MOURNING Padraig, played by Stiofán Seoighe (left), in a scene with Hollywood actor John Finn, who plays Maírtín.
FEUDING brothers, a family death, unfulfilled American dreams and the grieving process are just some of the issues explored in a new short film set on an Achill Island struggling to adapt to the requirements of Covid-19.
Is Olc an Ghaoth, written by BAFTA-winning writer Kevin Toolis during lockdown in Dookinella – where his late parents hail from – is shot in the picturesque village of Corraun, Achill, and will air on TG4 on Sunday, November 1, at 10.30pm. Toolis’s interest in the Irish approach to death and grieving has been well established since the publication of best-seller, ‘My Father’s Wake – How the Irish Teach Us to Live, Love and Die’.
The short film is made of three parts, each folding into the other, stirring emotions of grief, sadness and reflection, as well as a plenty of laughs along the way.
When their dead brother Máirtin comes home from American in an enormous bronze casket during lockdown, feuding brothers Padraig – played by Stiofán Seoighe – and Éamonn – played by Peadar Cox – struggle to come to terms with the realities of a funeral and a wake in the new normal.
The film follows Padraig, an alcoholic, as he struggles to mourn for his dead brother and find meaning in the notion of life or death. On his journey, he bumps into an ageing local publican Síle (Carrie Crowley), who refuses to let go of her American dream, before bumping into a suspicious yank (John Finn), who knows all too much about life or death.
“This story came from my childhood memories of being on the island,” Toolis told The Mayo News. “We all remember the fights over things like the TV, which would create tension in the house.
“And as you will see in the film it’s how a feud over something trivial has become a lifelong curse; and when you lose someone to exile and the family has kind of fallen apart and broken down, but because of the whole Irish approach to the wake and showing respect, helped by the Covid thing, they kind of unite together.
“It’s not surprising at all to get that level of animosity between people who live in the same place, but [who also] have a deep down concern for each other. There’s more feud between people in families in the west than there are feuds between families.”
The film was shot over a number of weeks in a sun-splashed Corraun and features some stunning imagery. It also features scenes in well-known The Compass Bar as well as props, extras and various levels of help from the local people.
“It was absolutely wonderful filming it in Achill,” Toolis said. “The people and the whole community were incredibly helpful and welcoming to us.
“The likes of Karen Gallagher, or Margaret Lavelle who lent us the casket, they all helped making this a really beautiful film because some things were not easy to get your hands on, particularly in Covid times.
“The car used in part three is a real treasure and was lent to us by Pat ‘Stack’ O’Neill. It was assembled in Dublin in 1971 when Ireland was wanting to have a motor industry. We had our offices in the community centre in Corraun, and we were eating from the Meals on Wheels service during the long days of filming.
“The cottage is owned by Pat Campbell… and conveniently, the one day it was bucketing down during filming, we were in Seamus Gallagher’s Compass bar, who is such a gentleman.”
The film features some stunning performances from the likes of Seoighe, best known for his performances in the likes of Murdair Mhám Trasna, Na Cloigne and Ros na Rún, as well as Carrie Crowley, of Fair City and RTÉ fame.
Hollywood star and Brooklyn-born Irish American actor John Finn, has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Clint Eastwood and has featured on blockbusters such as The Crown, Cold Case, The Walking Dead, The X Files and Catch Me If You Can.
It’s a star-studded line up.
The views and backdrop of Achill Island, as well as the natural light, were some of the best ever experienced by IFTA-winning director Tom Sullivan and his camera crew, according to Toolis.
“There’s a pathos in the quiet, observational style of Kevin’s writing and a gentle, dark humour; it’s why I loved the scripts, that and the setting,” O’Sullivan commented. “There is something almost otherworldly about the west of Ireland, particularly in places like Achill, it’s what we set out to capture.
“I’ve always been attracted to the kind of defiant stoicism you see in rural Ireland – those who didn’t get the fancy education, who didn’t ‘do well’ in Cleveland or Chicago. The story is about those people that kept the, albeit at times smouldering, flame alight.”
The film, produced by Niamh Fagan, also explores deeper island issues of emigration, family resentment for wounds of the past and the love of home.
“The second episode reflects the pain of exile, but also the thinking of the life I could have had if I had gone [to America],” Toolis explained. “It’s very reflective of conversations I’ve had with people on the island, like one where a person told me they were glad they never went to England and just became a labourer.
“While then others will tell you of the people who went to America and made loads of money and live the American dream, or the ones that could have gone but didn’t and are a bit resentful about it.”
Toolis is hopeful that it won’t be his last piece of work on Achill Island, and he plans to avail of the natural beauty of his parents’ birthplace for more productions in the future.
“It was fantastic working with Niamh and Tom in Achill and Corraun,” Toolis said. “Living on the island, you often take the beauty of the place for granted but as filmmakers everyone was awed by the light and the stunning landscape.
“And I would especially like to thank the people of Corraun, and the community centre, who gave us all such a warm welcome.
“We’d all love to come back and film some more.”