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Out of Ireland

In the 20th century, the motives for leaving remain poverty and lack of opportunity.

In the 20th century, the motives for leaving remain poverty and lack of opportunity.

Flashing old photos (too manyunidentified large-group portraits), vintage film clips, drawings, footage of current views of Ireland, testimonies, reminiscences, Irish music corralled by Mike Moloney and a seriousness of purpose, show covers eight “exiles”– their backgrounds, American experiences and the miseries in Ireland that made them leave beloved Erin.

It’s an insightful look at courage and survival in the face of British oppression, and how would-be emigrants gathered meager belongings, scratched together passage money, sailed to America — and longed for home.

One, Timothy Cashman of County Cook, lived most of his life in the U.S. and, when he returned for a look-see, found his home site bleak. Dublin’s Richard O’Gorman, politically active in the group Young Ireland, left for New York politics when the movement flopped.

Program displays shining Irish faces in America while readers draw from personal letters that exiles wrote home. James Quinn, 20, changing his name to Tim O’Brien because he emigrated illegally, found New York too odd, tried Brazil and Louisiana before heading for Havana, where he vanished.

The stories beg for more details, but mostly there are only bare facts. Photos, of course, are scarce, and Tim O’Brien sure didn’t sit still long enough for one.

Program, which includes challenging samples of the Irish language, does an effective job of capturing the desolation, despair and determination that sent young people across the sea not only for survival but to help their families back home.

Certainly informative, “Ireland” covers plentyof bases — probably too many for such a limited running time. But writer-director Paul Wagner has distilled the enormous story into a shrewd account of how a people coped with oppression and injustices — and why and how, over two centuries, 7 million Irish folks came to the U.S. with an enormous drive to succeed.

Out of Ireland

(Wed. (7), 9-11 p.m., PBS)

Production: Filmed in Ireland by American Focus and KET, Kentucky. Producers, Paul and Ellen Casey Wagner; co-producer, Dorothy E. Peterson; director, Paul Wagner; writers, Paul Wagner, Kerby Miller; camera, Erich Roland; editors, Neil Means, Reid Oechslin, Paul Wagner; sound, Nelson Funk/Rodel Sound; music selections, Mike Moloney. #Voices: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Gabriel Byrne, Brenda Fricker, Michael Thornton, Pauline Cadell, Barry Barns, Sir Thomas Trevelyan, Pat Kinevan, Joe Gallagher, Frank O'Sullivan, Pat Laffan, Tina Kellegher, Michelle Houlden, Des Braydon, Sean Fleming, Michael Healy, Martin Dempsey, Stephen Kennedy. #Commentators: Mike Moloney, John B. Keane, Kerby Miller, Dennis Clark, Hasia Diner. #Narrator: Kelly McGillis. An ambitious attempt to trace the woes and joys of Ireland through eight emigres' fortunes uses the Burnsian docu-making technique but without enough of the compactness or clarity. "Ireland" is undoubtedly a major communicative step; the canvas is just too big. Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries was suffering famine -- during the Potato Famine of 1845, 1 million died of starvation and disease, 2 million fled -- as well as poverty, deprivation and landlordism (the Brits, booting them out of their homes, had taken away their roofs and farms to make tenants of them). Less than 10% who left their homeland came back to Ireland.

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