Keepers of the Flame, the feature-length documentary from Emmy Award winner Nuala O’Connor, received its Irish TV premiere on Monday, August 19th on RTÉ One.

O'Connor's feature directorial debut tells the universal story of generations dealing with the consequences of war and civil war; of what is remembered and what is forgotten.

Watch Keepers Of The Flame here, via RTÉ Player

The film delves into the archives of the Irish Military Service Pensions; what emerges is a personal retelling of a brutal and divisive period in the birth of a nation and the devastating legacy it left in its wake, for the individuals who took part and their families who suffered long after the fighting ended. 

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The film brings to light the diverse experiences of some of the 85,000 ordinary Irish men and women who made pension or dependents allowance claims for having actively served during the violent revolutionary period from Easter 1916 to the end of the Civil War in 1921. Of those 85,000 applicants, just over 18,000 received any payment. Their stories lie in the Irish Military Pension Archives, stack upon stack of applications detailing involvement and actions, thousands of different interpretations of the same events lying side by side.

The archive could be called a collective memoir - what it reveals are the personal interpretations and unique accounts of the revolutionary period, and the anger, despair and bitterness left in the wake of a country’s fight for freedom. The film sheds light on the nation’s post-war psyche. Many of these men, women and their families felt that they were effectively abandoned by the state, their service unrecognised and in most cases, refuted. Families and communities torn apart by the Civil War were left destitute. Thousands were coping with physical and mental trauma for the rest of their lives, for which there was little support or understanding, unable to provide for their families or take care of themselves.

Diarmaid Ferriter filming Keepers of the Flame

Keepers Of The Flame, conceived by historian Diarmaid Ferriter and written by Ferriter and filmmaker O’Connor, looks at the long-term impact of a great reluctance to talk about the events of the period, the lack of desire to relive actions and decisions, and the secrecy and silence that further isolated individuals and families, shedding light on the nation’s post-war psyche. Many of these men, women and their families felt that they were effectively abandoned by the state, their service unrecognised and in most cases, refuted. Families and communities torn apart by the Civil War were left destitute. Thousands were coping with physical and mental trauma for the rest of their lives, for which there was little support or understanding, unable to provide for their families or take care of themselves.

Archive readings are performed by Mary Black, Aiden Gillen, Philip King, Aine Lawlor, Eoin McDonagh, Dermot McLoughlin, Aisling Ni Shúilleabháin, Joseph O'Connor, Olivia O’Leary, Iarla O’Lionaird and Marian Richardson. The soundtrack is composed by Colm Mac Con Iomaire. 

Keepers of the Flame, Monday, August 19th on RTÉ One at 9.35pm.