” The team also sought to lay particular emphasis on the various specific groups of Irish emigrants such as the 14,000 former residents of Irish orphanages and institutions who made their way to Britain and never returned to Ireland, as Alan comments, “these people were coming from institutions to a British community that didn’t want them, so they didn’t like being in Britain but neither did they want to return home to Ireland because it was a place where they didn’t feel like they belonged.”

The documentary’s director, Maurice Sweeney, explains that this was usually due to a feeling on the part of these 14,000 that they had no real connections with Ireland. He also illustrated that the nature of Ireland’s small, tightly knit communities did not allow for privacy and points out that during the making of the documentary “people would talk about their lives if the programme being made was to be screened in Britain but they would react very differently if they were told it was going to be shown in Ireland, in case anyone they knew would see it and remember them. There’s a huge sense of loneliness and shame there.”

Sweeney tells IFTN that he was surprised that many of the female Irish emigrants, of whom there were 1,400 to every 1,000 men, leaving Ireland are now very proactive in charitable services in Britain.

“There are women here who came from abusive institutions in Ireland to Britain, raised their own children and now spend their time taking care of people here, it’s very moving,” says the director. The overall goal of the project he tells IFTN is “to give a gentle but honest portrayal of the Irish emigrants a lot of whom have never had their stories told.”

TV3 Director of Programming, Ben Frow said: “The forgotten Irish have for too long been neglected by Irish society. It’s only right that TV3 should draw attention to the emotional and financial sacrifices that these people made and are still making on behalf of their families and their country.”

Chairman of the Ireland Funds, Hugo McNeill said: “I would like both to congratulate and to thank TV3 for producing a superb series on a subject that touches so many people both here and in Britain. In 2007 the Ireland Fund of Great Britain launched the 'Forgotten Irish' campaign to actively support many of those most in need of help. The campaign has to date given over £500,000 to nearly 50 organisations helping the 'Forgotten Irish' with a significant amount of the money raised here in Ireland.”

The first programme of ‘The Forgotten Irish’ is showing Thursday October 1st on TV3 at 9.00pm. It is set in Birmingham and audiences will hear the stories of four men of the generation of men who immigrated to England after the war. The second part of the series will air on Thursday, October 8th. The second programme will concentrate on the Irish women who emigrated to Britain, and especially those women who left Irish institutions such as the infamous Magdalene laundries for the UK.

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