In the aftermath of Proposition 187’s passage in California, this history of Irish emigration to America takes on added significance. We too often forget the social foundations of this country, and it’s particularly meaningful to reflect on the experiences of past generations while trying to solve our contemporary dilemmas. Tracing the exodus of the Irish from the oppression and famine of their homeland to the newly industrialized cities of America, <i>Out of Ireland</i> is a wonderfully comprehensive, yet heartfelt, portrait of social and political change.
Utilizing striking photographs and newsreels, including rare footage of the Irish countryside, interspersed with interviews with historians and writers, the film beautifully recreates what was one of the largest migrations ever of a population. Especially powerful are letters from the emigrants themselves, read (in a style similar to that in Ken Burns’s “<i>The Civil War</i>“) by actors, including Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Aidan Quinn, and Brenda Fricker. The personal stories of the men and women who undertook the rigors of transatlantic travel on what were informally known as “coffin ships,” and who experienced the hardships of starting life over in the cities and factories of the industrialized North or the railroads and boomtowns of the West are remarkably compelling and illuminating. Narrated by Kelly McGillis and accompanied by songs that embody the spirit and tenacity of a people faced with incredible obstacles, <i>Out of Ireland</i> adds up to an impressive account of a history we should all be aware of.