Clash Of The Ash

Clash Of The Ash was written and directed by Fergus Tighe in 1987. It was shot on 16mm with a running time of just over 50 minutes and won Best Irish Short at the Cork Film Festival that year. Some months later the film was broadcast on RTÉ 1 where it made quite an impression on my teenage self – primarily because it contained a lot that I could identify with.

Phil Kelly (played by William Heffernan) is the anti-hero; a restless teenager imbued with natural hurling ability and a strong aversion to studying. The location is not fictitious but instead it’s the very real Fermoy in County Cork which is a welcome touch. Like much of 1980s smalltown Ireland it’s a claustrophobic place that drives people away but inexplicably retains a strange sort of hold on them. The latter is exemplified by Gina Moxley’s character, the tempestuous Mary Hartnett who has returned after a stint in London. The other members of their gang are languid Martin (Vincent Murphy), uptight Willy, and mousey Rosie who carries a torch for Phil.

Control and the expectations of others are what Phil fights against. Kelly Senior wants him to take on a job in the local garage while his nagging and snobbish mother has her sights set on him getting a good Leaving Cert. Meanwhile on the sports field the coach Mick Barry (Alan Devlin) has high hopes that his star player will make the county minors and by extension a job in the bank.

“The GAA looks after its own”.

There is a keen build-up to the upcoming match against local rivals Mitchelstown. But Phil isn’t happy. He prefers to train alone (running down a hill backwards and belting a tennis ball around a handball alley) and just can’t apply himself in school. He has little interest in what his well-meaning father can arrange for him and clashes with his mother about late nights and “cavorting with gurriers”.

“It would be more in your line to think about the Leaving Cert”.

Music plays a key part in Clash Of The Ash. Phil wears a Cramps t-shirt, has a Rum, Sodomy and The Lash poster stuck to the bedroom wall and spins Dirty Old Town on the turntable. Mary complains about sharing a house with NME hopefuls The Saints and Scholars while it’s revealed that Martin is talented musician but lacks the motivation to take it to the next level. In a pivotal sequence the gang borrow Willy’s father’s car and drive into Mitchelstown to see The Big Guns play the local nightclub. An exercise in pint stealing means a clash with angry punters and an increase in tension with Murphy (Phil’s nemesis and hurler on the opposing team).

The ill-feeling between the two players explodes during the crucial game. It proves to be a turning point in Phil’s life.

Clash Of The Ash takes place in a world of Silk Cut posters in shop windows, radio clips of Michael Lyster reading soccer results, interminably boring Irish classes and lessons in how to skip mass effectively. The television in the pub is tuned to RTÉ’s Closedown (national anthem), the Sunday Press costs 50p, the dole is paid on Tuesdays and the bank is seen as an ideal career choice. While drifting down the river Martin wistfully remembers a time when local trains still ran and flattened ha’pennies so wide that they could be used to buy penny sweets from the almost-blind shopkeeper. However the sense of claustrophobia is ever-present and the drift towards emigration an inevitable outcome.

The moral: when others try to run your life then escape becomes necessary.

As Mr Kelly states (when offering advice on how to dig properly):

“It’s all about balance”.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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9 thoughts on “Clash Of The Ash

  1. Oliver Farry says:

    I remember Clash of the Ash fondly, not least because there was a much trumpeted local connection. Fergus Tighe’s father came from my hometown of Ballymote and his cousin was my best friend at the time.

    Though I was still only about eleven when I saw it, I could identify with a lot of it and my brother and I were even impressed by things that we assumed were serious envelope-pushing: we had never seen actual puke shown on screen before. Could this have been the vomitary equivalent of Hitchcock showing a toilet flushing in Psycho? We were also publicly scandalised by all the swearing, but secretly thrilled, as the swearing sounded like people we knew swore (precious little of that on RTE in the 1980s).

    My father didn’t mind us watching it either (despite being our national school principal) as it served as a salutary tale as to what would happen to your sporting prowess if you took to drink young. He was also our soccer and Gaelic coach, by the way.

    Thanks for jogging the memory on this on this. I have often wondered what happened to Fergus Tighe. I presume he took on a behind-the-scenes career in film.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Thanks Oliver. Yes the puke is pretty realistic stuff. I recall a bit of a build-up for the original television broadcast with a couple of hard-hitting trailers. Keep the schoolkids off the booze and they’ll be sorted….

    • lyall tighe says:

      Fergus is my great uncle. He is still fine and well. He still travels around filming documentaries and stuff!

  2. I’ve heard of this film but I’ve never seen. Thanks for your excellent introduction to it. I’m going to check it out on YouTube. But first I’m going to have a read of your blog. I only came across it when this post appeared on Zite

  3. ZZZZZZZZZZZ says:

    Great film! Pity hurling hasn’t be further depicted on screen as it plays such a pivotal roles in so many cities, towns and villages in Ireland.

  4. Philip says:

    This was a fairly seminal film though, as someone who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, I have to point out that RTÉ, even then, showed most movies intact, i.e. with swearing, even when ITV and BBC didn’t. The sad part of life nowadays is that Clash Of The Ash is as relevant re emigration as it was then. It’s a great little movie. RTÉ did also make a series called On Home Ground from 2001-2002 about the GAA but if I remember correctly, it was about football and not hurling.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      That’s very true Philip. RTE should be applauded for not going down the censorship route. I did hear a rumour that it was down to lack of 1) equipment and / or 2) personnel. Either way it made for a refreshing alternative to BBC1 or UTV’s relentless cuts to relatively innocuous films. .

  5. Jason says:

    Does anyone know the name of the Donal Lunny tune at the end of the movie?

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