Category Archives: Film

Does Your Mother Come From Ireland?

RTÉ archives are in possession of a 1981 documentary called Does Your Mother Come From Ireland? It was co-produced and presented by Limerick traditional musician and US-based academic Mick Moloney. The film gets an occasional airing, the last for RTÉ being 11/11/2011. Information about the film is not readily available and the following is based on a single viewing.

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Does your Mother Come from Ireland? is roughly 45 minutes in duration. The brief was to film the practice and maintenance of traditional Irish music in 80s New York. The film follows Moloney and cameraman Paddy Barron to New York and then back to Ireland where they document the 1981 All-Ireland Fleadh in Buncrana, Donegal.

Opening with the vista of New York from the air, and soundtracked by the Bob Seger rock anthem Rosalie, Does your Mother Come from Ireland? is a unique visual record of many contrasts specific to its time.

An exploration focused on Bronx residents the Tara Céilí Band who were busy preparing for a return to Ireland to compete in the annual All-Ireland Fleadh. These teenagers had previously won the title three times before and would be filmed winning it again. Historically this film is a record of a pan-Atlantic traditional music scene. Embedded in the film was an outline of the cultural mission imitated by an Irish diaspora concerned for the upkeep of tradition. The New York players were conscious of  the possibilities of cultural isolation and insisted on the maintenance of a continuous link with the source of the music.

The NY Irish community was known to harbour talented musicians and families noted for their traditional strengths but no one had investigated, in film, how their endeavours fed back into the cultural cradle in the ‘old country’. Moloney’s film is a singular record of this.

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The cast, including the celebrated fiddle player Eileen Ivers, were all young American-born musicians who were as proficient in the language of traditional jigs and reels as they were in typical New York pastimes. Footage of these youths playing baseball was styled in that particular filtered haze, unique to filming in New York in the late 70s. It rendered the Irish-Americans similar to those who shimmered in the otherworldly Coca-Cola television ads familiar to Irish television audiences. When the film cut to the same youngsters in houses in the Bronx, diligently playing the sets that would win in Donegal, it registered as a benign jolt.

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The overlap between 80’s America, Ireland, Irish America and TV America on Irish television became more than just a subtext as the film progressed. In the 80s US immigration restrictions ended the steady traffic that had replenished New York’s Irish population since famine times. The special Irish relationship finished and with this ending the cultural update injected from each new group of Irish immigrants did also.

Those who delivered styles to the Bronx from sessions all over Ireland were now without visas. The consequences of restrictions forced a realisation that, for the culture to progressively continue, the response would involve an Irish return. Moloney interviewed parents, teachers and other members of the community after the fallout from the decision of the US government to cap immigration. The annual visit to Buncrana was part of a solution.

Increasing awareness of the lack of immigrants arriving  with new songs encouraged the parents and teachers to support the concept of the return. The passion and commitment of these teachers in this process was very evident. Other vital insights arose in how the culture was being maintained. One involved Martin Mullverhill, a Bronx musician and teacher. He described quickly crafting an original Irish tune underneath the city (in tunnels, perhaps dug by Donegal men). The subway composition flowed easily, “I had it finished by 205th St”, he said proudly.

Heading to Ireland and winning the Fleadh were happy events for the young American passport-holders but those were not the main priorities of the trip. The youth were engaged in a type of journeying, travelling in the sense of a pilgrimage. An undertaking of a type of pilgrimage that sought rejuvenation and reflection. The humble showing of awards at home by the Ivers family testified to this, as did a Bronx bar manager’s dignified imploration while helping to raise 5000 dollars to send the Tara Céilí Band back to the Old Country: “If anyone here tonight hasn’t the money to contribute, please stay and enjoy the music anyway”.

The hazy tone of the 80s New York landscape as a backdrop to the endeavours of the American Irish youth filled the first part of the film. The second part while filmed in colour stock may as well have been shot in black and white such was the contrast of location at the Fleadh. 

Now far from the Bronx the Tara Céilí band are performing on a knocked-together stage in a grey Parish Hall. Their practised reels were clinically measured under the horn-rimmed eyes of a stern adjudicator (the cigire). An impassive seated crowd also measured their performance. A readjustment of viewing was needed as the romance of the previous communal preparations undertaken in the beauty of a New York summer was left behind. The music was the same but it was now heard in the environment of a monochrome Ireland. This 80s island was home to many who wished they had the chance of returning with the American visitors.

Moloney’s Ireland presented itself through another lens. The landscape could have been taken from any Irish documentary film of the 50s. Things moved differently, people acted slower. An officialdom appeared to take over the camera as if the regulations of the Fleadh insisted on it. The adherence to Comhaltas rules and the rigidity that accompanied the reading of them registered even in its recording.

Afterwards, the Americans quietly moved outside with portable cassette recorders recording the open sessions in the unregulated public space of Buncrana. This act of capture was what the journey was about – collecting evidence of native playing. They were capturing the Donegal air to uncap and release on their return. Historically the natives merited recording also. A long shot showed tents surrounding Buncrana. An atmosphere was evident in the attendant mingling of generations and visitors, each with their own agenda.

Another shot on the street captured a suited family man, in town for the day, holding his own as he passed long-haired youths and neatly dressed musicians. Fleadhs at this level were the social midway for the remaining Irish generation of the 80s. The campers in the background sought a music based outlet in this, a transitional time. For the long-haired youth the landscape of this Fleadh was open ground between the depressed dancehall scene and festivals that had yet to appear.

The demand for trad-based groups like De Dannan and Planxty on the festivals that had began to appear came from the transitional long-haired demographic filmed by Moloney. Panning his camera for background filler the filmmaker inadvertently documented a crossover.

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Another vibrant shot of overlapping cultures was a brief shot of a native Irish céilí band with a young drummer starkly wearing a Doors t-shirt. There was a minor cult for the ‘poetry’ of Jim Morrisson circa 1981 as the Doors’ back catalogue was being repackaged. But a Doors t-Shirt was a relatively rare and exotic item particularly for a teenage drummer in a céilí band in Donegal. Would one of the American contingent have gifted him the shirt?  Perhaps gifted tapes also? The Americans were now known as regulars and tentatively part of this Fleadh community. It is conceivable that friendships were made, and perhaps cultural exchanges of many sorts were a regular feature.

It is fair to speculate that the New York parents who facilitated their children’s activity to maintain the diaspora’s cultural link to Ireland could have inadvertently instigated a reciprocal musical process. 80s Virtual America, especially the urban otherness of New York, was visually a familiar sight from Irish TV programming which leant heavily on US import drama. A type of virtual American landscape began to merge with an Irish one. A topology that stretched from The Waltons‘ Mountain to Kojak’s Manhattan with the beach of The Rockford Files in between. The virtual West was passively received, indulged as a glamorous contrast to a recession-based Irish vista. An aural insight into the land of opportunity would have delivered a different sensation. This insight may have been on a cassette tape containing excerpts, musical and otherwise ranging from New York radio to trad sessions in the Bronx. Those cassettes may have been left behind in Buncrana.

The content of Does Your Mother Come From Ireland? whether primary, secondary, or speculative remains as entertaining and historically informative 30 years after it was shown, and its concept is a credit to Moloney and his team.

(by Paul Tarpey)

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Dirty Dancing 25 years on…


A couple of years ago, on a night out with three friends, a shocking revelation came to light. During a random chat about films close to our once-teenage hearts, one of our number took a deep breath and blurted out that she’d never seen Dirty Dancing. Three sets of eyes widened and stared. “But . . . but . . . how? Why?” one of us stuttered. It was like admitting you had never watched Top of the Pops, eaten a cool-pop or jumped off a wall while simultaneously attempting the splits after one too many episodes of Fame.

Without exception, every girl I knew in 1987 had not just seen Dirty Dancing, but the number of viewings per girl bordered on obsessive compulsive. We would quote lines (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner” was the perfect melodramatic opener or door-slamming endpoint to any teenage strop) and try to recreate the film’s famous “lift” scene, often resulting in sprained shoulders and pulled muscles. And then there was Patrick Swayze, all tousled quiff and cut-glass cheekbones – not to mention those snake hips. Sadly, there were no sexy dance instructors on any of our collective family holidays growing up. The daydream of meeting some mentor-ish older man who would liberate your teenage self through the medium of dance was one harboured by several friends.

The film’s slightly cheesy and deliberately provocative title always (I felt) did the film a disservice. It wasn’t about dancing. And it was only barely about the dirty elements of said dancing. It was a story about growing up, about asserting your independence and about tentatively cutting the apron strings. In every sense, it’s a classic bildungsroman, where over one long, hot summer, a young girl comes of age.

The casting of Jennifer Grey was also inspired. A complete unknown, she was pretty but not gorgeous. She was also the precursor to Britney’s Not a Girl, Not Yet A Woman and completely relatable to a generation of girls who wanted to grow up fast after two hours in the cinema. As films about awakening sexuality go, it rates highly and captures Baby’s journey from girl to woman in a way that many Hollywood films bungle.

Horrified at the glaring gap in our friend’s film history, a Dirty Dancing  screening was organised. A special edition DVD was purchased and we duly trooped over to our unenlightened friend’s flat. What struck me most about the experience was the reminder that, in all the times I’d seen the film, I had rarely watched it alone. It had always been a communal experience, involving singing along with the songs and shrieking at Patrick Swayze’s moves. Would it hold up all these years later? Well, yes and no.

Like many films, it’s very much of its time. The dancing – surprisingly – was far more risqué than my younger self remembered, but the story of one girl finding love with Mr. Wrong who becomes Mr. Right is fairly timeless. Much cringing and laughter accompanied the scenes as we heard those familiar lines again (“Go back to your playpen, Baby”). Our friend declared herself largely unimpressed – but, then, 20 years on, we expected as much. Dirty Dancing spoke to a generation of idealistic girls not just about boys, but about being assertive and being yourself. It was also meant to be watched with a banana comb in your hair and sporting a batwing jumper.

As with John Hughes’ classics The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, abandon hindsight and cynicism and watch them for fun with open-minded nostalgia. You might even have the time of your life (and you’ll owe it all to Patrick Swayze).

“This piece was originally published in The Irish Times – http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/features/2009/0916/1224254638339.htm

(by Sinéad Gleeson)

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Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx

Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx was adapted from a Gabriel Walsh screenplay and directed by Waris Hussein in 1970. The vast majority of the scenes were filmed in Dublin. It remains one of the most unusual films of the decade, sharing a kindred spirit with the likes of Harold and Maude, Electra Glide In Blue and Brewster McCloud. The anti-hero is Gene Wilder’s Quackser Fortune; a man who makes his living in a most unusual way – by collecting waste and then selling it on.

“Horse manure. Fresh dung!”

Quackser’s family do not share his enthusiasm for crap. His parents (Seamus Forde and May Ollis) want him to take a position in the local foundry while the Minister for Transport has condemned Dublin’s delivery horses as “relics of a dead past” and is anxious for them to be pensioned off. But Quackser soldiers on and happily pushes his wheelbarrow through our city centre (shot with a dingy eye by Gil Taylor). His initial female interest is Betsy Bourke (played by Eileen Colgan of Glenroe and Fair City fame). There’s a bizarre scene that shows the two of them discussing jam, marmalade and tea before stripping off at her kitchen table.

But true love strikes in the form of Zazel Pierce, a flakey exchange student from Connecticut who is
studying at Trinity College. Margot Kidder excels in this role – only her second film performance. She is full of tourist-guide information about the city that she quickly imparts to the Quackser. There’s a fairly instant chemistry between them that culminates in a memorable scene in the local pub where Zazel gives up her shoes to leather-expert Maguire (David Kelly).

Just like Godot, Quackser’s Bronx-based cousin never materialises. There is something intangible about his existence – spoken in reverent tones by the family but far removed from their drudge-filled lives in Ireland. Quackser and Zazel’s romance is also difficult to sustain – an underlying edge being present throughout despite their obvious passion for each other. This sense of doom bears fruit at the Trinity College Boat Club ball where Zazel’s boorish friends humilate the gauche Quackser. A hasty trip to a nearby hotel re-affirms their ultimate incompatability. It seems that Zazel has found herself.

The final quarter of the film centres on Quackser’s reaction to the ending of this brief affair. He liberates the horses from Spencer Dock (now condemned to death as the engine has taken over) and decides to emigrate to New York. But first there’s a pretty grotesque and hallucinatory pub scene. And then the denouement about his Bronx cousin that neatly determines his future career. The non-conformist has learned from experience and found his proper niche.

Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Park works on a number of different levels – as an offbeat romantic comedy and as a quirky portrait of a man that defiantly ploughs his own furrow. The cinematography captures some wonderful images of late 1960s Dublin. The complete film can be watched on YouTube with the first part here.  I’ll leave you with the official trailer.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Think Safety

This road safety film is known as Gold Star and was produced by the National Road Safety Association in 1980. By then all public information films were shot in colour which was gradually becoming the preferred choice of television set in Ireland. Although we had to wait until the autumn of the following year before ours arrived.

The opening shot features the trendy school bag of the era with the twin snap-locks. A Mustang exercise book is casually tossed in. It contains an English essay.

The theme of horseplay continues with more high jinks on the roadside as they wait for the Bus Scoile. The colour film stock proudly showcases its glorious yellow and white livery. One child veers dangerously into the path of an oncoming vehicle. This causes a stressed motorist to mutter “stupid child” while the sympathetic narrator (Mike Murphy) sticks up for the ten-year-olds. On this occasion the bus driver is calmer than his 1970s colleague and delivers a quick warning to his charges before they board the vehicle.

The key message here is that adults bear the lion’s share of responsibility for road safety. Mike solemnly informs us that when something special happens in a young lad’s day he won’t be able to think about anything else. The camera focuses on a gold star being placed on a copy book. These were a major feature of teaching techniques when I was in second and third class.

So it’s back to the besieged adult as he daydreams at traffic lights:

“They can often be guilty of the same sort of blindness. They don’t remember their own childhood”.

The excited and starred-up boy then crosses the road without paying any heed to the oncoming traffic.

PS – the opposite to a gold star was a red one. A cruel form of negative marking.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Mind Yourself!

The vast majority of Irish public information films seem to only now exist as memories. However there are a couple that have been preserved. Here is one – produced by the National Road Safety Association during the 1970s.

It starts with an alarm clock – both sound and vision. It’s a familiar morning scene; a schoolboy (David) having breakfast with his unseen Mammy. He grabs his bag from the hall and walks to the bus stop. In quick pursuit is his friend Paddy – a messer. A quick scuffle and Paddy is lying on the grass verge. Just then the Bus Scoile pulls up and the stern voiceover solemnly states:

“Horseplay on the side of the road is stupid”.

The bus driver is not a happy man. He grabs Paddy and gives him a piece of mind. The bus continues to the school, the children alight and wait to cross the road.

Now to try and guess a more exact date for the production. There are a couple of clues; the school bus registration plate dates from the first half of 1973, while the closing shot features a sample from the Safe Cross Code film (1975). Therefore, I am guessing: 1976.

A mention must also go to the classic drum action as the National Road Safety Association logo forms on screen. Breaks!

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Diphtheria, Tuberculosis and Holy Communions: The IFI Irish Film Archive

Greetings, grandchildren. I’m delighted to be unveiling the inaugural Where’s Grandad? interview – with Ms. Kasandra O’Connell, head of the IFI Irish Film Archive (which “acquires, preserves and makes available Ireland’s moving image heritage”). Kasandra kindly took the time to speak to me about the archive’s work, collections and challenges. Hope you enjoy it.

Fústar: First of all, Kasandra, can you tell us a little bit about what kind of public information films (films from State Sponsored Bodies and Government Departments) the Irish Film Archive holds?

Kasandra O’Connell: I think to understand how the IFI Irish Film Archive came to hold so many of these films it is important to understand a little of our history, as the two are closely linked.

When the National Film Institute of Ireland (now the Irish Film Institute) was founded in 1943 under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, it had a clear moral and educational agenda. McQuaid believed that the Church should be actively involved in the production and distribution of film in Ireland to counteract what was seen as the immoral influence of commercially produced films. His main point of reference was Vigilanti Cura (1936), Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on the use and misuse of cinema, which called for the Church’s involvement in all aspects of motion pictures to achieve the “noble end of promoting the highest ideals and the truest standards of life”.

In order to fulfil McQuaid’s objectives the National Film Institute of Ireland (NFI) not only maintained a distributing library of films available to schools, colleges and associations around the country, but also became involved in the production of safety, health and educational films in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Many of these were commissioned by government departments to offer information on matters of public health and safety, personal finance, and on historical and cultural subjects. The first film, Uachtarán na hÉireann (made in 1945), recorded the inauguration of Sean T. O’Kelly as president of Ireland.

NFI films made for the Department of Health tackled such varied subjects as TB prevention and cure, (Dr Noel Browne’s TB Film in 1946, and Voyage to Recovery in 1953), diphtheria immunisation (Stop Thief, 1953) and food hygiene (Gnó Gach Éinne [Everybody’s Responsibility], 1951). For the Department of Local Government, the Institute produced a series of road-safety films, including Mr Careless Goes to Town (1949), Safe Cycling (1949) and Accident Procedure (1966). The NFI also collaborated with Department of Posts and Telegraphs and An Post to produce films that encouraged people to save in lean economic times: Where Does the Money Go? (1954), Our Money at Work (1957), Love and Money (1961). And A Nation Once Again (1946), and W.B. Yeats: A Tribute (1950) were made for the Department of External Affairs.

When the IFI Irish Film Archive collection came to be created in the mid 1980s, the material from the distributing library was at its core. We also began to gather material from government departments who were in the process of changing from using film to video tape, and so had no need to hold on to their film collections.

Some of the largest collections were those deposited by Bord Fáilte (The Irish Tourist Board), the National Road Safety Association and the National Museum of Ireland’s folk-life collection. Other films come from the Department of External Affairs and subsequently the Dept. of Foreign affairs, the ESB, the Defence forces, Bus Éireann, Irish Dairy Board, and the Departments of Tourism and Transport. We also have films from Fianna Fáil.

Fústar: I believe quite a number of Irish film/TV luminaries were involved in the production of these films (particularly back in the 50s/60s).Can you mention a few names who were closely involved/associated with these productions?

Kasandra: Many of the films of this type are noteworthy for their high production values and for the calibre of those involved in their creation. Luminaries of the Irish acting world such as Micheál MacLiammóir, Cyril Cusack, Maureen Potter, Milo O’Shea, Siobhán McKenna and Niall Tóibín make appearances, and, at a time when the Irish film industry was under-developed and opportunities for technical training were limited, important figures in the Irish filmmaking community such as Liam O’Leary, Robert Monks, Colm Ó’Laoghaire, George Fleischmann, Gerard Healy and Rex Roberts were often involved in making these kinds of films.

Fústar: The title of this blog refers to a well-known 1980s water safety advertisement. I’ve been unable to track down a copy of this, and neither have Irish Water Safety themselves (I’ve been in touch). As I understand it, the archive doesn’t house many such films from the 80s on. Can you explain why this is and the problems associated with acquiring such material?

Kasandra: Unfortunately during the 1980s much of the public information films that were produced were made for television rather than for the cinema, and as such did not find a natural route into our possession, RTÉ may have a copy of campaigns they have run on television as they have a very good archive. In addition many of the films began to be made by advertising agencies rather than production companies and those titles often remained in the collections of those agencies rather than being held by the organisation or Department that commissioned them. We traditionally have little interaction with the advertising industry and I have found it difficult to set up a mechanism through which more recent public information or safety films are deposited with us for cultural and educational purposes.

A search a few years ago in an attempt to locate and acquire copies of recent tourism and road safety campaigns proved fruitless, there was a general uncertainty within the commissioning organisations as to where they might be held and who owned the rights to them. There are often so many different types of organisation involved these days, public private, semi state, commercial etc. and this reduces the likelihood of the end product coming in to us for posterity. The days of a staff member in for example the Dept. of Tourism finding a can of film on a shelf and ringing us to ask if we will look after it are unfortunately over, that film will most likely be in an external agency who will hopefully keep a copy for their own archive. I would love to have the resources to do a proper audit to try and to identify what campaigns or films are out there and to gather them into one collection which was accessible to the public. But unfortunately in the current economic climate and with so many different agencies/departments involved it would be quite a task.

Fústar: So, essentially, there is no formal process for transfer of state films to an archive, and no designated repository for the preservation of this material? Is this situation likely to change do you think? Are other European countries different in this regard?

Kasandra: In many other European countries there is a system of Statutory Deposit for film materials, in the same way that there is in Ireland for books. This ensures that a copy of all moving image material that is produced in that country, that falls within the definition laid out by the state, is automatically added to their national film collection. In Ireland film is not legally assigned to the care of any particular National Cultural Institution, so it is not covered by the rules of statutory deposit. As the IFI Irish Film Archive is not an official National Cultural Institution we have no legal right to insist people or organisations deposit a copy of any moving image material they produce with us.

The existing National Cultural Institutions are already stretched and do not have the specialist facilities to look after moving image, even though they would technically be the legal place of deposit for state records; however there is scope in the current legislation for an organisation such as the National Library or the National Archives to designate another organisation (such as ourselves) to look after film on their behalf. Although this has been previously discussed it has never been done, in the absence of any legal mechanism to collect and preserve Irish film we have put in place our own agreements with the main Irish funders of moving image BAI, IFB and Arts Council. Through these agreements we manage to preserve a large amount of indigenous film production each year, but anything not funded by these organisations does not have to come in to us.

Unfortunately preserving and archiving moving image is an expensive and technically challenging activity and it is difficult to see how the situation is likely to improve given the ongoing economic situation.

Fústar: I believe that the archive also contains numerous amateur films (“home movies” as it were). Can you tell us a little about this type of archived material, and how it usually reaches you?

Kasandra: For the last 20 years The IFI Irish Film Archive has dedicated itself to collecting, preserving and making Ireland’s moving image history accessible to the public. In that time we have amassed a collection of over 27,000 cans of film. In addition to the features, newsreels and documentaries you might expect to find in a national moving image archive, we also have a large and incredibly rich collection of amateur films made by non-professional filmmakers. Regular people who used their cine-cameras to record the world around them and the things that were important in their lives.

Their films are not only a personal record of their friends, family and interests, but are snapshots of the time they were made, often recording an Ireland and way of life that would otherwise be forgotten. Ireland doesn’t have as rich a history of indigenous professional production as other Western countries, which makes these non-professional representations all the more significant. This material gives us an alternative view of Ireland one that reflects the personal interests of members of the population, and these films are often the only record of a specific event, places or a particular aspect of history, culture and society.

Over time these films can often grow in value and meaning. A film of a family or local event may now be a fascinating record of a custom that has died out or of a landscape that has altered beyond recognition, even though this information was incidental to the filmmaker’s intention at the time of filming. Although many of the amateur collections deal with the things we ourselves probably record – family life, holy communions, birthdays, the arrival of a baby into the family, holidays and local activities – there is also variety amongst the non-professional genre with material ranging from lovingly shot records of family life and events of personal interest to amateur attempts at animation, travelogues, documentary and indeed even non-professional takes on Hollywood genres.

The oldest non-professional collection we hold was made by Horgan Brothers’ films (1910-1920), and contains some of the earliest moving images of Ireland in the archive’s collection. The Horgan Brothers were cinema owners in Youghal who screened their newsreel style films to the public in their cinema. Youghal Gazette excerpts include footage of people leaving mass, praying at Declan’s Well and enjoying a trip to the seaside and the first Irish animation from c.1910 featuring a pirouetting town hall clock. A few years ago we held a Home Movie Heritage Day, where we invited a selection of Home Movie makers to choose one of their films from the IFI Irish Film Archive’s collections and to share their celluloid memories with the public explaining what their film meant to them. It was the first Irish event of its kind and was quite a touching event in many ways as it really showed the power of the moving image to connect generations.

Amateur collections are mostly offered to us by the filmmaker or a member of their family. Often they no longer have the equipment to be able to view the footage or may have had it transferred to DVD, but usually they contact to us because they realise the film has some evidentiary or social value and they are eager to see it preserved in an organisation that will make it available for cultural purposes. We work with the depositor to catalogue the footage and to ensure we have all the information we need to ensure the film they have placed in our care is as well documented as possible, and therefore a richer source for future generations.

Fústar: Have many of these films (I’m thinking of the public information films here, particularly) been publicly shown since the time of their original release? Have any been released on DVD?

Kasandra: We screen these films from time to time within the IFI’s exhibition programmes and a number of years ago we made an 8-part TV series for TG4 called Seoda which drew on the collections preserved in the Archive. This included a number of information or State sponsored films which are described below, the DVD is still available for purchase from the IFI’s Filmshop.

Our Country (1948)

  • Our Country was funded by the political party Clann na Poblachta, and was produced by O’Laoghaire in 1947 in advance of the 1948 general election. The film directly confronts the harsh realities of life in Ireland at the time and is interspersed with addresses from Noel Hartnett, Dr Noel Browne and party leader Sean MacBride TD.
    B&W • DIRECTED BY LIAM O’LAOGHAIRE• 1948
  • Portrait of Dublin, made for the Department of External Affairs in 1952, was designed to promote Dublin to its inhabitants and to potential visitors from abroad. The elegant Georgian squares, the bustling markets, the tranquil parks and the sparkling nightlife present a city that is vibrant, cultured and steeped in history.
    B&W • DIRECTED BY LIAM O’LAOGHAIRE• 1952
  • Coisc an Gadaí/Stop Thief is a dramatised film in which a young Dublin girl becomes gravely ill with diphtheria and her parents are filled with remorse for their failure to immunise her.
    B&W • DIRECTED BY GERARD HEALY • IN IRISH WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 1953

Turas Tearnamh/Voyage to Recovery (1953)

  • In Turas Tearnamh/Voyage to Recovery a young man (Joe Lynch) contracts tuberculosis to the dismay of his wife (Joan O’Hara) and to the shame of her aunt (Marie Keane). He
    recovers following a long spell convalescing in a TB sanatorium.
    B&W • DIRECTED BY GERARD HEALY • IN IRISH WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 1954
  • In Cá nImíonn an tAirgead?/Where Does the Money Go? A housewife wastes food and electricity, a young woman fritters away her earnings on hats and magazines, and a bachelor puts his money on horses, greyhounds and into the barman’s pocket.
    B&W • DIRECTED BY GERARD HEALY • IN IRISH WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 1954
  • A Thaisce agus a Stór/For Love and Money is a bizarre, cautionary comedy starring Milo O’Shea and Maureen Toal as young office workers whose engagement is doomed unless they create some financial security. He daydreams about wildly heroic ways to secure his fortune before doing the decent thing and sorting out his Post Office Savings account.
    COLOUR • DIRECTED BY RONALD LILES • 1961

Love and Money (1961)

Fústar: Are there any plans to release packages of such material in the future? I know that the Charley Says… DVDs released in the UK by Network have proven very popular with audiences old enough to remember (and be haunted by) such material from their childhoods…

Kasandra: We may include some more of these films in the next series of Seoda, there certainly is enough material there, in the meantime some films are available on line here: http://www.europafilmtreasures.eu/

(by fústar)

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A Week In The Life Of Martin Cluxton

A Week In The Life Of Martin Cluxton was directed by Brian MacLochlainn in 1971 and received its television premiere on RTÉ during December of that year. It’s a gritty and accompolished attempt at social realism which proved that we could make urban drama to the same high standard as our British counterparts. And just as downbeat too – as illustrated by John Kavanagh’s well-meaning cleric.

“This is a decaying area. Unemployment is high and the people as a result suffer immense depression. Martin Cluxton is a direct product of this environment. His problems are threefold. They are medical, environment and spiritual.”

We start with a rural scene; a group of boys walking over Galway hills with a Christian Brother in charge. We quickly learn that they are juvenile offenders and that Martin Cluxton (played by Derek King) is one of them. Two key devices are employed by the directors to drive the narrative and provide background and explanations – breaking the fourth wall (by adults) and voiceovers (by Martin). The direct addresses to the camera are made by the religious authority figures (who explain that their resources are wholly inadequate – “we are no substitute for skilled social workers”) and Mrs Cluxton explaining the difficulty that is raising children in relative poverty. On the other hand Martin’s stream of consciousness is more plaintive and demonstrates the hopelessness of his situation.

“Everybody seemed to have something to do or somewhere to go. Except me.”

The premise of the film is simple – it deals with a week in the life of a youth released from the reformatory and back to his inner city Dublin home. The cast includes a number of familiar names including Bill Foley and Laurie Morton as Martin’s parents. Virgina Cole (who starred with Morton in Fortycoats and Co.) plays his sister Chrissie while Going Strong stalwart Ann O’Dwyer is the glamorous neighbour Mrs Boyle. Fair City‘s Jim Bartley stars as the tearaway Cronin (an older sidekick of Martin’s). Hope is in short supply and as the story progresses we gradually learn that the future is going to be just as bleak and aimless as the past was.

Martin wants to become a mechanic. In a key scene he has an impromptu interview with garage owner McGreevey who appears to be reasonably disposed to him until he learns of Martin’s address in Corporation Avenue. After he leaves the businessman then berates his secretary for not checking the applicant’s background in advance. Curiously the radio in McGreevey’s office features a broadcast about socialism. This theme is further expanded in the pub scenes with Mr Cluxton engaging in dialogue with a revolutionary bar-stooler about the class struggle.

“Babies don’t get bit by rats in Foxrock.”

As the film progresses our sympathy for Martin’s plight increases. His interactions with others – family, friends, social workers, priests, brothers, unemployment officials and the man on Dollymount beach – cement his status as a teenager without hope. By the closing scenes he has made a decision. One is left with the strong impression that it was inevitable.

“You’d like to do something. Anything. It didn’t matter what. Just anything.”

A Week In The Life Of Martin Cluxton picked up its fair share of criticial acclaim upon release.
– Press Award for Best Overall Programme, Prague International Television Festival, 1972.
– Best Overall Programme, Hollywood World of Television Festival, 1972
– RAI Prize, Turin International Television Festival, 1972

It also features a beautiful jazz soundtrack courtesy of Louis Stewart.

Brian MacLochlainn went on to direct Time Now Mr T., The Spike (with Noel O Briain) and The Burke Enigma.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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“That’s Not Berlin! That’s Up by Christchurch!”

In my early teens, I had my first real brush with the movies when the BBC came to my mother’s village in Donegal to shoot for TV an adaptation of Jennifer Johnston’s novel, The Railway Station Man (screenplay by Shelagh Delaney, no less). The long disused Cashelnagore railway station was fitted out for this tale of a war veteran restoring an old station and his burgeoning love affair with a recently widowed Derry woman. The film was heavily trumpeted by the Beeb for reuniting Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie two decades on from Don’t Look Now. It was a much more pedestrian film than Nicolas Roeg’s icy classic but not without its merits. We knew that the interiors were filmed further down the coast in Glenties while the railway station incongruously planted in the middle of a lonesome bog was used only for outdoor shooting. About nine months after filming we watched it in my grandmother’s house. At one point in the narrative Julie Christie’s character Helen has to make a mad rush to the station to avert an incident that could have terrible consequences. She leaps out of bed in the middle of the night, hastily throws on some clothes and gets on her bicycle. Seeing her make her way out her front gate, my uncle, a cinephile with a sense of humour you might call ‘dry’, opined “she has some cycle ahead of her to get to here from Glenties.”

Though I was no ingenue in terms of parsing filmic narrative or understanding how movies were made, I couldn’t get the image of Julie Christie’s long-distance sprint up the Donegal coast out of my mind. Such was my first ever experience of the jarring gap between the landscape of the movies and the one you know in real life. It is something people in cities accustomed to film-making, such as New York, Los Angeles or Paris, have long been used to. These days I am most likely to see the urban geography of Paris rearranged. In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson goes searching for the restaurant in which he has been boozing with Hemingway and Fitzgerald only to find it is now a modern-day laundry; in actual fact, the restaurant — Polidor on rue Monsieur-le-Prince —  is still there, virtually unchanged since the 1920s. As I watched more and more movies throughout the nineties (and, thanks to the tax breaks, more and more movies were filmed in Ireland), I had opportunities to observe how movie-Ireland was different from Ireland-Ireland. Sometimes the geography of the island was boldly defied as in Gorgo, where Dalkey and its Martello Towers is shifted to the Gaeltacht or the Hollywood teen film Leap Year which sees Amy Adams getting landed on a beach, rather than at a port, somewhere in Kerry.

But sometimes movie-Ireland wasn’t even Ireland. It had long been serving as a proxy for other places, such as in John Huston’s Moby Dick where Youghal passed muster as New Bedford and it’s hard to imagine too many of Roger Corman’s Galway-produced Z-movies were set in the City of the Tribes either. I remember watching Mike Newell’s adaptation of Beryl Bainbridge’s An Awfully Big Adventure, in which Dublin stood in for post-war Liverpool. Hugh Grant dines in Bewley’s on Grafton Street (immeasurably more glamorous on screen than the glorified college canteen it had become by the mid-nineties), pays his bill and then emerges out of the front gate of Dublin Castle.

In Braveheart the Battle of Stirling famously took place in the Curragh, with the arses of thousands of FCA volunteers on display as William Wallace defied the Sassenachs with a mass-mooning, which was a definite mark-up on the free boots and army-surplus bag that usually attracted the post-Leaving Cert crowd to Mullingar or Finner Camp for a week of training. Films set in the north during the Troubles were usually filmed in the 26 counties because of the, er, Troubles. Irishtown and the Ringsend gas works became a permanent landmark of Belfast, the North Strand flats stood in for their more famous Divis counterparts in In the Name of the Father; a bomb in Jim Sheridan’s The Boxer went off opposite the Front Lounge, with the dome of City Hall in the background probably convincing the casual viewer that this was indeed Titanic Town under attack.

Even the most iconic buildings in the country were not safe from shuffling. The real Four Courts got bombarded by the pro-Treaty forces in Michael Collins (in the abysmal Kevin Spacey/Martin Cahill vehicle Ordinary Decent Criminal, the courts were moved up the river to the Customs House) but there were other jarring details. The set that Neil Jordan and Co built in the grounds of Grangegorman hospital in the summer of 1995 was probably the most impressive one of its kind in Irish history but its O’Connell Street was all askew, with the GPO standing at the end of the prospect from North Earl Street. A street parallel to the main thoroughfare was also there where it wasn’t in real life (think Marlborough Street, only a couple of blocks further west) and it is here that the insurgents from the GPO are arraigned after their surrender (including Dev, who must have decided there wasn’t near enough action down at Boland’s Mills).

The fiery Dáil sessions were filmed in Trinity College rather than up the street in their actual historical location in the Mansion House; I remember the filming, which I observed as I wandered across Front Square a week before Michaelmas Term began. The building used was the 1937 Reading Room, founded in that very year by none other than… Éamon de Valera. In fairness it was an ideal setting for a parliament session, more so than the side hall on Dawson Street which was more accustomed at the time to raves and Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna. Trinity also, of course, stood in for Liverpool in Educating Rita, a film I had difficulty watching as a child, sore as I was over ‘our’ urban landscape being purloined in such a flagrant manner.

An even weirder use of Trinity occurred three decades earlier when the World War I aviation drama The Blue Max was filmed in Ireland. Dublin University was transformed into Luftwaffe headquarters in Berlin, with biplanes parked in front of the Graduate Memorial Building, which, like many other buildings in the city at the time was black from acid rain. There was also a jaunt through the streets of fictional Berlin that almost made sense through real Dublin: down Winetavern Street from the arch at Christchurch (that redoubtable Dublin chronicler Éamon Mac Thomáis recalled Dubliners shouting at cinema screens: “that’s not Berlin, that up by Christchurch!”), down by the Four Courts and on to Trinity, where the magisterial James Mason was hanging out in the GMB.

I watched the film for the first time in my days working in Laser Video on Georges’ Street in the late nineties. A colleague was keen to see it because his mother was supposedly in it and had a scene where she kissed George Peppard. As the film progressed though it became increasingly apparent that his mother, if she did work on the film at all, had ended up on the cutting-room floor and Ursula Andress’ buxom countess was the only lady getting anywhere near Colonel Hannibal Smith’s lips. If my disorientation at Dublin being overrun and ruled by the Jerries was not bad enough, can you imagine my poor colleague who was learning that all these years his mother had been living a lie?

Ireland itself ended up being outsourced too, as our little Celtic cousin the Isle of Man began to undercut our tax breaks, with Waking Ned and Cathal Black’s Love and Rage, among other productions, being filmed there. But there were more location-based ads filmed during the Celtic Tiger years, most notably by Guinness, who seemed keen to rekindle an Irish identity for the stout. Probably the most successful of these was the ‘Quarrel’ ad, where hearing the late Mic Christopher’s Heyday on the radio prompts Michael Fassbender to walk out of his flat, across the Burren and then to swim the Atlantic to be reconciled with a friend in New York. A friend from Kildare claimed that Fassbender was actually walking back into Dublin as he passes by the Perpetual Motion sphere on the M7, though I can’t substantiate that.

Once he gets across the water though it all gets tricky. He storms through a street basketball game, past the Naked Cowboy on Times Square and into…the Dice Bar, on Benburb Street, back in Dublin. He needn’t have gone to all that effort, after all. Of course, the Dice Bar was one of those few Dublin bars that could readily impersonate a Manhattan dive (though, come to think of it, shouldn’t it be on the Lower East Side rather than by Times Square?) and the ad’s director even had the foresight to change the light-fittings, something which regular patronage of the Dice Bar at the time caused me to notice. Any hopes of suspending disbelief for me were dashed however when I noticed standing next to Fassbender’s friend as the two are reunited was Pedro, a shaven-headed Spanish cook whom I worked with in a number of establishments over the years. This was a time when the general Georges’ Street area was central casting for Guinness ads. Pedro beams unobtrusively as the Fassbender and his smouldering friend embrace — it’s a perfect piece of acting by an extra but I sure as hell wasn’t buying it as being set in New York. Still, it is probably a bit petty to pick holes in an ad where the main character swims the Atlantic…

(by Oliver Farry)

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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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Cad a dhéanfaimid anois?: When Gorgo destroyed Dalkey (kind of)

In the winter of 1959, strange and ancient forces were stirring in the deep waters of Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey. Forces awoken by the destructive meddling of nasty old man. Forces that would soon kick (spectacular) ass while leaving the bubble-gum to one side. But…we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The story begins on November 8th of that year, as announced by The Irish Times the following morning:

“A film unit from King Bros Production Ltd arrived in Dublin yesterday to start location shots for the film ‘Gorgo’. The picture is about a monster which cuts a destructive path through the heart of London. Gorgo (35ft) and Mother Gorgo (200 ft) first appear off an island near the Irish coast”.

On November 10th, the same paper detailed how production supervisor George Mills had shot scenes in Dalkey the previous day (some featuring Dublin-born actor Barry Keegan), before pointing out that “Local extras are being hired – mostly to play the part of fishermen”. Two days later, the cast and crew packed their bags, dried themselves off (it had, predictably, been lashing rain for most of the shoot), and headed back to London. Their 5-day adventure? Soon forgotten. A mere rippling of the surface of Irish film history.

Around this time last year I decided to try and track down some of these local extras, if, indeed, any were left alive. Why? Well, firstly, because I hate the idea of stories being lost, or remaining untold. Secondly, because I bloody adore Gorgo.

The story is a simple one. A salvage vessel operated by the unscrupulous Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) witness an undersea earthquake off the shore of the fictional (and palindromic) “Nara Island” (actually, Dalkey). This releases a pissed-off Gorgo, who’s eventually captured and taken to London for public display. An academic realises that Gorgo, giant though he may be, is actually only a toddler. Cue the emergence of a ferociously maternal, 200-foot-tall Mama Gorgo. She stomps out of the sea, destroys Nara, and heads off to London, where she opens a gargantuan can of kick-ass. Baby Gorgo and Mama are reunited. We all learn something about human hubris, greed and puny attempts to tame nature. The end.

OK, it may not be the most sophisticated or original monster film ever made. It may not be the most technically accomplished. It may not even be the most entertaining. But it still remains unique in a number of ways. It is (to the best of my knowledge) the only Godzilla-style Kaiju (Giant Monster) film ever filmed (at least partly) in Ireland. It is certainly the only Kaiju film ever to feature actors speaking in Irish. Irish? Yes, more of that anon.

I contacted Gerard Coakley, editor of the Dalkey Newsletter (“delivered into every residence in Dalkey every month”), and asked him for help. Gerard suggested running my query as a “Letter to the Editor” in the August edition of the newsletter, to see what memories it might stir. It stirred quite a few, though some were a tad…confused. One gentleman called me to tell me that, yes, he had been an extra – charged with rowing Martin Sheen hither and yon. As I tried to think of a tactful way of raining on this false-memory parade I heard his wife bark: “Martin Sheen was never in that picture!”. Saved.

The garbled and partial recollections shared with me meant that investigations never yielded a feature (as was planned), but I did get to talk to local monster-inflater-in-chief Tony Lamb. Over to Tony:

“What we were pumping up was the actual monster than they were using, it was like pumping up a rubber dingy. There was a gang of us down there, and it was only about 12 feet in size, and we used to inflate it up for them. We used to get paid for it, you know what I mean? Just a few bob. Then we used to have to put it into my brother’s boat and bring it outside the harbour into Dalkey Sound. And you’d look at the camera and it was huge then, you know the way they make it into a monster and all that. When we went to see it we were all laughing because a friend of ours was in it. Jim Brown, ‘Coco’ Brown we called him, he’s since dead now he was an old man, you’d see him walking up the slip picking up driftwood. And the next minute he’s in fucking Germany or wherever! Ah we remember it well down in the harbour. We always made a few quid hiring out the boats to them. We used to have to throw old nets over the pier, and make it look like it was a real old place and all. They made loads of films down there, and they still do today. And we’ve been in most of them”.

I haven’t been able to positively identify “Coco”, but I’d like to think it’s this weathered-looking chap:

Or, it could be one of these cagey locals:

Note, you can just about make out the local Martello tower in the background. A better view of it here, squeezed between Bill Travers and William Sylvester:

I initially thought Tony’s memories of an inflatable Gorgo might be muddled, as Gorgo uses the old “Suitmation”, actor in a rubber monster suit, technique. But in a 5-second underwater scene, where Joe and Sam first see the monster, I think what we’re seeing (just about, the water is pretty damn murky) is Tony’s pumped-up pal:

Instead of using a studio-based tank (as you’d expect), the scenes of Joe and Sam diving were, I think, actually filmed on location in Dalkey. Hence the Stygian waters. Anyway, it’s nice to think of Tony’s breath literally making Gorgo come alive.

And what of the Irish/Gaeilge? Well, when Joe and Sam first come ashore on “Nara”, they ask the two sea-dogs pictured above, “Is there a harbour master we can talk to?”. The reply?

“Cad a dheanfaimid anois?”

That’s “What are we going to do now?”, for all you Sasanaigh. An, er, somewhat cryptic reply, and one favoured by the islanders in practically all situations. It’s multi-functional. When they go night-fishing in currachs…

…a local lad announces his intention to chuck a harpoon into the boiling waters with, yes, “Cad a dheanfaimid anois?”. Nara, clearly, is an island of anxious types, crippled by indecision.

In another exchange, Harry (played by Barry Keegan), asks a group of fishermen “Cad tá sibh a dhéanamh?” (“What are ye doing?”). The defensive answer: “Níl am againn caint a dhéanamh le Sasanaigh!”. Harry translates this for the foreign lads as “We don’t have time to talk to foreigners”, which is spot on. Then, when he sees the locals gazing into the waters and looking concerned, he asks, “Cad é?” (“What is it?”) and back comes (once again) good old, “Níl am againn caint a dhéanamh le Sasanaigh!”. This time Harry translates it as “Two of the divers didn’t come up, Joe. They think they’re gone.” Oh, Harry. You mis-translating eejit.

So is Gorgo ultimately just of local interest because of this (slightly Dada-ist) smattering of Gaeilge? Well, no. There’s also a (presumably accidental) “Republican” sub-text. This is, after all, the story of a young Irish monster who is captured, forcibly imprisoned, and taken (against its will) across the Irish sea to be gawked at by punters in Battersea Park. Objections to this dodgy expatriation are lodged by the Irish government (and the “University of Dublin”) and ignored. Bastards!

Seán, the little, apple-cheeked, moral centre of the film affectionately refers to the monster as Ógra, meaning “Youth”. Thus, the re-branding of the beastie as “Gorgo” not only suggests an arrogant contempt for local naming (and a desire to linguistically take ownership of the creature), but the failure to understand the significance of its Irish name leads directly to the flattening of London (by an understandably enraged mother). Big Ben is demolished. Tower Bridge is thrashed. The most iconic structures, of the centre of British power, laid waste – by a vengeance-seeking Paddy Godzilla. My post-colonial-o-meter is going off the fuppin’ scale, folks. And so, humbled Londoners gathered themselves, gazed upon the ruination, and asked: “Cad a dheanfaimid anois?”

(by fústar)

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