More Eamonn Holmes than Gerry Adams


I ducked my head as we walked through the grilled security cage on the front entrance of the pub.  Now a tourist attraction, the cage was erected to vet punters after a shooting there in the 80’s.  It was my round and she wanted porter.

Her Belfast accent was soft – more Eamonn Holmes than Gerry Adams.  An artist, she worked in the same studios as me, just around the corner.  We sat down at a table under a signed photograph of Diego Maradona scoring his Hand of God goal against England in the ’86 World Cup.  Beside us a group of fellas wearing Celtic jerseys tried to perfect the party-trick of catching flipped beermats.

As we drank our stout Sarah told me she was Catholic, but her twin-sister was Protestant.  Her parents came from opposite sides of the fence – during the height of the Troubles.  But because of her mixed upbringing, she said she never experienced much sectarianism.  Even during the Troubles, it wasn’t part of her environment as a child.

Therefore she thought everything from your political opinions to the way you walked and talked, was down to nurture – and not nature.  She reckoned she was the perfect case in point – Catholic, but with a Protestant twin and mixed parentage.

Quite a complicated identity, in a city where they prefer straight answers.   A city obsessed with identity.  You think you’re immune at first, but Belfast has this way of making you aware of who you are.  Maybe it’s just this city confronts you with scenarios alien to the cosy Vintage Week world of Midlands Ireland.   Or anywhere else for that matter…

So while it’s impossible to be oblivious, the key is to not get knocked over by that initial wobbling dart of identity.  It’s like meditation – allow the thoughts to enter your mind, but make sure they leave again fairly quickly – preferably before you join a paramilitary organisation.  It’s important to keep yourself balanced.  Centred.

Grounded.  The pints went dry and it was her round.  Left momentarily alone under The Hand of God, one of the beermat-flipping fellas leaned over and asked me where I was from.  The binary switch flicked on his face once he heard my accent and realised I was ‘Mexican’ – from south of the border – and therefore probably a Catholic.

Feeling suddenly safe, he launched into a tirade about Peelers, Prods and getting arrested for public order offences.  His identity was bursting out of him like a child who’d grown out of his school uniform.  He got even more excited when he started talking about 90’s Britpop.  Oasis in particular.

I told him I liked Oasis too, but I preferred Blur.  The casual, friendly tone of the conversation dropped through the floor and he squinted at me with the head on him like a bulldog that’d just licked piss off a nettle.

Completely insulted, he could barely get the words up his neck as he announced with great passion his hatred for all things Blur. When I enquired as to the reason for this venom, he looked at me like I was properly thick.  Then he explained the reason he hated Blur was because he loved Oasis.

I was stunned by his logic as Sarah arrived back with more porter.  Here was a man so riddled by polarized thought it had metastasisted through his whole system.  A Stage Four siege-mentality, an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, a black and a white – applied to every single aspect of his life, trickling all the way down to his consumption of popular culture.  Your enemy’s enemy is your friend – like Diego Maradona on the wall up above us, scoring with his hand against the English.

Once he recovered from my Blur slur, the man in the Celtic jersey explained you could tell the difference between Protestants and Catholics by the way they drive their cars.  He reckoned Protestants are much more careful about the rules – they do everything properly.  Catholics, he said, are all over the place – bending the rules left, right and centre – parking cars on curbs, reversing around corners with no indicators on.  An altogether more freestyle kind of driving.

I wondered would Sarah and her twin-sister drive differently to each other, as a result of their sectarian divide?  Unfortunately upon enquiry, neither her nor her twin can drive, so his theory remains yet unproven.

As we said goodbye to The Hand of God and walked out through the security cage and back towards the studios, I wondered whether it was strange to have such fundamentally different people come from this same small city?  And whether your mentality – not just to Oasis and Blur, Protestant and Catholic – but to life in general, truly depends on nurture, and not nature?

On the one hand you’ve Sarah – far more Eamonn Holmes than Gerry Adams – and on the other hand the beer-mat flipping Celtic jersey, his whole thought-process so polarised he can barely talk about music without taking offence.

Yet they come from barely a mile apart.  But then I’ve found not much in this city can be applied to other cities.  And anyway, it’s better not to ask too many questions – especially when you’re a ‘Mexican’…

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The Irish Shorts at The OFFLine Film Festival

Searching for Sequels

For a little weather-raped island on the edge of Europe, throughout history we’ve always punched above our weight in the arts.  Whether it’s painting, poetry, music or literature, the volume of Irish heavyweights has been consistently impressive.  But now all that central heating and cups of tea have suffocated our imaginations, and we’ve become complacent.

Gone soft around the middle, we’re no longer the warrior poets outside in the rain.  We’re the drunken poets inside by the fire, talking about all the great art we’ll someday probably never make.  With our collective imaginations dampened (or central-heated) we’re now resigned to looking for decent sequels instead of creating true originals.  How many times have you heard the phrase ‘the next U2’ applied to an up-and-coming Irish act?  The same can be applied across the arts in this country.

Recently I was at an ‘up-and-coming’ Irish film festival, The OFFline Festival in Birr.  The festival was a roaring success, featuring filmmakers from across the globe.  The international shorts in particular were spectacular.  600 films were submitted from 52  countries, and we were treated to a selection of about 20 of the best.  Raising the bar one after the next, each film squeezed different juice from the packed audience of twisted melons.

Each film left you pondering for a period far exceeding their actual playing time.  Jarringly intense, they lingered with you and invaded your thoughts for days to come –  like any great work of art should.  Each film left me questioning my own capabilities as a filmmaker, compared to the masterpieces unfolding on the screen in front of me.

The Irish short films however, failed to provoke any such reaction.  Not from me anyway, I was bored.

A morbid sentimentality took grip upon the venue as each filmmaker tried to be Lenny Abrahamson.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of Lenny Abrahamson, he’s my favourite contemporary Irish filmmaker.  A post-Tiger poet, his minimalistic method honed to complete perfection, every beat expertly measured.

But it took Lenny Abrahamson years to be Lenny Abrahamson, the same way it took U2 years to be U2.  Neither was borne from a desire to be ‘the next’ anything.  So you can’t just start out as a filmmaker by copying Lenny Abrahamson.  When Lenny Abrahamson does Lenny Abrahamson, it’s spellbinding.  When anyone else tries to do Lenny Abrahamson, it doesn’t quite work out the same way.

But yet that’s what happened.  One film after the other – a series of wordless wonders featuring well-known actors not saying much – played out before us.  Bereft of dialogue the collection of Irish shorts became an altogether sombre affair.  It was as if the stars of each film were being paid by the line – and the budgets were extremely tight.

Except judging by the logos in the credits, the budgets weren’t tight at all.  Most of the shorts in question had serious funding secured from various bodies, and featured extensive cast and crews. I’m always suspicious when I see two hundred names in the credits of a five-minute film.  How can those international fellas make fantastic films with a budget of five euros and two crew-members?  They seem to have a hunger we’ve lost.  Perhaps they don’t have central heating.

I asked the festival director had the short film programmers purposely curated a sombre selection, when it came to the Irish films.  He told me they were genuinely the best of the Irish submissions.  So it was nothing to do with the programming.  It was the same team that curated the mind-blowing international section, as selected the Irish section.

It’s easy to be critical for the sake of it.  It’s also easy to fall into the cynical trap of automatically thinking anything from abroad must be better than anything homemade.  But as an Irish filmmaker I don’t subscribe to either ideology.   I left the Irish short film screening feeling deflated, disappointed that such a critical gap had opened between the international and the homemade.  But I was even more disappointed that they all appeared to be following a singular trend – happy to be decent sequels instead of true originals. A dangerous trend that has contaminated all areas of contemporary Irish culture, leaving everybody on the hunt for ‘the next…’, instead of trying to find ‘the first’….

Maybe it’s just me.  Perhaps my tastes are averse to this contemporary trend for silence.  But I can’t for the life of me work out why this fashion for non-verbal filmmaking has emerged in a country so famed for it’s gift of the gab? Our sharp wit, turn of phrase and general fear of silence has contributed greatly to our status as the cultural heavyweights of Europe.  So it seems almost an act of self-sabotage to ignore it.

But that’s all just my opinion.  And as I’ve found out through the process of making my own films, unfortunately everybody’s got one.  But then as Brendan Behan said –  “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem.  They know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done everyday – but they cant do it themselves.”

Harsh words indeed.  But they were uttered back in the days before we got central heating, and became resigned to a life of searching for sequels.

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Jesus & Fig-Rolls


Is Jesus in your heart?  That’s what he asked me, while he held a sign that said ‘John 3.7.’   Busking religion, in city centre Belfast.

Belfast is a hot-spot for buskers.  Amped-up with the rest of the strummers and drummers are a particularly persistent group of buskers.  On the street armed to the teeth with leaflets and optimism, busking Jesus to anyone who’ll listen.

I only approached ‘John 3-7′ to inquire if he was with the GAA.  You always see it in Croke Park on TV, those big signs in the crowd at hurling finals saying ‘John 3-7.’  I often wondered what that meant.  I presumed there was no direct hurling reference in the Bible, no half-time advice for struggling corner-forwards.  So I thought it must be some passage that mentioned team spirit.  Or perhaps playing against the wind…

But the guy holding the sign told me it was just a way of getting Jesus into Croke Park.  He said they’ve been doing it since the early ’80s – born-again Christians from Belfast.  Why Jesus can’t go online and buy tickets like everyone else – or get them from his local GAA club – didn’t seem up for debate.  Not to mention he’s been getting into GAA matches without paying for the bones of 30 years.

Then ‘John 3-7′ started telling me about his own transformation.  The obligatory story of chronic addiction and wasted life all miraculously turned around.  By Jesus.  Overnight…

Then he asked me to pray with him.

That was the line in the sand.  I’ll happily listen to the sales pitch, the life-stories, and the spectacular road to redemption.  Which again, always seem to happen overnight, so in road terms, more a by-pass than an actual motorway.  But the minute they seek to involve me in their convictions – like trying to get me to pray with them on the street – that line in the sand is crossed.  And I think that’s fair enough, considering most people don’t even look at these Born-Again-Buskers twice.

Where as I give them a good run-out – a pre-season practice match.  They get a chance to exercise their miraculous patter on a potential convert.  I give them the whiff of excitement, the fleeting notion this might be their first – their very own personal convert.  In busker terms, like as if someone dropped a wad of fifties into your guitar case.  And then offered you a record deal.

But that’s the trouble with these religion buskers – it’s a very fine line.  Give them an inch, and suddenly they’ll be looking for you to bow down and repent upon your whole existence, on the strength of a five-minute sales pitch.  On the street, at lunchtime, on a Saturday.  They really need to learn some boundaries…

As I ran away from ‘John 3-7′ before he made me pray, only a hundred metres up the street I met the the next Born-Again-Busker.  This guy was something special.  This guy was carrying a massive metal crucifix over his shoulder.  With a little wheel on the end of the base, so it wouldn’t drag along the ground as he lugged it along.  Like those wheels you see on amputee dogs, when they’ve no back legs.

He told me he’s been traveling across the world with this cross for the last 35 years.  He had a leaflet with pictures of himself and his cross, everywhere from the Soviet Union to El Salvador.  Just him, and his cross.  And his wife.  She played the guitar.  But of course…

I asked him could I have a go on his cross.  At first he wasn’t too keen, but persistence convinced him.  So he got out from under it, and placed it down on upon my shoulder.  It was hollow and lightweight – for a crucifix.  I felt he was cheating a little bit, between the dog-wheel and the lightweight frame.  I told him I expected it to be heavier. He said it used to be heavier, but he had to change the design, now he was sixty.  It reminded me of the bit in Only Fools and Horses, where Trigger gets an award for using the same sweeping-brush for twenty years.  Then he reveals that same brush has had eight new handles and twelve new heads.  Disappointed by his laziness, I gave him back his hollow cross, took a leaflet, and walked on…

Then standing outside MacDonalds was a chap taking a radically different approach.  His sales pitch was focused on the evils of cigarette smoke and how to quit.  Using Jesus, and the Bible.  Whatever about GAA strategies, I’m pretty sure there isn’t much on smoking cessation in the Bible.  If there is, that book is a whole lot more comprehensive than I’d given it credit for.

I collected all the leaflets for later consumption, like the way you steal sachets of sugar from a cafe.   To enjoy at my leisure later on, and possibly choose which direction I’ll take.  No point rushing into these things.  But try telling that to a Born-Again Christian. Everything seems to happen overnight once Jesus gets involved.

The one thing all the Born-Again-Buskers had in common, was their rejection of the notion of the church, or any sort of organised religion.  They all said it was about your own personal relationship with Jesus – cutting out the middle-man.  Which in a world of organised religion, is probably why these outsiders operate out on the street, instead of inside prime real-estate surrounded by goblets and frocks.

I came away from my encounters with the Born-Again-Buskers thinking about Fig-Rolls. In many ways, what they’re offering is the keys to the cash n’carry.   By going directly to the source and cutting out the middle-men, you eliminate your exposure to grumpy supermarket cashiers, you won’t bump into anyone you don’t want to meet, and you won’t feel guilty about not giving money to that fella collecting for Ataxia outside the supermarket door.

However, like the man holding the ‘John 3-7′ sign – or the disappointingly lightweight cross – you risk looking a bit fucking mental, going all the way to the cash n’carry just for a packet of Fig-Rolls.

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The Iron Man

Thatcher with crop4 - Sunday Independent article - Official Trailer - Official Facebook Page

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Celebrity Love Island


Whacker was on the whiskey. Prone to paranoia when on the hard liquor, it could go either way. A north-cider from Cabra, he’d moved to The Island almost twenty years previous. Spoke fluent Irish with the natives, but still sounded like a skanger when he spoke The English. His main claim to fame was that he’d been on the nine o’clock news when he caught TB from a tourist. Lost half his bodyweight and was airlifted to Dublin. The whole island had to be quarantined.

But Whacker was better now, and back on The Rock. He’d a massive tattoo in Chinese on the side of his neck, which he claimed meant chicken balls. He said he got it done for a dare in Cavan. He’d another one of beads and a crucifix around the very top of his chest. He wasn’t happy with the shadow on that one, he said. Not that he’d be gawking at himself in the mirror, he was always quick to add. Only when he was shaving.

The pub television was always on in the background – as if the islanders were afraid they’d miss something happening on The Mainland. But nobody paid it much attention – far too busy telling each other stories at the bar. But every now and then something would catch a native’s eye, and this would prompt further speculation. An ad came on for a PrimeTime Investigates program about drugs in Ireland, and one of the natives asked the rest of them if they’d ever taken drugs.

–    I took one of them ecstasy tablets one time, a big fisherman in his forties volunteered.

–    What was it like?

–    Fuckin’ right yoke; I was shtill up drinkin’ pints at lunchtime the next day. Terrible hangover though!

–    Where were ya at that craic?

–     Prague. A load of us went over for the brother’s stag party. We went to this big rave where you had to wear all white to get in. I wore me boiler suit. This fella just hands me a tablet and I said arragh shir fuck it, and horsed it into me. Then there were these two midgets having sex in a cage.

–     Ah here now; are ya sure that wasn’t the ecstasy? says the barman

–     No, they were at it before I even took the tablet. It was part of the event, organised as a showpiece.

Hearing mention of dwarves and midgets, Whacker suddenly emerged from his wink-eyed stupor.

–      I had sex with a pygamy. Last summer. In the graveyard.  At twenty to one in the afternoon.

The whole bar doubled over clutching their guts, laughing in a way they don’t laugh on the Mainland. A dangerous style of laughter – you could cause an injury, burst your appendix – tear something. Not these tough islanders.  Once some sort of composure was restored, the questions start flying at Whacker.

–           Where did you find a pygamy?

–           She was over visiting the island with two friends.

–           Was she Irish?

–           No, from New Zealand.

–           Why did you bring her to the graveyard?

–     She wanted to see the graves. I was paranoid then that the whole island saw me. I felt like a paedophile, even though she was thirty-five. She was just so fucking small…

And with that solid contribution delivered, Whacker re-entered his seated-coma. His head swayed from to side and he began to drool as he pondered the ramifications of banging a leprechaun.  That’d be unpatriotic behaviour – pure anti-social – he concluded.  People have been kneecapped for less.   What would Gerry Adams do in that situation, was the question Whacker always asked himself.  You wouldn’t find him riding dwarves in the cemetery at lunchtime on a Monday. Certainly not. Nor Mary Lou McDonald. That was a bad lapse in judgement – a momentary slip – Whacker consoled himself. It won’t happen again Mr. Adams, I promise.

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Two Minute Mass

Two Minute Mass
a film by Nicky Larkin
starring Patrick Conway & Felicity Mckee
narrated by Gosse Terpstra & Marco Bianchini

Two Minute Mass is a schizophrenic love-letter to the city of Belfast.

On arriving in Belfast you became very aware of how psychologically fractured and polarised the issue of identity is in the city. To a large degree your identity is imposed upon you, based on pre-ordained factors – such as the lottery of your birth – and whether you were born Catholic or Protestant.

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The Belfies (full film)

The Belfies (Belfast Selfies)
The Belfast Selfies came about as a culmination of a number of ideas. The Belfies are an antidote to the instant ‘selfie’ way we capture portraits today. Our attention spans have become the casualties of the rapid-fire digital age we find ourselves positioned in, constantly surrounded by millions of ever-changing pixels wherever we go. Between popular culture and digital advertising, there appears to be no escape. The Belfast Selfie project also strives to present a new face of contemporary Belfast, different to the traditional, historically presented ideas of Belfast. Belfie subject’s names are not given, as even a name can identify and hence be troublesome in a city with such a fractured, sectarian past, such as Belfast. Each Belfie subject was chosen at random on the streets of Belfast city centre, and given only one simple direction – to look directly into the lens for a prolonged 30 second period.

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