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A Call to Arms cover image

A Call to Arms 2004


Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Jacqueline Larkin
Directed by John O’Donnell
VHS, color, 55 min.

Sr. High - Adult
History, Irish Studies

Date Entered: 02/10/2005

Reviewed by Gloria Maxwell, Reference Librarian, Penn Valley Community College, Kansas City, MO

1848 was a tumultuous year throughout Europe, and the same was true of Ireland. Inspired and influenced by the French Revolution, as well as the 1848 uprising against King Louis Philippe, the Young Irelanders hoped to do something similar in their own country. A group of wealthy intellectuals composed of landlords, journalists, and barristers, the Young Irelanders went to Paris to meet with Alphonse de Lamar, the idealist and poet who had replaced King Louis Philippe. Lamar presented them with a tri-color flag, based upon the French colors, as a token of friendship, and thus the Irish tri-color was born.

The three most influential and charismatic leaders of the Young Irelanders were William Smith O’Brien, Thomas Francis Meager, and John Mitchell. Their goal was to bring about the repeal of the Act of Union, which cemented England’s stranglehold over Ireland. They represented the group of people who wanted to have Irish Parliament in Ireland. The 1840s saw famine spread throughout Ireland, causing the death of 1 million Irish, and the emigration of another 1 million. Tensions grew between old and young, and not everyone favored revolution. The Young Irelanders were convinced that it was the policies of England in Ireland that contributed to the famine and ultimately resulted in the “genocide” of the Irish who perished as a result of the famine and its resultant hardships. The efforts taken by O’Brien, Meager and Mitchel to encourage revolution led to their eventual arrest, trials, and sentencing for sedition at various times. O’Brien was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted and he was transported to Van Siemens Land (Tasmania). He eventually was paroled and went to New York. Meagher and Mitchel were similarly exiled to Van Siemens Land. Meagher also ended up in New York, where he elevated the Irish plight in the United States. Mitchel escaped and followed their path to New York. O’Brien was ultimately pardoned, but could never return to Ireland. Meagher suffered the loss of his first wife and a child. He fought in the American Civil War and became a provisional governor of Montana after the war. He died under mysterious circumstances. Mitchel eventually returned to Ireland and ran for political office. But, as a former felon, he couldn’t accept the office to which he was elected.

An imperfect group of visionaries, yet they mirror the ups and downs of Irish history, and its many lost causes. This feature provides a nice mix of reenactments, remarks supplied by historians and family descendants of the principals. Pictures and portraits augment the people and historical events. Maps and illustrations round out the presentation. A pleasant Celtic soundtrack supports the mood throughout the film.

History instructors will find this a useful video for discussing either Irish history or the revolutionary movements in Europe during the 1840s, with parallels to other time periods.