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Rosamond Jacob and Frank Ryan as lovers

FMcG Our film alters the dynamics of personal relationships between some of the historical figures depicted for dramatic and narrative purposes.

Greater weight, for example, is accorded to the relationship between Frank Ryan and his lover Rosamond Jacob than the historical evidence warrants. However, Jacob’s radical politics were much as depicted in our film.

Although Ryan was the great love of Jacob’s life, the evidence suggests that he attached less importance to their relationship than Jacob. Ryan had serious relationships with other women, and by the mid-1930s their sexual relationship (which was highly unconventional for the period) had come to an end.

Our film gives the impression that Ryan and Jacob’s relationship was a public one whereas it was, in reality, highly clandestine. Document 3 nonetheless illustrates the passionate nature of their physical relationship.


Diary of Rosamond Jacob

Source: Diary of Rosamond Jacob, 24 November 1929, Ms 171 (courtesy of National Library of Ireland).

‘The fictive but true stories that history films tell to audiences have far more emotional impact than the works that scholars produce, and emotion leads to its own sort of knowledge’

Robert Rosenstone

DB There is historical evidence and then there is point of view: objective record and subjective position and emotional life. Film tries to grapple with both. Historians search for sources that can illuminate  the emotional landscape – in this case Jacob’s diaries.  

The decision to give Ryan’s relationship with Jacob some prominence in the film is in part influenced by a feminist critique of republican adventurism but it also an attempt to provide a point of view which in its concern with the emotional world of Rosamond Jacob’s  character, throws light on Ryan and his motives.  

While not accepting fully the feminist nostrum that the ‘personal is political’, the depiction of Jacob’s failed attempt to get Ryan to commit to their relationship does reveal some of the vainglorious character of the republicanism of the period and the sort of personal sacrifices that radical politics of the period required – and still does.

There clearly was an imbalance in the relationship in part due to her being  quite a bit older than Ryan and I think we have captured this in the casting and performances. I am not sure I agree with Fearghal’s claim that the film gives the impression that the relationship was a publically acknowledged one. Most of  the encounters portrayed between the two are of a semi-clandestine character, and the only acknowledgement of the problematic relationship that Jacob makes is to her confidante, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington.

I would contend that to date that fictional film has been rather better at exploring the emotional life of its characters than conventional scholarly historiography. But this may be changing with the impact of feminist historiography and of anthropological approaches to the emotions.

‘Historical films . . . make their pasts known on emotional terms – these emotions can have analytic and interpretative power’

Sarah Pinto