John Philip Holland: Fomhuireán na bhFíniní 2016, 51′

A Dearcán Media Production for TG4 and Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund

Directed by Macdara Vallely

Broadcast on TG4 on November 22nd, 2016


The documentary visited several sites in Ireland and America associated with Holland, including:

Edmund Rice House on North Richmond Street, Dublin, where Holland himself trained as a novice Christian Brother teacher in 1858. An interview was conducted with Brother Dónal de Bláca, an author and historian who has written about Holland’s life, and his experience as a teaching brother in particular.

The Irish Maritime Institute, in Oranmore, Galway. Aodhan Fitzgerald, the manager of the ROV Holland submersible, outlined how the vessel was used for research purposes around the Irish coast and further afield. Holland predicted as far back as 1900 that submarines would have many peaceful and scientific functions, including exploring the sea bed and recovering wreckage.

Liscannor, County Clare: Eilís de Bláca provided an account of Holland’s upbringing in the area, and his earliest experiences in Clare and Limerick. We filmed locations relevant to Holland such as the house where he was thought to have been born and reared, and some of the local harbour and coastline. We also returned in the summer to film in the John P. Holland centre in Liscannor with John Declan Flanagan, who developed the centre on his own initiative.

Cork: an interview was conducted with Antóin Ó Dugáin, a retired teacher, and an authority on Holland’s life. We filmed a piece with Antóin and a class in Scoil Fatima Mhuire, a primary school based in the North Monastery site, the Christian Brother school where Holland himself had taught in the late 1850s-1860s, and where he conducted some of his earliest experiments on submersibles with his mentor Br. James Dominic Burke, a noted scientist and educationalist. Holland later said that he was inspired to design a submarine after reading an account in the Irish Examiner of the so called ‘Battle of the Iron Clads’ in the US in 1862 – a US civil war battle between two ships clad in iron sheets. Holland realised that the only feasible method of attacking these well protected ships was to approach from under the waves. He also said he was motivated to design a submersible to provide some protection for weaker nations who would find it impossible to counter the naval fleets of more powerful countries like Britain. While in Cork we also visited Cobh and Kinsale Head, close to where a German u-boat sank the Lusitania in 1915 – illustrating the power of the submarine as a weapon of war, as this particular action encouraged the eventual US participation in WWI.

1. Holland’s early years in Liscannor, County Clare

Luath bhlianta Holland i Lios Ceannúir, Co. an Chláir:

2. Holland and the Christian Brothers

Holland agus Na Bráithre Críostaí:

3. The ROV Holland (Oranmore, Galway)

An ROV Holland (Órán Mór, Co. na Gaillimhe):

The American leg of the filming schedule involved visits to the following locations:

Glucksman House, New York: an interview was conducted with Dr. Terry Golway, an authority on John Devoy. Terry provided an account of the relationship between Holland and the Irish revolutionary organisations Clann na Gael and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) – including how they came to fund Holland’s first efforts at building submarines in the late 1870s – early 1880s. The IRB funded Holland’s experimental boats with the intention of attacking and undermining the British naval fleet.

3. Holland emigrates to the US in 1873

Imíonn Holland chuig na SAM in 1873:

4. Holland moves to Paterson, New Jersey, in 1874

Bogann Holland chuig Paterson, NJ, in 1874:

The Paterson Museum, New Jersey: this museum displays Holland’s first two submarines – the Holland I and Holland II/Fenian Ram. The museum curator, Bruce Balistrieri, took us to where Holland first tested his submarines on the Passaic River, and provided a detailed account of Holland’s activities in the US. Gary McCue was also interviewed here – Gary is a naval architect by profession, and an authority on all aspects of Holland’s life, and on the technical aspects of Holland’s achievement.

5. Holland and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (The Fenians)

Holland agus an IRB (na Fínini):

6. Holland tests the Holland I on the Passaic River

Triaíladh Holland an Holland I ar an abhann Passaic:

7. Holland’s first submarine – the Holland I

An chéad fomhuireáin Holland – an Holland I:

8. Holland and the Holland II / Fenian Ram

Holland agus an Holland II / Fenian Ram:

9. Holland and Henri Le Caron – The Prince of Spies

Holland agus Henri Le Caron – Prionsa na Spiairí:

10. Holland parts company with the Fenians

Deireadh an caidreamh idir Holland agus an IRB:

US Navy Force Submarine museum, Groton, Connecticut: we spoke to the museum curator Stephen Finnigan, as well as the local Naval Commander Reginald N. Preston. The museum maintains a large archive of Holland related material, as well as the archive of the Electric Boat Company – the corporate entity set up in 1899 to build Holland submarines for the US Navy and others. The Electric Boat Company is now called General Dynamic Electric Boat (GDEB) and continues to build and maintain submarines in Groton.

11. Holland enters the US Navy competition to build a submarine

Iontráilann Holland comórtas Cabhlach SAM chun fomhuireán a thógáil:

12. Holland and the Holland V / Plunger submarine

Holland agus an Holland V / An Plunger:

13. Holland’s greatest achievement – the Holland VI submarine

An bua is suntasaigh ag Holland – an fomhuireán Holland VI:

14. Holland’s resignation, and the last years of his life

Éirigh as Holland, agus deireadh a shaol:

The drama for the documentary was shot in Derry and Donegal over three days in Prehen House, Gribben Quay, outside of Derry in Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin and within Derry City itself.

Participants (in order of appearance):

Dr. Terry Golway: Terry is a professor of History, teaching at the Kean University in New Jersey, and specialising in Irish-American history and politics. Terry is also a journalist with the New York Times, and the New York Observer. He is the biographer of John Devoy (1842-1948).

Dr. Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh: Pádraig is a folklorist and historian who wrote his doctoral thesis on Seán Ó hEachaidh, the noted Donegal folklorist. Pádraig currently works with Conradh na Gaeilge as its communications and language protection executive.

Gary McCue: Gary is a naval architect with a long interest in John P. Holland, and the Holland VI in particular. Gary has conducted extensive research into Holland’s life, and built a computer model of the Holland VI/USS Holland I – the first submarine commissioned by the US Navy in 1900.

Eilís de Blaca: Eilís is a native of Liscannor, Holland’s home village in County Clare, where she worked as a primary school teacher for many years. Eilís and her husband Patrick have worked to raise the profile of Holland’s achievements locally and internationally.

Br. Dónal de Bláca CFC: Dónall is a Christian Brother currently based in North Richmond Street in Dublin, the very location where John Holland trained as a Christian Brother teacher himself in 1858. Dónal has written on Holland’s involvement with the Christian Brothers between 1858 and 1873, including first hand reports on Holland’s experience as a teacher.

Bruce Balistrieri: Bruce is a curator at the Paterson Museum in New Jersey. Holland based himself in Paterson for most of the 41 years he lived in the US, and the museum displays Holland’s first two submarines, the Holland I, and the so called Fenian Ram/Holland II. The museum also maintains an extensive archive of Holland related material, including photos, plans patents and letters.

Stephen Finnigan: Stephen is the Managing Director/Supervisory Curator for the US Navy Submarine Force Museum, and  has more than 35 years of museum management experience working for both the US Army and the US Navy.  The museum maintains the Electric Boat Company archive, the corporation set up to build Holland submarines in 1899. The museum also maintains items relating to Holland submarines, including the brass name-plate of the Holland VI – all that remains of this iconic submarine.