Ballymena actor in rising ‘docu-drama’

Vincent Higgins as Eoin MacNeill
Vincent Higgins as Eoin MacNeill

A Ballymena man plays the part of the Irish nationalist who desperately tried to stop the Easter Rising in a BBC documentary to be screened on Sunday evening.

Vincent Higgins takes the title role in the Irish language programme ‘Eoin Mac Néill – Fear Dearmadta 1916 (Eoin MacNeill: The Forgotten Man of 1916).

The new is to be broadcast on BBC Two NI on Easter Sunday, 27th March at 10pm.

It is a compelling story that gives an insight to one of the most controversial circumstances of the Easter Rising – MacNeill’s attempt to prevent it from happening.

Eoin MacNeill was a scholar, revolutionary and politician from Glenarm in County Antrim. This documentary examines the influence that growing up in that Gaelic enclave had on his life and work. MacNeill founded the Gaelic League in 1893, and it was in the League’s newspaper, An Claidheamh Soluis, that he wrote the infamous article that led to the founding of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. MacNeill was then appointed Chief of Staff of the defence force.

Through dramatic reconstruction, access to MacNeill’s unpublished memoir, interviews with key historians and experts, and through the personal account of MacNeill’s grandson, former Tánaiste Michael McDowell, pivotal moments in history are brought to life.

Ballymena's Vincent Higgins in the docu-drama

Ballymena's Vincent Higgins in the docu-drama

The documentary also examines MacNeill’s reasons for making his most controversial decision – when he attempted to stop the Easter Rising of 1916 by issuing a countermanding order. According to the director of the documentary, Damian McCann, that much maligned decision is one of the most interesting aspects of MacNeill’s story:

“MacNeill has a complicated legacy, and that is always interesting for a director – it presents a unique challenge. There is a deep divide in opinion about MacNeill, but his story cannot be told simply, by portraying him as a hero or a hate-figure. It is not black and white, and in fact, MacNeill’s dramatic life reflects the complex history of this period. The great themes of life are examined in this documentary – conflict, friendship and betrayal.”

Irish historian, Professor Diarmaid Ferriter said: “We cannot reduce the options or the choices that were facing people like MacNeill in such crude terms, that they had either to be on one side of a debate or another side. There was a hell of a lot in between.”

‘Eoin Mac Néill – Fear Dearmadta 1916’ was produced by DoubleBand Films for BBC Gaeilge and TG4, with funding from Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

BBC Northern Ireland is marking a pivotal year in our history with a series of special programmes surrounding 1916. Through specially commissioned documentaries, dramas and live programming across television, radio, online and digital, BBC Northern Ireland will reflect the life and times of 1916 giving audiences an opportunity to learn more about the centenary anniversaries of The Easter Rising, The Battle of Jutland and The Battle of the Somme. The output will feature archive material as well as never before published historical documents, witness testimony and artefacts, to tell the stories of major points in history which still resonate on the island of Ireland today.

Órfhlaith Ní Chearnaigh, the producer of the documentary, said: “We hope that it will appeal to a wide range of viewers. Although the documentary is in Irish, the entire programme is subtitled, and the dramatic reconstruction elements throughout the programme are in English, as they are based on Eoin MacNeill’s own memoirs, written in English.

“We were pleased that Vincent was available to play this part for us, as he brought a lot of integrity to the role, as well as his own knowledge on the character from his interest in the period. It was also important to get a County Antrim man to portray this man from the Glens.”

Vincent, who now lives in Belfast, is a former pupil of St. Louis Grammar. He has worked as an actor with practically every major theatre company in Ireland including The Abbey Theatre – The National Theatre of Ireland. Vincent has also performed around the world including, New York, London, Stockholm and Rome. He has many film, TV and radio credits to his name and is a renowned voice-over artist.