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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Flight of the Earls film feted abroad and ignored by Ireland's “Litterati”


Paul Larkin winner of “Best International Director of a Documentary – for The Flight of the Earls/Imeacht na nIarlaí” at the New York Film Festival

First of all dear comrades, readers, fellow bloggists, secret admirers and secret spies, I should probably apologise for not having blogged on “Cic Saor” for a while given all that has happened recently - the election of a Gael - Brian Cowen - as our Taoiseach (cúis ceiliúrtha – a cause for celebration), the almost laughable attempt by Bush and his acolytes to isolate Hezbollah in the Levant (which will merely strengthen Hezbolla), and then the closure of the Gaoth Dobhair post office. Artist, architect and philosopher Brian Anson is particularly upset about this latter development and he will hopefully tell us why on this blogsite before too long.
Readers will know that I am not being facetious in mentioning the demise of a post office in the same breath as world news. The closure of a local hostelry, post office, bakery or dairy is a matter of great importance to local communities – all our great myths begin with some such allegedly trifling matter.

Now, my excuse for not blogging recently is a good one as my time in the last few months has been taken up by viewing hundreds of cd/dvd discs in my role as the “international" Irish judge for An Fhéile Ceilteach na Meán – The Celtic Media Festival. In fact if anyone wants to see me playing the unlikely role of a judge (the “nearest I’ll ever get to the Bench” my brother Brian said), then just go to this link to watch me in action:
http://streamingportal.multistream.co.uk/cmf2008/wm_pres07.htm

It is in fact quite apt that the question of film and the media should be raised here because some of you will already know that I recently won the “Best Director Award (International Section)” prize at the New York Film festival for the film I directed (and for which I wrote the screenplay) in the summer of last year – Imeacht na Iarlaí - The Flight of the Earls. Please see -
http://www.nyfilmvideo.com/2008/ny-feb/awards/ny-february-2008-awards.htm



Obviously, I am personally delighted that my hard work and creativity has been acknowledged by my peers in New York. All human beings seek, and indeed have a need, for affirmation and praise. The award is also a tribute to a very talented film crew - in particular Ronan Fox who was the Director of Photography, Maree Kearns who was the designer and Stephen McDowell who was the sound recordist. The sheer doggedness of the producer Blaithín Ni Catháin in finally realising her dream of making a film about the departure of the leaders of the old Gaelic aristocracy in 1607 also needs to be acknowledged. Despite all these good vibes however, the fact that the award was made in Northern America and not in Ireland also raises a serious question which is close to my heart.



“Imeacht na Iarlaí” deals with the pivotal moment in Irish history when Aodh Mór O'Neill our last great Gaelic chieftain (The Great Hugh O'Neill in English) was, the film argues, effectively forced into exile in 1607. Our film was shot in a docudrama style using actors on location and on a sound stage, whilst three modern day historians were used to give a commentary and wider context to the dramatic reconstructions being played out on the screen. There is not space here to discuss the many elements which are woven into the film’s broad canvas. For the purposes of this blog, however, it is important to stress, that my approach as the screenplay writer and director was to let visual/aural images lead wherever possible and to stress the brutal ideological shift which was enforced by the English regime in Ireland once O’Neill had been removed from the scene. In essence, this meant further and more widespread land confiscations in Ulster (the so called “Plantation”) following earlier confiscations elsewhere, the wholesale expulsion of Catholic priests, the compulsory attendance of Protestant church services, the wholesale banning of Brehon Law statutes and customs, along with associated restrictions on the use of An Ghaeilge in "civil" society .

This, in my view, very successful filmic and narrative approach reaches its greatest heights in the scenes where Aodh O'Neill and the Lord Chief Justice of the day – crusading evangelist for the English way of life Sir John Davies - clash within the court chambers of Dublin Castle. These scenes in the film were composite representations drawn from written contemporary court recordings of the various testimonies given by O’Neill and Davies as the ideological battle for Ireland reached its climax in the early 1600s. To my knowledge, my idea of dramatising O’Neill’s testimony to the English authorities and Davies’s pronouncements on English rule in Ireland, and then marrying these sources into a dialogue between the two, has never been done before. The effect of these dialogues, both whilst filming on set and subsequently on the screen, was electrifying. This is particularly the case when one considers that the words spoken by the actors had been exhumed from historical records which are central to the understanding of Ireland's past and yet have never before been broadcast. In other words, our visual and aural feast of a film is also literally speaking history in these scenes.



Of course, it would be wonderful to say that this success was due to my directing skills but the truth is that things could hardly go wrong on set when we had Stephen Rea playing Aodh O'Neill and the wonderful Dominic Mafham playing Sir John Davies. (Dominic plays the womanising Dan in RTÉ's The Clinic).

So now the question is how (given all these new and exciting elements, a wonderful crew, great actors, and one of the most poignant stories ever to come out of Ireland) could this film which was received with such great acclaim in New York be met with such indiffrerence by the media in Ireland?

At this point, readers of this blog might expect a long tirade on my part about a perfidious West Brit media monopoly in our country but, instead, I will simply set out below a conversation I had whilst attending the Celtic Media Festival in Galway in my capacity as a judge (see above). For here, a particular media personality whom I respect and admire despite our differing politics, approached me at the festival to congratulate me on “that wonderful film Imeacht na nIarlaí." I thanked this person profusely but then pointed out that this brilliant film had been met by a wall of silence by the Literatti in Ireland. At this, my interlocutor winked, pulled me into a corner and said:

- You see, none of the powers that be want that kind of stuff.
- How do you mean like - "kind of stuff".
- Ah come on Paul! You are not that naive. You know, how bad the English were and what a great man O'Neill was. They feel very uncomfortable with all that. It’s like, well, you can’t be sophisticated and media savvy unless you are willing to accept that the English had a point.

I told this person that I would like to use these comments in “Cic Saor” and I was given permission so to do as long as I guaranteed anonymity. I then went on to point out that our film was very clear about the contradictory nature of Aodh O’Neill’s politics, how mercenary he often was and that he had fought for many years in the English army. It was no hagiography. I vividly remember the replies to what I had said, partly because of the beautiful language used therein.

- Ah but at the end of day, you show how O’Neill was within a hair's breadth of whipping the English and maybe even keeping Gaelic Ireland alive a little bit longer. You even had O'Neill speaking Irish for God's sake….
- But his first language was Irish!
- I know but you get my point - Hugh O’Neill as the great hero of the Gaelic revolution and then you seriously question Brian Friel's play Making History and his portrayal of O'Neill as a hopeless sangria sodden sot who abandoned all ideas of rebellion. Ha! You attack all those shibboleths of modern progressive secular Ireland, attack Brian Friel and then you want a pat on the back. I don’t think so. You are some craic Larkin.



The grave of Ruairí Ó Domhnaill in the church of San Pietro in Montorio, Roma
- the young Earl of Tir Chonaill predeceased Aodh O'Neill by many years during the Earls' permanent exile in Rome.

4 comments:

I fervently hope this film goes to the (alternative/independent) cinemas in the UK, especially Manchester's Cornerhouse.

It looks really interesting.

Congratulations on your award and on looking like a member of the ANZACS – it’s the hat (minus the Che T-shirt) in the pic that does it :-)

Salud!

Graeme.
by: Graeme (contact) - 14 May '08 - 15:54
Thanks - Graeme

It's a weird thing but when I wear that hat, I always feel so "empowered". Some directors wear a lens meter or some such arty thing on set but I'll stick to me bushwacker gear - just in case some of those actor types start getting uppity and I have to "raw prawn" them!
(<;
by: Pol (contact) - 15 May '08 - 07:56
I also forgot to mention that the film is going to be shown, as far as I know, in other parts of Europe. So perhaps it will travel to England in the not too distant future.
by: Pol (contact) - 15 May '08 - 08:05
Shock! Horror! Irish people turn out to be as twisted as the rest of the world scandal! Even the Irish speaking ones! "Four Legs good - Two legs bad"....
by: Ar Bro (contact) - 27 May '08 - 19:48


 


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Title: Flight of the Earls film feted abroad and ignored by Ireland's “Litterati”
Date posted: 10 May '08 - 20:07
Filed under: General
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