Tuesday, November 2, 2010

We're ready for our close up: The IFI Irish Film Archive on TG4

Although the staff of IFI Irish Film Archive spend most their time viewing other people on film, every now and again the camera is turned on us. Some months ago Tile Films came to the Archive while shooting Cé a Chónaigh i mo Theachsa? (Who Lived in my House?) their new documentary series in which veteran traveller and broadcaster, Manchán Magan, explores the hidden history of Irish houses.   Episode one, which looks at the story of Spiddal House, features interviews with me and my colleague Manus McManus, and will be broadcast on TG4 on Thursday November 11th at 8pm. Don't miss it!

Cé a Chónaigh i mo Theachsa? is the series that tells the extraordinary stories of our houses and who lived in them before us. Who was murdered in our basement, who made love in the back bedroom and who hid under the stairs during the Civil War? How many children were born here and who did they become? The reason most people like historic buildings isn't just because of their architecture, which can be replicated, it's the knowing that others preceded us, and that lifetimes occurred in our homes. 

Cé a Chónaigh i mo Theachsa? sets out to unlock the real stories hidden in our walls. Manchán Magan takes us on a fascinating journey into the history of our houses. With the help of the experts, he will examine the existing architectural evidence of our houses, speak to neighbours, family members, local historians, and delve into the National Archives, local libraries and Registry of Deeds to discover the colourful characters of the past who kept their front door key under the mat of the same front step over a century ago. 

This fascinating new series is Tile Films latest production for TG4. The series was devised by Series Producer Stephen Rooke and Producer Rachel Towell.  Manchán Magan’s brother Ruán Magan directs.  Manchan and Ruán are a dynamic duo, who have travelled the world making a series of internationally acclaimed documentaries titled Manchán ar Seachrán for TG4. And now, following a 7 year break, Tile Films have brought them back together again to produce this high-end, intriguing and highly entertaining series Cé a Chónaigh i mo Theachsa? The series was made possible through the financial support of TG4, the BAI (Broadcast Authority of Ireland) Sound & Vision Fund and the Section 481 investment incentive for the Irish Film Industry provided by the Government of Ireland.

The IFI Irish Film Archive's involvement:
In the first episode of Cé a Chónaigh i mo Theachsa?, Manchán Magan is invited to Donal Standún’s house in Spiddal. He has heard this house has been associated with Galway Sheriffs, merchant princes, rock stars and movie moguls. Manchán meets house owner Donal Standún who bought the house in 1998 – realising a dream he had as a child – to live in the house and restore it to its former glory. Donal knows some of the history of the house within the last 150 years – but not who built it and owned the land initially. Manchán discovers that Donal’s restoration of Spiddal House hasn’t been the first one.  For most of the last 300 years Spiddal House was the seat of the Morris Family. The second Lord Killanin (Martin Morris) commissioned the great Irish architect William Scott to give the house a complete and radical face lift.

But its memories of former stable boy and neighbour Jim Dillon that surprise Manchán most and send him to the IFI Irish Film Archive in Dublin. It is here he discovers the story Jim Dillon had of John Wayne being at the house is true. The third Lord Killanin (Michael Morris) who lived in Spiddal House when Jim was a boy, was instrumental in bringing the film The Quiet Man to Ireland. In the IFI, Manchán views incredible unseen footage shot on the set of The Quiet Man and reads letters from Lord Killanin to John Ford (Producer) about filming the movie in Connemara. 

He discovers that Michael Morris is one of those epic characters that you find in great Irish literature.  As a major in the British army during the second world war he took part in the D-Day invasions. Before that, as a journalist, he covered the atrocities of the Sino Japanese War. Then, later in life, Michael Morris became president of the International Olympic Committee. Manchán meets his son, Redmond Morris, prolific Irish Producer who has worked on December Bride, The Butcher Boy, Michael Collins, The Wind that Shakes the Barley and most recently produced The Reader. Redmond shows Manchán his fantastic photos of his father and John Wayne, and the Morris family tree. An interesting link on the family tree sends Manchán to Inis Mór. There he meets local historian Pádraic Ó Tuairisg who can further trace the Morris family to the Fitzpatricks of Inis Mór – the Irish princes of trade in the 1650s and it is they who were the first landlords of the Spiddal House demesne. 

Kasandra O'Connell
Head of IFI Irish Film Archive

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