Monday, 17 August 2020


WE DIDN'T get a holiday this Summer. It's not a big deal, as we've been lucky enough to get a family holiday every year since The Eldest was just a baby. As going abroad wasn't on the cards during a pandemic, we did briefly toy with the idea of holidaying in Ireland - and it got me thinking of my own Irish holidays when I was a child. 

There's one aspect of those holidays that live on in the shape of old home-movie footage: my dad’s beautifully shot 16 millimetre films. In particular, one from a very early childhood holiday.  

Because long before anyone could make instant videos on YouTube or Tic Toc, a small amount of amateur film makers, documented an Ireland my own children can hardly imagine. And it was in the Summer of 1974 that Paul Black made a name for himself in a small corner of West Cork.   

That was the second Summer my parents and my uncle and aunt, rented one half of a farmhouse in the picture-perfect village of Rosscarbery, for a fortnight’s holiday. The big Georgian house was home to a farming couple and their five children, who were relaxed and welcoming. Our holiday was simple: we were either at the beach or on the farm. The days were endless, our freedom unchecked.

We didn’t care that for the second year running, my dad carted around a tripod and heavy recording equipment, checking the light or reminding us not to wave at the camera. We had no interest in it. We had sandcastles to build, new born chicks to discover, fields to run through.

I can honestly say that none of us gave it a second thought until the evening my dad invited everyone, including our hosts, to view a film he had shot and edited the previous year, on our first family holiday in the small town by the shallow estuary. In the grand old living room, with its high ceiling and wooden sash windows, he and my uncle Ken erected a makeshift screen from a white bed sheet.

We assembled after dinner, the adults settling into the sofas and armchairs, the farm children and we Dublin kids sprawling on the rugs in front. All of us unsure what to expect. As the curtains were pulled tightly across the windows and the lights turned out, an excited hush fell. And then the first image flickered onto the makeshift screen: an opening shot of Rosscarbery bay, the camera pulling back to reveal a panoramic view.

It quickly became clear that this was far more than a simple home movie. In fact, it wasn’t a home movie in the traditional sense, as the film-maker's own family hardly featured in it. The 20 minute film, which was carefully shot and edited, set to music and narrated by its producer, was an homage to the West Cork town, its people and their way of life.  

My dad had captured footage of our hosts’ old fashioned mixed farm. He had also filmed farmers from miles around, bringing their milk in urns on tractors to the local creamery. All of it was interspersed with the scenery of the surrounding bay and countryside and a narrated history of the area.

As familiar faces from all over the town and surrounding county appeared on screen, our host family sent up a cheer of recognition and another warm round of applause. Afterwards, the farmer came over to my dad and shook his hand.
      “There’s just one thing now I’d like you to do,” said he. “Show it again tomorrow night. I want to invite one or two relatives to come see it.”
My proud Dublin dad readily agreed.

The following evening, he and my uncle made their usual visit to the local hotel for a couple of pints before returning to the house for tea. By that stage, the word was out. As they left, most of the farmers drinking in the hotel bar left with them.

By the time they reached the house, the long driveway was filled with people arriving for the show. Inside it was standing room only. As a very young child, my only memories of that warm Summer night were the good-natured shouts as people saw themselves, perhaps for the first time on a big screen, cheers and thunderous applause when the film ended.

My dad was asked to show his film twice more on our holiday that year. Once was in the local hotel, where the owner poured free drinks for him and uncle Ken all night. The other time was at the local convent. The Sisters had caught wind of it, and my dad was summoned to let them see it too.  

We holidayed in Rosscarbery for four more years, and each year my dad recorded more, weaving the new footage into the original film. Despite being very young, it was that second year I remember best.

Two years ago, my dad suffered the first of two devastating strokes, which have left him unable to speak, read or write, paint or play piano. Those lovingly-made amateur films are something we will always treasure. They were his moments of movie-maker fame.  


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