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We are pleased to announce the dates of our 'Screening History' series, hosted by the Ulster Museum. 'Screening History' presents talks and screenings by leading scholars and filmmakers, exploring the topic of film and historical representation. All events are free and open to the public.

Fearghal McGarry discusses the Screening History series in this Culture Northern Ireland article by Matthew Coyle.

Ulster Museum, 1 pm, Wednesday, 30 April

Ian Christie (Birkbeck, University of London): 'Never mind the facts: why films invent the past'

Dramatic films notoriously take liberties with the historical record, and are often accused of misleading public opinion. In this illustrated talk, Ian Christie argues that we should take films seriously for the ways they bring the past to life, but not mistake them for textbooks.

Ian Christie, FBA, is Professor of Film and Media History at Birkbeck. A Queen’s graduate, he has published widely on Russian and British cinema; early film; Powell and Pressburger; and Martin Scorsese. A regular broadcaster, Ian is currently directing a project in the Czech Republic on ‘Representing the Past’.


Ulster Museum, 6 pm, Thursday, 8 May

Screening: The Enigma of Frank Ryan (Des Bell, 2012).

Followed by Q&A with director, Des Bell (NCAD) and consultant historian, Fearghal McGarry (QUB). Frank Ryan’s life remains an enigma. The teenage IRA volunteer, dissident republican and Spanish International Brigade volunteer ended his life working for the Nazis in wartime Berlin.

A leading film-maker, Des Bell employs the imaginative resources of the creative documentary to explore a human story of truly tragic proportions. Desmond Bell is Head of Academic Affairs and Research at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. He has directed several films for television and cinema including Child of the Dead End (2009), Rebel Frontier (2005) and Hard Road to Klondike (1999).


Ulster Museum, 1 pm, Thursday, 15 May

James Chapman (University of Leicester): ‘Film and public history’

More people ‘know’ their history from seeing movies than reading books but what responsibility does this place on the film-maker as historian? Professional historians have typically been dismissive of film for its factual errors and misinterpretation. This lecture, which explores how films present ideologies of nationhood, class, gender and imperialism, will argue that film is often as valuable a source for understanding the present in which it was made as the past in which it is set.

James Chapman is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester. He has published widely on film and cultural history including on the British at war, James Bond, national identity, and Dr Who. His most recent publication is Film and History (Palgrave, 2013).


Ulster Museum, 1 pm, Friday 23 May

Alison Ribeiro de Menezes (Warwick University), ‘Screening Memory: The Spanish Civil War'

The Spanish Civil War ended 75 years ago, yet its legacy is still keenly debated in Spain today. This talk explores how the war been depicted in film, and the contribution that film as a medium might make to the remembrance of conflictive pasts.

Professor Alison Ribeiro de Menezes is head of Hispanic Studies at Warwick University. She has published widely on contemporary Spanish narrative and cultural memory. Alison’s new monograph, Embodying Memory in Contemporary Spain, has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan.

The Enigma of Frank Ryan will be screened at the University of Edinburgh on 29 May.

The screening will take place at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Hope Park Square, at 4 pm on Thursday, 29 May 2014, and will be followed by a debate between the filmmaker and historical consultant. The event is free but booking is required. Please email to book your place.

IASH poster

The Enigma of Frank Ryan is to be screened on 27 June at the NUIG Conference, The Emergency: Ireland in Wartime (Venue and Time TBC).

The National University of Galway is hosting a conference entitled The Emergency: Ireland in Wartime, 27-28 June 2014. The conference will incorporate a special screening of The Enigma of Frank Ryan. This public event (time and venue TBC) will be followed by an interactive discussion with Director, Writer and Producer, Prof. Desmond Bell, and historian Dr Fearghal McGarry.

Journalist Robert Fisk will present the keynote address at the conference. More information on the conference and this special screening is available here.

The Enigma of Frank Ryan is to be screened at the Limerick Film Festival. The special screening will take place on Thursday, the 10th of April, 2014, at the Millenium Theatre.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Des Bell (the filmmaker; Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, National College of Art and Design, Dublin) and Dr Fearghal McGarry (the historical consultant and biographer of Ryan; senior lecturer at the School of History and Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast). The screening time and other details will be announced in the final Limerick Film Festival programme. More information is available here.

Teaching Divided Histories Conference, 18-19 October 2013.

Project staff recently took part in the Teaching Divided Histories Conference, presented by the Nerve Centre and the British Council (18-19 October, 2013). The TDH conference brought together filmmakers, journalists, educators and community activists to discuss issues around media representation of conflict and the role of film and the moving image in teaching divided histories.

Dr Fearghal McGarry presented on the topic of ‘History on Film’. Dr McGarry spoke about his own collaboration with filmmaker Des Bell, serving as historical consultant on the feature film The Enigma of Frank Ryan, and the AHRC-funded knowledge-transfer project that emerged from this collaboration. Based on the findings of this project, Dr McGarry discussed possible approaches open to historians when evaluating historical films, and suggested ways in which productive filmmaker/historian collaborations might evolve.

Other speakers included journalists Mariane Pearl and Ed Vulliamy, news correspondent Charlie Bird, documentary filmmakers Olly Lambert and Mark McCauley, film producer Andrew Eaton and Professors Ian Christie and Richard Kearney, and TDH staff John Peto and Emma McDermott.

Delegates at TDH conference

The Enigma of Frank Ryan at The Intelligence of Art: Art Practice and Research Symposium, Huston School of Film & Digital Media, Galway, 24- 26 October 2013.

The film showed as part of the practice-based research symposium, and was introduced by filmmaker Des Bell.

The Enigma of Frank Ryan was screened at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin on 8th October 2013.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion with the director Des Bell, the historical consultant Fearghal McGarry [Queens University Belfast, author of Frank Ryan], and with the participation of film maker Pat Murphy [Anne Devlin (1984), Nora (2000)]. 

NCAD poster for Ryan screening

The Enigma of Frank Ryan screened at Queen's Film Theatre on Thursday, the 25th of April, 2013.

The 8:00 PM screening was followed by a panel discussion with Des Bell (the filmmaker; Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, National College of Art and Design, Dublin), Fearghal McGarry (the historical consultant and biographer of Ryan; senior lecturer at the School of History and Anthropology at Queen’s) and Councillor Tom Hartley (Sinn Féin councillor, former Lord Mayor and republican activist since 1969).

Newpaper Article

The Irish News covered the film in advance of the QFT screening (25 April, 2013).

Newpaper Article

Sinn Fein official Jim Gibney reflects on the legacy of Frank Ryan in the Irish News (2 May 2013)

Cairo Film Festival 2012 logo

The Enigma of Frank Ryan screened at the 2012 Cairo International Film Festival on the 1st of December.

Foyle Film Festival 2012 logo 

On November 22nd, The Enigma of Frank Ryan was screened at the Foyle Film Festival in Derry/Londonderry.

The film's director, Desmond Bell, introduced the screening. A panel discussion followed the film.

Denver Starz Film Festival logo  

The Enigma of Frank Ryan had its US premiere at the 2012 Starz Denver Film Festival on the 5th, 7th and 10th of November.



"The Enigma of Frank Ryan has already made waves in Dublin and Belfast. This film is judiciously presented, powerfully acted, and gripping to watch. Strikingly handsome Dara Devaney gives a fine performance as Ryan, portraying him as a stubborn, charismatic leader of considerable ego who finds himself in a bizarre quagmire of circumstances."

Pat Donnelly, Montreal Gazette


In retrospect,  everyone should have instantly discovered the genocidal practices of the Nazis during WWII, condemned them, and made every effort stop them.

In fact, however, while the resistance movement grew, so did the number of collaborators, many seeking help from the Germans to strengthen political movements in their own countries.

Officially, the Irish government headed by Eamon de Valera took a neutral position, referring to the war euphemistically as “the emergency”.  But about 70,000 Irish citizens volunteered for service in the British Armed Forces, in addition to 50,000 from Northern Ireland. Some of those aligned with the IRA, however, sought German aid for their cause. And the subject of what they were up to tends to get swept under the rug in Ireland to this day.

There’s a telling scene in Northern Ireland director Desmond Bell’s new film The Enigma of Frank Ryan,  which is making its North American debut at the World Film Festival this weekend. A German intelligence officer when questioned about why the Nazis should bother connecting with the hotheads of Ireland’s volatile Irish Republican Army  (IRA) points to a immense filing cabinet containing lists of friendly rebels from around the world, all seeking alliances with Hitler’s Germany,  potentially useful to the Third Reich in the future.

Continue reading...

The Enigma of Frank Ryan will screen at the Montreal World Film Festival on the 24th, 25th and 26th of August.



Cinéma L'Impérial présente
tourné à Lamalou!


Militant adolescent de l'IRA et volontaire dans les Brigades Internationales dans la Guerre Civile d'Espagne, Ryan a terminé sa vie au service des Nazis à Berlin.

Séance en présence du réalisateur (et des figurants)
19.00 Lundi 30 Juillet
Centre Ulysse  19 Boulevard Mourcayrol
Lamalou - les - Bains
Tariff Libre




a film by

Desmond Bell



Belfast Film Festival

Queen's Film Theatre 1

20 University Square, Belfast

6pm, June 3rd 2012


Includes panel discussion with Desmond Bell, Eoin O'Broin and Fearghal McGarry after the screening.


Reframing History
Film, television and the historians


Day conference: Queen’s Film Theatre
Queen’s University Belfast,  
22nd June 2012

A critical forum to explore how to do ‘public history’ as we move into a ‘decade of anniversaries’. 

In a divided society like Northern Ireland how will historians, film-makers and broadcasters  meet the challenge of engaging with our troubled past?

Conference organisers:
Professor Des Bell and Dr. Fearghal McGarry     

To register click here

The Enigma Of Frank Ryan is screening as part of Ireland on Sunday, the monthly showcase for new Irish Film at the IFI, Sunday 15th April 2012 at 1pm

Director Desmond Bell will participate in a post-screening Q&A with Fearghal McGarry (Historical Consultant) and Tommy Graham (Editor, History Ireland).



Irish Film Institute 

6 Eustace Street 

Temple Bar Dublin 2 



The Enigma Of Frank Ryan - World Premier & Review Highlights

The Enigma Of Frank Ryan premiered at the 2012 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. 

"The elegant interweaving and integration of drama and archival material which is a signature element in Bell’s documentary practice has here achieved his most accomplished work to date."   

Stephanie McBride,  Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012

"the film is worth going to see….the story is gripping…the film uses archival footage cleverly and features a striking performance by lead actor Dara Deveney"

John Dorney,  The Irish Story

"An informative, engaging  and well-constructed film, Desmond Bell’s ‘The Enigma of Frank Ryan’, is an engrossing story of great scale and significance of a fascinating character from Irish history and beyond."

Steven Galvin, Film Ireland

"‘The Enigma of Frank Ryan’ addresses the issue in the south of Ireland, about coming to terms with the Second World War, neutrality, the Emergency, where Ireland fitted into the broader global picture. Ryan is just a lightning rod for all those issues."

Richard Fitzpatrick   Irish Examiner

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A recording of the History Ireland Hedge School on Frank Ryan.

Following a screening of ‘The Enigma of Frank Ryan’ at the IFI on 26 February, a History Ireland Hedge School took place at Filmbase. As editor Tommy Graham put it, this was sort of a ‘Pop Up Hedge School’, arranged days before the screening and taking advantage of the planned second screening.

History Ireland managed to get a strong panel together, with Brian Hanley, Leeann Lane, David O’Donoghue and Fearghal McGarry. McGarry was the ‘historical consultant’ for the film. There were also excellent contributions from the floor, for example from Manus O’Riordan and Sam Nolan.

Among the issues discussed are Ryan’s relationship (or, perhaps, lack thereof!) with Rosamond Jacob, the Republican Congress, the road to Spain and just what Ryan may have been doing in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. 

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Interview with Des Bell on RTÉ Radio 1

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Des Bell Interviewed on BBC Arts Extra

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Wartime Berlin comes to Queen’s

Academic and film-maker, Professor Des Bell and historian Dr Fearghal McGarry, both from Queen’s, are taking on one of their biggest assignments to date with the production of a film on the enigma that was Frank Ryan.

Ryan, born in Limerick in 1902, was a teenage IRA volunteer, irregular in the Civil War, dissident republican socialist of 1930s Dublin and International Brigade  volunteer who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War, and ended his life working for the Nazis in wartime Berlin.   

Dr McGarry has written a book on Ryan's life and, with support from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, he and award-winning director Professor Bell, are making the educational documentary film about Ryan's contradictory life. 

The film aims to supplement McGarry’s work, bringing it to a popular audience, including use in the Irish history curriculum in secondary schools. The film will comprise archive material, interviews and re-enactment of elements of Frank Ryan's life. The filming will take place in Belfast, Armagh, Dublin and France and has support from the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund of NI Screen.

Speaking about the production Professor Bell said: “For the second time in a year Nazi insignia will fly over Belfast as a Queen’s University film crew stages a reconstruction of wartime Berlin on campus.  Last year the BBC shot ‘Christopher and his Friends’, using the City Hall as a stand in for Berlin.  Now the University's Whitla Hall takes on this filmic role.  

“Belfast is an unusual choice of stand-in for war time Berlin but as the makers of 'Christopher and his Friends' have shown, with the right attention to design and period detail, Belfast with its fine mix of 1940s buildings in neo-classical style can create a believable picture of Berlin of the time.

“So if you spot a swastika-draped building in the University in the coming days don't panic! It’s not a neo-Nazi rally of disaffected students but a film crew hard at work on an educational project.”

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