Writer, film maker and public speaker

TV - documentary

Men of Ventry


Men of Ventry tells the stories of the men of this tiny parish, a bowl in the hills of the Dingle Peninsula, fringed with the silver strand from which it gets its name. The stories are as varied as the men.

They have lived through times of vast change. Born into tiny houses without sanitation or electricity, living through the tragedies of the TB scourge, and the ravages of emigration, some now email and text their grandchildren in Australia. And some have not changed much, living in houses that have never had anything more than a coat of whitewash every now and then.

They have all lived close to the soil. Birth and death, nurture and development is bred into their bones. Caring is what they are about: caring for their land, for their animals, for their beloved dogs. Since there are no horses left any more, they have made their peace with tractors, glad of their capacities, and capable of miracles of repair and maintenance.

Caring for their families, when they have families. This tiny parish of a couple of hundred souls has a very large proportion of elderly bachelors. Twenty five, in this small area. Twenty five doors that will close, with all the lore that goes with them, field names, land stories, the histories, the ghosts that people the land, all lose their voices when these men go.

Fishing, which was part of their youth, has gone entirely, partly due to Brussels. They will tell you that the eco warriors have more of an interest in the seal and the corncrake than in  people or in culture. They recognise that they are the end of an era.

Anger? Yes, at many things. Education. In their youth, only first level education was universally available. And it was administered by brutal, boorish men, and sometimes even by brutal, boorish women. They recount their stories in a way that has not been done in Ireland before.

Health. Brothers and sisters dying of TB, always the young, often the beautiful. Photographs of these young people still stand on their mantelpieces. It was a disease of poverty, of crowded houses, of several people sharing a bed with the ill – they had no other options. Mothers dying young, in childbirth, of postpartum fever. Grandparents struggling to keep a small family going.

The fifties: a nightmare time. “I left Dingle one Friday morning on the bus, for England. There were fifteen men on the  bus with me. The next Friday, there were fifteen more.” The parish was denuded and desolate, mothers waiting daily for the rare letter that told them their loved one was, at least, alive.

But there was also fun, and lots of it. Football was a religion. For the men, it was the great entertainment. Everybody was involved. At that time, Ventry had its own team, and they ‘trained’ back on the banks below the church, in the smell of spearmint and sea. They were good, too. They remember teams, matches, wins, losses and injuries, some of which have now come back to haunt them.

Then there were the dances: in Martin’s hall in Ventry, in the Cinema in Dingle (Yes, it was a cinema, but they took out the tuppeny stools for the dances, leaving the ‘soft seats’ for the courting couples) and in Murreigh, in Cavan’s Hall in Ballyferriter, They travelled by bicycle, after a hard day’s work. There was, contrary to the Irish stereotype, very little drinking, and for this group of men, there still is. A couple of pints, literally, except for the occasional, unfortunate, alcoholic.

Marriage, for those fortunate enough to contract it, was for ever. They raised their families – smaller than those of their ancestors, in general – in the traditional manner, and realise that a small subsistence farm is not enough for a liviing in the new century. Again, a sobering realisation, in these times when even emigration is not a great option. They will remember, although they would only have been children at the time, similar hardship when America was in a decline in the thirties, and closed entirely during WWII.

Ageing and death? Well, they have been close to nature all their lives. They have seen death many a time. It has often been a friend. Nobody likes growing old, but these men have well formed personalities, and they are, as they have done all their lives, going with the flow, not, as the New Agers would have you believe, in the passive belief that something will happen if you just will it, but in the positive way of getting on with their lives as well as they can, in the acceptance that ‘what can’t be cured must be endured’. They are helped by the companionship of the friends of their youth, and by their sense of humour. They are not helped by dimwitted bureaucrats who prevent them from going to the pub, which was the only place in which they could socialise.

There is an old folks’ centre, but somehow, it doesn’t suit most of the men. Elbows on the pub counter, their mates nearby, the exchange of the odd word, which somehow ended up with everybody knowing everything about the business of the parish, that was normal, that was relaxing. Sitting in an antiseptic room with chiropodists and hairdressers doesn’t do it for them. So they sit at home, and wait, with pleasure, for us to collect their stories.

Páistí na Réabhlóide
Children of the Revolution

The Irish Nation was born in the years between 1916 and 1922. In this film, directed by Brenda, we meet the voices of people born during that period, the last voices we will ever hear with personal memories of Ireland from its beginning as a nation. Her intention was to provide a rich, intimate tapestry with every participant generating a rich thread building up the entire work.

These are indeed the Children of the Revolution.They and the fledgling country grew together. They weathered war, financial crisis, emigration, development, change. They raised families, earned livings, lost beloved partners. 

In Páistí na Réabhlóide, they confer upon us the privilege of access through their personal memories to their unique insights into the lives they have spent in a developing Ireland.

Páistí na Réabhlóide was produced by Gráinne McGuinness and edited by Gavin Halpin, of The Picturehouse, and now of Indee Productions, Belfast.


Dún Chaoin, Daichead Bliain

In this film, made in 2008, Brenda collaborates with Professor Paul Hockings, Editor of the Journal of VIsual Anthropology. Professor Hockings was director of the well known film, The Village, shot in Dunquin in 1967. The revisit uses archive from 1967 and footage shot in 2008, which gives two interesting historical perspectives: the time before Dunquin became 'modern', and Dunquin in the times of the (now extinct) Celtic Tiger. It shows the vitality and hope of this small community in the far west of Ireland, now no longer isolated, happy to play its part in the broad tapestry of human development.

Bibeanna Mheiriceá

Filming Bibeanna Mheiriceá with Mary Harkin on sound.

Shot in 2008, this series of six documentaries deals with the 'sisters' of Bibeanna, those who emigrated to the US between the years 1948 and 1960.

Sixty years ago, there was no work in West Kerry. Nothing,  So every child except the one who inherited the family hold had to leave. For women, especially, emigration was the only choice. So emigrate they did. They spoke little English.  

This series deals with their subsequent lives, their absorption into the Irish American communities of New York and New England. And with their fierce pride in both their countries, Ireland and America

Rince ar Phár 2008

Six half hour programmes on modern literature in Irish, presented by the authors themselves, with critical commentary. This is the most comprehensive visual documentary on modern literature in Irish, and it was made with the assistance of funding of The Arts Council, The Broadcasting Association of Ireland, and TG4.

© 2012 Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin | Design by Jindra © 2012
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