3 November 2005 Edition
Matt Treacy reviews Rocky Road to Dublin currently showing at Dublin's Irish Film Institute, while Mick Derrig takes a look at Fine Gael's Paddy Harte
The sardonic leer of evil
Peter Lennon's 1967 film Rocky Road to Dublin is worth seeing if for no other reason than to witness the cameo appearance of the late Fr Michael Cleary. Framed in cigarette smoke, Cleary announces that "we are not against sex". Indeed. He is also shown dominating a most miserable looking bride and groom's happy day at which he seems to have filled every role other than being there for the consummation, and begod there would have been no better man.
Of course Dubs and Late Late Show viewers — who had to stay at home on Saturdays while Mick and the boys were getting all the action — will remember that Mick was the leading light of the 'Priests Show' and he does several turns on camera. He is shown singing The Merry Ploughboy and Kevin Barry at the wedding. This at a time when Cleary was lecturing school children on the dangers of the 'red' IRA. Best of all though is his performance of the Chattanooga Cho Cho for a ward of expectant mothers who watch aghast as Cleary sings about being "a great big bundle of joy".
Lennon's film was denied a wide audience when it appeared although it was never actually banned apparently because there was no sex in it. Ironically it fell victim to another form of censorship when it was denied a screening at the Cannes Film Festival when French directors disrupted proceedings in 1968 in the aftermath of the May events in Paris. In the documentary that precedes the film, Lennon is shown arguing with, I think, Jean Luc Godard, that his film embodied the values of the revolution that the French left were championing.
Lennon was posing the same question as the Sorbonne radicals: what do you do with your revolution? Ireland in the 1960s is portrayed as a place which had partially swapped British rule for clerical domination, a state run by "jolly but tough uncles". A place described by Seán O Faolain as "a society alien to republicans". The decay of old Dublin contrasted to the tower blocks being built at Ballymun. The drabness of grey streets to the ersatz post-colonial glamour of the RDS Horse Show.
The film is brilliantly shot in black and white by Raoul Coutard and you are quickly drawn in as the camera captures the expressions of interviewees and faces in the crowd. Indeed the faces say a lot more than the words although some of the words are brilliant. Like when film censor Liam O Brian announces that the world is "going to blazes" what with "pop orchestras" and the like. Or the schoolboy who declares that "hanging around with women in mini skirts" is a sin against chastity.
Rocky Road to Dublin is a glimpse into a time when the jolly but tough uncles were beginning to make fortunes transporting the Dublin working class to land that their friends owned miles from the city. When other uncles were raping children under their care with impunity. When the smiling face of Fr Michael Cleary was a Francis Bacon portrait. The sardonic leer of evil.
I started to read this book during the week that Fine Gael decided that they wished to celebrate the life of their "founder" Mick Collins.
Despite the embarrassing fact that Fine Gael wasn't formed until Collins was ten years in Glasnevin, Paddy Harte's self-serving autobiography got me thinking about what makes people Blue Shirts.
The founder of Fine Gael was, of course, Eoin O'Duffy the leader of the Blue Shirts.
Hence when Fine Gael call present-day republicans "fascist" we should do more than smile the smile that one would at an endearing four-year-old who is convinced that they know more than you do.
This self-congratulatory tome traces his own place in a political dynasty up until his pivotal role in the Peace Process (well I did say it was self-congratulatory, I didn't say it was accurate). One particular passage summed up Paddy Harte's view of Paddy Harte and his place in the scheme of things. He relates the tale of when his house was being picketed by republicans in Donegal. He graciously accepts a delegation of two young activists at his door in 1975 that were protesting about the incarceration of Joe Cahill. He writes that he does not know them, but realises that he knows both of their families. "Your mother worked six days a week and cycled three miles each day, hail, rain or snow, to provide for your upbringing. She was a customer in my father's business in Lifford; she was a poor woman but I never knew her to owe money. My God, what a disappointment for a mother to do all that and rear a son like you!"
A picture is really worth a thousand of anyone's words. Paddy Harte's place in Irish politics is best summed up by a photo in the middle of the book snapped within a year of Harte's deriding of the young republican on his doorstep. There is the Paddy Harte standing proudly in Madrid beside General Franco.
If Fine Gael is serious about touching base with their origins then they could do worse than take a long look at this picture in the middle of Paddy Harte's vanity project.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.