Homage to Glas­nevin

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

ONE MIL­LION DUBLIN­ERS Di­rected by Aoife Kelle­her. Fea­tur­ing Shane MacThomais. PG cert, limited re­lease, 84 min It seems so ob­vi­ous now. We have, with­out know­ing it, been cry­ing out for a doc­u­men­tary on the myths, leg­ends and every­day ec­cen­tric­i­ties of Glas­nevin Ceme­tery. Opened in 1832 (more re­cently than one may have guessed), the largest multi-de­nom­i­na­tional grave­yard in Ire­land pro­tects the re­mains of some 1.5 mil­lion Dublin­ers. There are all sorts in there. Prom­i­nent Repub­li­cans at­tract pil­grims. Ear­lier this year var­i­ous loons shouted at Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins for dar­ing to hon­our the first World War dead.

Aoife Kelle­her’s One Mil­lion Dublin­ers is a daunt­ingly com­pre­hen­sive and beau­ti­fully filmed study of the space. There are amus­ing and dis­con­cert­ing ob­ser­va­tions about the shift­ing hi­er­ar­chies of celebrity.

“Michael Collins is def­i­nitely very popular. He gets bal­loons, flow­ers,” a woman in the flower kiosk ex­plains. “De Valera a bit. But def­i­nitely not as much as Michael Collins.” In­deed, a de­voted French lady – won over to the Collins cause by Neil Jor­dan’s film – has taken to tend­ing the late rebel’s grave de­vot­edly. There’s some sort of re­venge there for the big fel­low.

Else­where, a pint of Guin­ness sits by Bren­dan Be­han’s grave­stone. We are talked through the me­chan­ics of burial and the eco­nomics of grave­yard real es­tate. Even in death it seems that lo­ca­tion means ev­ery­thing.

Kelle­her gets to ev­ery cor­ner. We meet the staff and pon­der their own feel­ings about mor­tal­ity. Some have be­come blasé. At least one sug­gests that you never get used to the in­evitable hu­man catas­tro­phe.

The hero of the piece is, surely, Shane MacThomais, the in­domitable Glas­nevin his­to­rian, who acts as our guide through­out the film. In an irony that hardly needs ex­plain­ing, the breath­less enthusiast died shortly after the film fin­ished shoot­ing. One death weaves it­self with tales of a mil­lion other deaths. This at­trac­tive film of­fers him fair trib­ute.

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