By Charles Hale
One of the outgrowths and benefits of the Irish American Writers & Artists’ salons has been the increasing number of collaborations among its members. There were many wonderful presentations before a standing-room-only crowd at the Thalia Cafe, but two fine performances highlighted the collaborative talents of four members – two writers and two singers.
Inspired by a New York Times story about the Brooklyn apartment where she grew up, Karen Daly presented an evocative tribute to her grandmother titled, “Mama’s Window.” Karen pictured her grandmother keeping watch on her from a building on Lincoln Place, and showed how the little girl would come to resemble her grandmother in so many ways.
Karen movingly described her grandparents’ marriage and her grandmother’s desolation at her husband’s death. The emotion was perfectly expressed when singer Jack Di Monte joined Karen and sang a beautiful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “When I Lost You.” This seamless collaboration resulted from an offhand chat at a prior salon.
Maura Mulligan has read a number of passages from her engaging memoir, “Call of the Lark,” but Maura showed her true roots as a storyteller when she recounted the night she left her home in County Mayo for America, evoking the Ireland of her childhood with images of the turf fire, the boxty and butter-making. Singer Vera Wrenn joined Maura, enhancing the story with a beautiful rendition of “Moonlight in Mayo” and “The Bold Fenian Men.”
Sarah Fearon work-shopped some new comedy material. Some of her ideas included dealing with the beginning of the end of the world, and getting old. Sarah also riffed on thinking outside the box before we wind up inside the box, and a new discovery revealed from Jesus’ shroud, which suggests that God was originally from New York. And my favorite: Sarah wondered why doctors ask us “What are we doing here today?” From the crowd’s response, a good percentage of Sarah’s material is worth developing.
Our thoughts went to the victims of hurricane Sandy when Maureen Hossbacher read a poignant excerpt from her novel-in-progress, “The Grand March.” The excerpt, set in Rockaway Beach of the 1950s, introduced us to Nance Moran, a young girl wrangling with the dissonance between sexuality and Catholicism. No doubt many in the captivated audience could relate to similar childhood awakenings and dilemmas.
Malachy McCourt closed the evening with a song, “Isn’t it Grand Boys to be Bloody Well Dead.” After the applause and cheers subsided, Malachy called out “Great night!” Indeed it was.
For more about the Irish American Artists and Writers contact Charles R. Hale at firstname.lastname@example.org
At the opening night of the Irish Film New York last month, Lelia Doolan was a hard woman to catch. But, eventually she had some time to sit with the Irish Echo in the basement of Glucksman Ireland House where the celebration was taking place, and we talked for 15 minutes before she had to get a taxi uptown to another do.
Doolan was a guest of honor at Irish Film New York, where her documentary “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey” was a key attraction. Her visit to the U.S. had a dual purpose, though, since she was also raising funds for an art-house movie theatre in Galway.
“We’ve been trying to make this happen for almost 10 years now,” she explained of the project. “We’ve got almost all the funding, we are shy by about a million euros. We think we can make that up and we would love if the public would give us a hand.”
Doolan, now age 78, is a respected public figure in Ireland, and as a young woman was a pioneering element in the nation’s creative scene. Described as “mad, bad and dangerous,” by Dublin’s Catholic archbishop, John Charles McQuaid, she was never afraid to dispute authority.
She won a scholarship to study Brecht at the Free University in Berlin, and worked for almost a decade at Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, until she resigned in protest at their political and commercial policies. (She later wrote a book about the experience with two colleagues called “Sit Down and Be Counted.”) Doolan also spent two years as artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, and she holds a PhD in anthropology from Queens University, Belfast.
She spoke about her current passion – the role that indie film could play in the city of Galway. For more than 45 years the city has sustained a film society whose members meet every Sunday night to watch something out of the ordinary. “It’s like having a great meal,” she said. “It’s full of riches, it’s full of nutrition. And it’s provocative, interesting, awkward, something to enable people to be fully human.”
The project (www.picturepalace.ie) – which she hopes will gain support from members of the Irish American community – will include three screens, a café, a bar and a bookshop. Doolan said that artists and creative people have not disappointed the country, unlike some other groups. “Of all the people who have let cultures down and societies down, they are mostly economists and bankers and business people,” she said. “Funnily enough in Ireland at least, the artists have not left the country down. They’ve continued to be vibrant and vivid and interesting and fascinating and intriguing.”
Her own most recent production is a film that achieves just that. “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey” explores the provocative and often inspiring activities of Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin), a young woman who acquired prominence during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. At the time, Devlin was just 22. In an image from the film showing her with long hair wearing a short dress and coat, with buckled shoes, she looks even younger.
Doolan said the film was not meant to be about McAliskey’s experiences but about her ideas. “She is, like all human beings, multifaceted,” Doolan suggested. “But one of the great qualities of her is she has a great mind. She is very direct; she is very eloquent. She’s got a wonderful sense of humor, and madness, in fact. She is intellectually alive and awake all the time and she’s just a remarkable iconic figure.”
The documentary is a testament both to McAliskey’s actions and Doolan’s determination to record them. She described the film as something of a teaching aid – a reminder, for young people, that some ideas are worth fighting for, and a nudge to reject blander versions of life. “One of the reasons for my making the film, I suppose, was to say, ‘Have courage.’ She had a strong courage,” Doolan said of Bernadette. “But it doesn’t take a lot to stand up for something that you actually believe in.”
By now, it was time for the filmmaker to travel to her next appointment, and she was probably running late.
When it comes to film, art, Ireland and history, Doolan doesn’t keep her eye on the clock. “I could keep talking forever,” she said.
This past summer Irish rocker Joe Hurley, curated OurLand, a dynamic outdoor celebration of Irish heritage at Lincoln center. Now it’s Liam Ó Maonlaí’s turn to dazzle the big apple with a modern interpretation of his Celtic Roots. Ó Maonlaí, the Dublin born front man for the rock group Hothouse Flowers, has teamed up with choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan and Ireland’s renowned dance theater company, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, to create “Rian” – a show where contemporary dance and traditional Irish music meet. “Rian” will make its New York City debut as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, a month long celebration of artistic expression, with performances at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on Nov. 8, 9, and 10 at 7:30 p.m. Ó Maonlaí will also perform an intimate hour-long concert as part of the White Light Festival at 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 at Lincoln Center’s Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse.
A man of great musical versatility, Ó Maonlaí is an All-Ireland Bodhran player, an accomplished pianist, he plays guitar, harp, tin whistle, and is one of Ireland’s best Sean Nos Singers. His first solo album, “Rian,” serves as the soundtrack to his latest project with the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre. The Irish word for “imprint” or “trace,” “Rian” is a beautiful showcase of Ó Maonlaí’s passion for playing and singing traditional Irish music. While the sounds of Rian are quite traditional, the sights are far from the costumes and movements normally associated with Irish music.
Ó Maonlaí’s partner in crime on the project is fellow Dublin native, Michael Keegan-Dolan – the artistic director for Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, a group that is gaining international recognition for its creative and controversial productions. Sharing the stage with five of Ireland’s top musicians is a multicultural crew of eight dancers who set exciting and contemporary movement to the sounds of harps, bodhrans, fiddles and flutes.
Talent and innovation, Irish music and contemporary dance, it’s a recipe for a memorable evening in New York City.
Get your tickets to Rian at whitelightfestival.org or call 212-721-6500, and as Liam Ó Maonlaí sings in a popular Hothouse Flowers Song “dance for all your worth. Just let that rhythm take you home.”
My picks for the best Irish sounds around town this week: Declan O’Rourke at Stage One in Fairfield, CT on 11/2, Mary Black with Roisin O at City Winery in NYC on 11/6, and The Screaming Orphans at on 11/6 at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC.
Last week, I spoke with Tony Lawless, a fiddle and guitar player from Dublin who runs Tradconnect.com, a very impressive (and free!) website whose mission is to connect musicians and promote trad music “across the world.” It’s an extremely compelling and well-executed idea that deserves the attention of anyone who loves trad music.
Struggling to find musicians for a session in Dublin, Lawless was motivated to start TradConnect when he found that there was no online outlet that easily put together trad musicians; there seemed to be a clear need. He unveiled the site in April 2011, and within two weeks there were 400 members. With the member base now approaching 3,000, the site receives over 10,000 unique visits a month, a number Lawless thinks will rise as more people sign up and content increases.
TradConnect is based on (and indeed, shares it’s software DNA with) NoDepression.com, an extremely successful website that covers Americana and Roots music. Started in 1995 as a print magazine, NoDepression went fully digital in 2008. Today, it has a membership of 21,400, comprising journalists, videographers, artists, labels, PR folks, venue owners, DJs, festival promoters, podcasters, and fans. There, users have access to discussion forums, blog entries, CD/DVD and live show reviews, contests, music videos and photos. (This content is typically user generated, much like Facebook.) There is also a chat function. NoDepression receives 130,000 unique readers a month, making it Americana and Roots music’s most important hub, both online and off.
By adapting NoDepression’s very successful model, Lawless hopes to create a similarly vibrant place for the world of Irish traditional music. It is already doing the job of connecting musicians and helping them communicate with one another, and it is becoming an increasingly important PR resource for professional musicians (especially since it is one of the few places that provides review content, which is so important for recording and touring artists).
If you’re a musician or a fan, check out Lawless’s site – it looks like a very interesting way of keeping up with what’s happening in the world of trad music. To sign up, visit tradconnect.com. (And if you do, friend me – I recently signed up!)
Speaking of reviews, I recently got ahold of Kathleen Conneely’s new CD “The Coming of the Spring” and I absolutely love it. It is an album of shimmering, unpretentious tin whistle playing, executed with perfect swing and masterful pacing. If you like tin whistle, this album is a must have. If you’re not sure about tin whistle, this album will absolutely win you over.
“The Coming of the Spring” is made up entirely of jigs, reels and hornpipes, straight dance music, played with minimal arrangement Conneely is joined by some top players, including her brother Mick (bouzouki), Brian McGrath (piano) and Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh (bodhrán), each of whom enhances Conneely’s already warm, relaxed style.
One of the album’s many strengths is its extremely tasteful tune selection. Conneely includes a number of very interesting but less common tunes to go with the ones that are more familiar. “Dermot Grogan’s / …” is a wonderful set of jigs; “The Gneevgullia Reel / …” is a great set as well. Conneely is joined by her father Mick Sr. (also a whistle player) on “The Primrose Vale / The Lark in the Morning (#1),” a set of tunes “he would have played regularly when we were growing up.” They’re backed brilliantly by Mick Jr. and is perhaps album’s most poignant moment.
Beside the music, I love how this album evokes the kind of stripped down “free-range” sound Micheál Ó Raghallaigh and Danny O’Mahony took with their recent CD “As It Happened”. Like that album, there’s nothing “slick” about Conneely’s music. It is just elegantly performed and clearly presented, just the kind of thing you’d want to hear in something people might call “pure drop.”
To learn more about “The Coming of the Spring,” visit www.cdbaby.com/cd/kathleenconneely.
Niamh Hyland may not always have been sure what path her life would take, but she knew that it would involve music. Tall, with short-cut auburn hair, Hyland is an accomplished performer and songwriter, who wowed a crowd at the OurLand Festival in the Lincoln Center earlier this year. She sang “Hard Times Come Again No More” without accompaniment, and her performance struck a chord.
“It was a combination of Irish traditional and then soul and fusing both of those together,” Hyland said when I met her a few weeks later. “For me that’s what a lot of people hear when I sing. It’s this combination of being very true to Irish traditional music but also bringing in other influences.”
Hyland grew up in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim, and music ran in her family. Her grandfather had played tin whistle and accordion, and she first learned to sing from her mother around the family table. “When we would finish dinner, she would sing a verse and go round the table and everyone would sing a verse. That’s how we learned all the old Irish ballads; that’s what I think trained my ear because there was no music, you had to hear it,” she explained.
There is something chameleon-like about Hyland’s vocal abilities, which span traditional sean nós Irish song, as well as rock and soul. She is the lead singer in Lily Sparks, a rock band with an assertive attitude, fond of glittery guitars and skin-tight denim. (A comment on the band’s website suggests that “Lily Sparks creates music that makes you want to crank the volume all the way up and sing along.”). By contrast when we met over a coffee at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan, she was understated and elegant, wearing jeans and a simple black top.
Her early trajectory pointed towards a career in classical opera. After starring in some high school musicals, she won a scholarship from the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, her parents regularly taking her on the three-hour drive from Leitrim. She studied there for a year under a teacher from Russia. “He was strict,” she recalled, “and strict is what you need, as you weren’t going there to have a party.”
The teacher was excited by her range and thought she would become a successful opera singer. Instead though, the 17-year-old found herself drawn towards other genres. “I felt like there was a part of what I loved about my voice that was getting a little lost in the training because you have to train in a certain way,” Hyland said. “I liked some of the things that weren’t necessarily correct.”
After that, Hyland turned away from music temporarily to study business and law at University College Dublin. Her parents were shocked, but then got used to the idea that their daughter might not be a musician after all, and for a few years Hyland focused on gaining her academic degree. It was when she finished her studies that she decided to return to music and come to New York. She has U.S. citizenship, since her parents had met and married here.
With its flourishing music scene, New York seemed like the best place to be. “Everybody wants to live here; everybody wants the opportunities that are here,” Hyland said. “It’s a number of years that I’ve been here now – and I pinch myself and think, ‘Wow, I actually live in New York.’ I’ve dreamt about it for so long. I grew up in the country on a farm and now I live in one of the biggest cities in the world.”
New York is also a good place to be Irish. Hyland lives in Floral Park, which she described as Ireland’s 33rd county, so packed is it with people from the old country. The first time she visited the area, she saw an older gentleman on a bicycle, wearing a cap and cycling the wrong way down the street.
She has kept her more practical options open, sitting (and passing) the notoriously difficult New York State bar exam and obtaining a job at a management consulting firm in the city. This has allowed her to avoid a penniless artist’s fate. “You have to pay your bills,” she pointed out. “It’s ridiculously expensive here.”
Right now is a time of transition for Hyland and she has gone part-time in her day job to focus on music. She wants to record Irish songs and is working on two albums, one with Lily Sparks and the other a solo project. “Life is so short,” she said.
“You get to go round once and you don’t get a second go at it. Good, bad or indifferent, you might as well do something that you really love.”
Patrick Clifford’s story is one that is familiar to many Irish-American music makers. From childhood accordion lessons in the Bronx with legendary traditional Irish music teacher, Martin Mulvihill, he went on to explore the New York City rock scene as a bassist, only to find himself being called back to the music of his roots as an adult.
Just as Clifford was looking to scratch his Irish music itch, an up and coming band out of Woodside, Four to the Bar, was in need of a bassist who knew Irish music. Clifford auditioned, got the job, and spent five years playing with David Yeates, Martin Kelleher and Keith O’Neill as a member of one of the most sought after NYC Irish bands of the 1990s. “It was a blast all along,” Clifford said of the era when he experienced Four to the Bar evolve from a pub band to a well-loved and well-respected quartet worthy of playing with Pete Seeger and opening for Sharon Shannon. Four to The Bar recorded three albums together, including Craic on the Road, one of my all-time favorite live recordings of an Irish band. Every second of the CD sounds like the four are in their glory bringing Irish music to people’s ears as they light the crowd on fire on a summer’s night in a Bronx pub.
A lot has changed for Patrick Clifford since the band dissolved in 1996. He took a long hiatus from playing music publicly, moved to western New Jersey to begin a family, and set out on his journey as a solo artist. But some things remained the same – his love of music, his passion for singing Irish standards, and his talent as an instrumentalist, a singer, and a songwriter. He’s been writing, producing, and recording music at a steady pace lately – releasing “American Wake” in 2010, and his most recent album, “Chance of A Start” earlier this month.
In a recent conversation with Clifford, he spoke about how his sound has been shaped by his experience as an Irish American (his parents both hail from Kerry), “I do what I do, it is Irish at its heart with an American manifestation”. The music on “Chance of A Start” is evidence of this – the 10 tracks the album are a mix of Clifford’s original material and classic Irish songs like “The Parting Glass,” “The Ferryman,” and “Freeborn Man of the Traveling People.” When I asked him about the songs on the album, Clifford replied, “These are songs I love.”
Not only does Clifford have the chance to share the songs he loves on his albums, but he also shares the music of his roots over the radio air waves. The first Sunday of every month you’ll find Patrick Clifford behind the mic at WDVR, 89.7FM, a non-profit New Jersey Radio station, where he spins contemporary Irish music from 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
Through his solo work, his unique arrangements of Irish standards, and his work at WDVR, it’s clear that Patrick Clifford’s contribution to Irish music in America reaches far beyond his days with Four to the Bar.
You can find out more about Clifford’s music and pick up your copy of Chance of a Start at patrickclifford.com.
For some Irish sounds around town this week check out Julie Feeney at Highline Ballroom in NYC on 10/24, Broken Banjo Strings at An Beal Bocht Café in the Bronx on 10/27, and the Billy Keenan Band at the Glenrowan in Yonkers on 10/27.
For Irish-American actor Aidan Quinn, who most recently starred in the cancelled NYPD drama “Prime Suspect,” the prospect of playing a New York police captain who solves crimes with iconic British private detective Sherlock Holmes in the new series “Elementary” was too delicious to pass up.
Set in contemporary Manhattan, the show stars Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes, a brilliant, but brash, recovering drug addict with an uncanny talent for deduction. Lucy Liu plays Dr. Joan Watson, the “sober companion” Holmes’ father hires to keep him out of trouble, while Quinn plays Captain Tobias Gregson, a cop who previously worked a case with Holmes at Scotland Yard and now consults him regarding seemingly unsolvable mysteries in the Big Apple.
“I wasn’t particularly looking for another TV project; I was just looking for work,” Quinn told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. “Wonderful actors to work with and they offered to have me come back to New York, come home, and they said they were going to expand the part and I could have fun with it – all good things. How do you say no to that?”
Born to Irish parents and raised in Illinois, Dublin and Birr, the 53-year-old actor is a married father of two daughters and the star of dozens of films, including, “The Eclipse,” “Song for a Raggy Boy,” “This is My Father,” “Evelyn,” “Michael Collins,” “Practical Magic,” “Benny and Joon” and “Desperately Seeking Susan.” The longtime East Coast resident also led the casts of the short-lived TV series “The Book of Daniel” and “Canterbury’s Law,” and was part of the ensemble of “Prime Suspect,” for which he lived most of last year in Los Angeles, even though the show was set in New York.
His latest small-screen character is a modern-day incarnation of Inspector Gregson, a lawman from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 19th century Sherlock Holmes potboilers. Quinn’s version of the character is intelligent, honest and fair and, so far, pretty patient with Holmes’ often exasperating lack of social skills.
So, will their relationship remain as civil as it is depicted in the early days of the show or might Holmes wear out his welcome and be shown the door?
“There’s definitely a real mutual respect. But we have one [episode] coming up where there’s real conflict between us,” Quinn explained. “They’re going to keep it interesting. It’s not just all going to be the same every week.”
Asked if he was happy to play Gregson instead of Inspector Lestrade, a better-known authority figure from the Doyle canon, but one with whom Holmes has a less-friendly relationship, Quinn replied, “To be perfectly honest, I have no idea about who Lestrade is.
“I watched Sherlock Holmes [movies] when I was a kid,” he recalled. “People keep mentioning, ‘Are you Lestrade?’ And I say, ‘No.’”
The actor went on to say he would like to see the show delve into the U.K. case that initially brought Gregson and Holmes together.
“That would be fun to explore,” he said. “Maybe a nice little flashback where we get to see them in London.”
Quinn had high praise for his co-star Miller’s performance in such a demanding role. “He’s fantastic. He’s great. He’s a phenomenal actor. He has these reams of soliloquys to learn every week and it’s quite daunting, all the dialogue he’s got to learn. He’s amazing. There is an OCD element and I think the character is very funny. He’s doing a great job,” Quinn said.
And what is it like to be on the other end of someone who is speaking at length as Holmes does, but doesn’t really care if the other person is listening?
“It’s interesting. I think that’s my job really to bring him back to earth and reality, so he can deal with the people who are in the room. He certainly is in his own private Idaho a lot.”
Although there had been some initial backlash against the show because it arrived so quickly on the heels of the London-set television series “Sherlock,” which also puts a contemporary spin on the Holmes stories, critics have since praised “Elementary” and viewers have been tuning in by the millions to see it since it debuted last month. Quinn, who said he has not seen the British drama, emphasized the characters are so rich there is room in the world for more than one version of them at the same time.
“I never saw it. I heard it’s terrific, but our show is completely different,” he emphasized. “He’s like the original serial detective.”
Quinn said his previous experience playing screen cops came in handy when preparing to play Gregson.
“I had just come off of doing ‘Prime Suspect’ for six months last year. I have a friends and sources in the NYPD so I had a leg up there,” the actor said.
“Elementary,” which will feature mainly original stories with a nod to Doyle’s tales, airs on CBS Thursday nights.
Not even the last of the good weather could deter New York’s Irish film fans from heading indoors at NYU Cantor Center last Friday night to watch the opening feature of the IFNY 2012 festival. Stoked by the kickoff party held earlier at Glucksman Ireland House, the filmgoers settled in at the Cantor to watch the American premiere of Kieron J. Walsh’s frenetic feature “Jump.”
Adapted from Lisa McGee’s stage play, the film is set in Derry on New Year’s Eve, a night that natives of the City famously turn into a Halloween and champagne mashup, with all the revelers decked out in elaborate costumes in the buildup to the midnight celebrations. Walsh’s briskly-paced dramedy pitches a battered and bruised young man (Martin McCann) up against a suicidal young woman in angel wings (Nichola Burley) who is about to jump off the Derry Peace Bridge to end her life. Romance naturally ensues, and the pair share a hectic evening of angst, guilt and organized crime, while dodging homicidal henchmen of a local gangster (Lalor Roddy) – who just happens to be the girl’s father.
Unlikely coincidences abound, as the film unfolds in a setting refreshingly free of the troubles that have dominated so much of the city’s recent history. Saturday night’s feature was Kirsten Sheridan’s “Dollhouse”, the third full-length film from the Dublin director. Shot in an ultra-modern house located right on the water at Colliemore Harbour, in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, Sheridan’s films opens with a home invasion by a group inner-city teenagers who gain entry to the glass and chrome palace with the help of a girl who has been casing the place, and knows where the spare key is hidden.
They quickly raid the booze and medicine cabinets for whiskey and pills and start a party. The festivities get out of hand and the teens start to trash the place, but are soon halted in their tracks when one of their group is revealed to be the daughter of the owners of the house they are destroying.
Further shocks soon follow, as the narrative balances on a serrated edge of barely-restrained violence.
Working with a cast of unknowns, and from an improvised script, with no flashbacks and no backstory, Sheridan keeps the audience, and at times, clearly, the cast, guessing right until the end as to what is really going on.
The closing night film took the audience back to Derry, but in darker times. Lelia Doolin’s fascinating documentary “Bernadette: Notes on A Political Journey” examines the life and work of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, the republican socialist politician who emerged from the turmoil of the Civil Rights marches of the late ‘60s to become Mid-Ulster MP at the British Parliament at the age of 21.
A veteran and survivor of the Battle of the Bogside, Bloody Sunday, and Burntollet Bridge, Bernadette was a pivotal figure in the burgeoning republican movement in the early- to mid-1970s. Doolin’s doc explores the forces that shaped her, growing up in a uniquely matriarchal family in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone.
With a houseful of sisters, and a mother and two grandmothers who were widowed young, Bernadette was given to believe that to be an opinionated contrarian was a badge of honor for a young woman.
Bernadette took this ethos with her to college, and studied languages and psychology at Queens University in Belfast, where she would join the Civil Rights movement and enter history. When she was elected MP, she rejected the standard abstentionist position taken by some elected nationalists, believing that she could do more good for her constituents by showing up in Parliament to represent them, than refusing to attend.
Bernadette’s striking appearance as a petite hipster with a bullhorn made a strong impression amid the grey-suited ranks of middle-aged men in the UK Parliament, and she quickly became a media star. Dubbed “Castro in a miniskirt” (a misnomer – it was actually a micro-mini) by Alliance Party politician Stratton Mills during a U.S. fundraising tour in 1969, Bernadette made an indelible impression on both sides the Atlantic before retreating from the public gaze in the late seventies. Re-entering the political fray during the H-Block protests, she would survive an attempt on her life that left her with seven bullet wounds in 1981.
Undeterred by the assassination attempt, she continues to fight for justice at a grassroots level in her native Tyrone. Doolin’s unprecedented access to a politician who has become notoriously camera-shy in recent years gives us a rare insight into the mind of one of Ireland’s true radicals, an eloquent and blunt thinker who refused to conform, play the game or sell out.
The film would undoubtedly have benefited from some additional interviews with Devlin’s opponents, detractors, and the inevitable enemies she made along the way, but, when questioned on this matter in the Q & A afterwards, director Doolin was having none of it. Hardly in the ha’penny place herself when it comes to contrarian opinionation, the redoubtable Lelia advised that anyone who wants that sort of thing should go off and make their own film.
By Orla O’Sullivan
The Wee Craic festival wasn’t short on craic, just a smaller showcase for short films out of Ireland than the main Craic fest, held around St. Patrick’s Day.
The last one was held at a real cinema—the Film Forum—whereas last Friday’s screening gathered 50 viewers or more into a downstairs room of the Lower East Side Bar, Arlene’s Grocery.
Once again, organizer Terence Mulligan produced a double-bill: movies followed by a free bar of whiskey and beer. The crowd reconvened in RBar on the Bowery, where the Mighty Stef played.
There was the same high quality, good dose of animation, and some overlap in the films shown at both Craic events.
However, the Wee Craic emphasized shorts from the past year, including: “The Hatch”; “Pet Hate”; “Bird Food”; “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Thin Ice”.
Some were back by popular demand, such as Oscar-nominated “Pentecost” and “Give Up Yer Aul Sins” — an animation set to an actual 1960s recording of a Dublin schoolgirl giving an unwittingly hilarious account of John the Baptist’s demise, which can be found on YouTube.
Another funny requested was “Granny O’Grimm,” an animated tale of a granny whose bedtime story is dark enough to ensure that the child hearing it may never sleep again. (This is available online at www.vimeo.com/7937986.)
“The Hatch” is a modern-day tale, with some baffling mythic and science-fiction dimensions, set in a trawler off of Cork. The fishermen spear something ambiguous from the deep, which leads to tragedy and to the birth of a seemingly 30-pound baby. Despite its weirdness, and its sometimes clichéd dialogue (fisherman to his bookish son: “It’s no life for you”), it keeps the viewer engaged with strong acting and its cinematography; the latter won James Maher an award at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Next up was “Useless Dog,” as simple as “The Hatch” is convoluted. What do you do if you have a sheepdog that the sheep chase? “Sure, you have to just live with it,” says the owner in Ken Wardrop’s award-winning film (which is also available on YouTube). And sure, isn’t said dog a delight to watch? The opening scene is Chaplinesque in the way it so perfectly pairs to music the dog’s wagging wiggle.
Silver Screen / By Michael Gray
Irish Film New York, in its second year on the NY cultural calendar, presents a diverse selection of new movies from Ireland at the NYU Cantor Center, from Oct. 5 – 7.
Niall McKay, curator/director of IFNY, follows the success of the recent Lincoln Center screening of Oscar-nominated Irish short films with a range of full-length features that represent the best of current Irish filmmaking.
The series opens with Kieron J Walsh’s “Jump”, shot on location in Derry, Northern Ireland. Walsh’s drama features four young adults as they gear up for the excitement of New Year’s Eve in their native city. The atmosphere is festive in the post-Troubles era, but the shadow of the city’s violent past darkens their mood as the evening gathers momentum. Walsh’s film stars up-and-coming actors Nichola Burley and Martin McCann (who played U2 singer Bono in last year’s IFNY hit, “Killing Bono”).
Kirsten Sheridan, daughter of the illustrious filmmaker Jim, presents her third feature film “Dollhouse,” a tense psychological thriller about a group of nervy teens who break into a stunning ultra-modern mansion in an up-market South County Dublin neighborhood. The forced entry starts out as a prank, but as the night wears on, shocking revelations are made, and the drink-fuelled youngsters decide to trash the place. The haphazardly-choreographed chaos of the evening takes a strange turn when the homeowner shows up, and gleefully joins in the mayhem. Sheridan directs with a loose style that gives her cast of relative unknowns free rein to improvise. Her provocative film was well received at the SXSW festival earlier this year.
Also shot on location in South County Dublin is Ian Fitzgibbon’s “Death of A Superhero.” Based on New Zealander Anthony McCarten’s book of the same name, this coming-of-age drama follows the fortunes of a teenage dreamer who creates his own comic novels. The dark forces of his graphic fantasies find a horrific parallel in the real world when the boy is diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness. Dubliner Fitzgibbon, who had previously directed “Perrier’s Bounty” and “A Film With Me In It,” uses a mix of live action and animation to explore the troubled mind of the lead character, Donald (Thomas Brodie Sangster, who played the young Paul McCartney in “Nowhere Boy”).
Rural Ireland provides the setting for “Pilgrim Hill,” written and directed by Gerard Barrett. The film examines the life of a bachelor farmer who dedicates himself to maintaining the dairy herd on the family holding, and taking care of his elderly father. The film will resonate with viewers from a rural background, who know all too well that lives of enforced solitude and desperate loneliness are lived out quietly amid idyllic Irish landscapes.
The series concludes on Sunday, Oct. 7, with a
feature-length documentary, “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey.” Director Leila Doolin’s film is an in-depth analysis of the life and times of radical firebrand Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, a legend in Northern Ireland politics since she was elected as mid-Ulster MP, while still a 21-year-old Queens University student, to the Westminster Parliament, in the tumultuous times that followed the Battle of The Bogside. An eyewitness to the massacre of Bloody Sunday in January 1972, Devlin McAliskey survived a 1981 assassination attempt by loyalist paramilitaries, who shot her seven times in front of her children, and continues to the present day to fight for justice in Northern Ireland. Doolin’s film is the first documentary on Bernadette since John Goldschmidt’s, made for TV in 1969 as the activist launched herself into the international political arena.
The IFNY series opens Friday Oct. 5, and continues through the weekend. Tickets and details are available online at www.irishfilmnyc.com, and the Cantor Center box office, located on West 8th Street in Manhattan. The photo above is a scene from the Derry-set “Jump.”