Robert Flaherty’s lost Irish Gaelic film found at Harvard

Exciting news from the States, as a long-lost piece of Irish film history is found and restored to its former glory!

Oidhche Sheanchais (“A Night of Storytelling”) was the first film made in the Irish language. It was directed by documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty in 1935 during the production of his now classic film Man of Aran.

The 11-minute short has been cited in practically every history of Irish film, but it was long believed lost since a fire destroyed the only known copies in 1943. A nitrate print of the film was rediscovered by curators at the  Houghton Library at Harvard University during a cataloging update in 2012. The university purchased a copy of the film in 1935.

Filmed in a London studio, Oidhche Sheanchais depicts a typical Irish hearth, around which the main cast members of Man of Aran sit listening to an ancient tale told by famed seanchaí  Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin. Oidhche Sheanchais is Flaherty’s first work in sound, and is acknowledged to be the first “talkie” as Gaeilge.

The Harvard Film Archive,the Houghton Library, the Harvard Celtic department and Harvard’s Office of the Provost have preserved Oidhche Sheanchais on 35mm film and digital formats. The new 35mm subtitled print has its premiere at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna with introductions by Harvard Film Archive Director Haden Guest and Irish Film Institute Head of Irish Film Programming Sunniva O’Flynn.