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Thursday 8 June 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Muirgein O Conaill
# mission complete
This 86 year old JUST saw a 1950s film he was in for the first time
His nephew made it happen.

EOIN DOWNING HAS been searching for a 1950s film that was shot in Kerry for decades but with little success.

The reason for the search? He featured in the movie and although it was screened in Kenmare at the time, he had never actually seen it.

The 86 year old asked his nephew to track it down over the summer- shortly after his wife passed away in March. His motivation? He says he wanted to see it before he died.

His nephew Muirgein Ó Conaill began the search for the film ‘Bally Cashel Ferry’ in June.

He told “I made contact with the BBC, BFI British Film Archive etc. to try and track it down but to no avail.”

Much of the film was shot in Kerry – in Derreen Gardens – so he rang them for information. Acting as the middlemen, they passed his details to the film director Richard Bigham’s family.

Ó Conaill explained how, “Our family are descendants of the O’Sullivan Beare Clan, and the Bighams are the descendants of Lord Landsdowne. Our families have historically been at variance with each other.”

However, the two families who were historically at odds with each other came together to track down this culturally significant film – neither family was aware of their shared history from the outset.

The British composer, Ned Bigham, rang Muirgein from the UK on 1 July and began the search for the film from there. On 9 July he emailed him saying:

I have found two rusty tins with ‘Bally Cashel Ferry’ marked on them.

One contained two 16mm reels of ‘negative mute’ and the other two 16mm reels of ‘negative track’.

This 86 year old JUST saw a 1950s film he was in for the first time
1 / 4
  • Bally Cashel Ferry

    Source: Muirgein Ó Conaill
  • Bally Cashel Ferry

  • Bally Cashel Ferry

  • Bally Cashel Ferry

    Source: Muirgein Ó Conaill.

Mission Accomplished 

Eoin Downing finally watched the film on Friday. He spoke to straight after viewing it.

He said he felt very happy and very satisfied after finally seeing it.

I really enjoyed watching it, it reminded me of all the people who were in it and are now gone but after watching it there now, I remember everything like it was yesterday.

“At my age, I’m the oldest person who worked on the film and I’m the only one left. I wanted to see it before I died.

I’ve been looking for this film for the past 30 years. Different people told me that they’d find it but they couldn’t find it at all.

Asked about his payment for the role he played, Downing said, “I got a bottle of orange.”

Eoin 1 Muirgein O Conaill Eoin Downing outside the O'Sullivan's pub, Kilmackillogue which features heavily in the film. (Now Helen's bar) Muirgein O Conaill


The film has now been converted to digital format and will be shown to the public in Kerry by the IFI Irish Film Archive in November.

The film is set to be screened in the Carnegie Arts Centre in Kenmare, Kerry on 13 November and in Tech Amargin, Waterville, Kerry the next day.

It’s hoped that local people will be able to help identify some unknown places and people in the film.

Head of IFI Irish Film Programming, Sunniva O Flynn, described ‘Bally Cashel Ferry’ as a “fascinating find”. She told that “it’s very interesting to see a fictional film being made at Kerry at that time because it’s so unusual.

The director Richard Bigham showed great ambition in making this film as it’s very unusual for this period. In 1950s Ireland, most films were documentaries or state funded videos giving health and safety information.

The film tells a story about Oxford graduates coming to Kerry, hoping to make their fortune by extracting copper from seaweed.

“It’s really charming to see the vision and the effort that went into this film, it uses the landscape so well.

We get an insight of Kenmare at that time and places such as O’Sullivans bar that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

“Bally Cashel Ferry also has a very professional score that really heightens the drama.”

It was written, directed and produced by Richard Bigham. The cast were Maureen Cleave, Christopher Sullivan, Antony Martin, Eoin Downing Harry Ward. It was narrated by Harry Maguire.

O’Flynn added, “It will be very exciting to bring it back to where it was made.” 

Read: Shhh! Let’s go to the cinema just like it’s 1914>

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