Homage to Glasnevin
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.