Brothers Explore Their Family’s Past

The story of Jeremiah Rossa and his wife, Mary Jane, and what they meant to the fight for Irish independence
Williams Cole, far left, and Rossa Cole with Gerry Adams, president of the Sinn Fein political party, during a visit to Ireland.

The Irish struggle against England in mid-19th century and the failed rebellion of 1867 might seem far removed from contemporary East Hampton, but not to Williams and Rossa Cole, brothers and East Hampton natives. Their great-grandfather was Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood who continued the fight for independence even after he was released from prison in 1871 and forced to emigrate.

“Rebel Rossa,” an unusually personal documentary which is directed by Williams Cole and in which he and his brother are central characters, will be shown at the East Hampton Library on April 22 at 2:30 p.m. A question-and-answer session with the director will follow.

The film sets out to tell the story of Jeremiah Rossa and his wife, Mary Jane, and what they meant to the fight for Irish independence. Among other things, Rossa created the concept of bombing campaigns against England, and, once resettled to New York City, raised money to fund a late-19th-century terror campaign.

“Rebel Rossa” is also the story of the brothers’ quest to learn more about their great-grandfather and to understand the violent means he employed. They traveled to Ireland in 2015, where they participated in, and filmed, many commemorations of Rossa’s life held in connection with the centenary of his funeral in Dublin.

The film includes interviews with historians, scenes from a play based on Rossa’s life, and visits to significant sites, among them the cell in which Rossa was imprisoned. The brothers are seen being interviewed by news crews, meeting with the president of Ireland and some of the leaders of the Sinn Fein party, among them Gerry Adams. “Rebel Rossa” premiered in July at the Galway Film Festival.

The brothers grew up in East Hampton. Williams Rossa Cole has been producing, directing, and editing documentary films for over 15 years. His producing credits include “W.S. Merwin: To Plant a Tree,” “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film,” and “Gun Fight.” Rossa Cole is an artist and photographer who served as second cameraman and co-producer on the project.