Clash of the Ash


In thinking some more about this John Michael McDonagh idiocy, I remember in 1990 that San Jose, California decided to start an International Film Festival. Because San Jose is twinned with Dublin (a little-known fact), they decided their inaugural film festival should have an Irish focus. Back then, our catalogue of films was pretty thin, but they showed The Field, The Dead and a few others. I lived in San Jose, so attended everything. Including a little-known film called Clash of the Ash by our own Fergus Tighe.

I had no idea what to expect, but I was blown away. In an audience of mostly Americans, they had no idea what they were watching, but so many of the scenes in the film resonated with my life. A Christian Brother pacing through a classroom speaking Irish held me in Post-Traumatic Shock. For the first time in my life, I saw a film which related to me. Not the "Eighth Grade" (whatever that is), not the High School Prom, not Baseball or American Football, but Hurling.

This, to me, is Irish cinema. Produced by the inestimable talents of Lelia Doolan, the film leapt off the screen and into my psyche.

It's not that I dislike American cinema. Of course not. But it's nice to see a story which derives from my upbringing rather than people I've never met, which doesn't resort to hackneyed cliche or thin characterisations about Oirish people.

Perhaps these are the Irish films that McDonagh poured scorn upon, but to me they represent a truth of living here. A truth echoed in the works of Kieron Walsh, Lenny Abrahamson, Terry McMahon, Conor Horgan and a host of other Irish filmmakers telling stories which don't try to mimic Tarantino, which don't try to retell American westerns on an Irish landscape, which don't dip into the Irish Book of Cliches, but instead seek to tell a story about a real Ireland which is part of our upbringing and part of our psyche.

If these are what McDonagh had in mind, then I say yes, let's separate his derivative works from the real canon of Irish Film. Let's put his into the heap with Darby O'Gill, Far and Away, Leap Year and others which show a foreign and spurious view of this sodden rock. Let's keep telling our stories the way we want them told, and to hell with the begrudgers.