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when all is ruin

Life, death and the story of a motorway bypassing towns in the West

A new documentary explores the twists and turns of the M17/M18 motorway.

When-All-Is-Ruin-Once-Again Still from the documentary When All Is Ruin Once Again When All Is Ruin Once Again

SOME PEOPLE ARE awful afraid of death, you know … what’s the point? Everybody dies, everything dies. But it doesn’t die, it just changes.

In order for progress to happen, so too must change. As we move forward, older ways of life are sometimes forgotten or bypassed.

After a decade of planning and three years of construction, the M17/M18 motorway between Tuam and Gort opened in September 2017.

The 57km stretch of road allowed traffic to bypass Tuam, Claregalway, Clarinbridge, Kilcolgan, Ardrahan and Gort. The Crusheen to Gort section of the motorway opened in November 2010.

A week later the troika bailout was announced and construction on the rest of the motorway ground to a halt.

Twopair Films / Vimeo

Filmed over the course of eight years, a new documentary, When All Is Ruin Once Again, explores life in some of the Galway and Clare communities affected by the road. 

Director Keith Walsh, who lives in Gort, said there was a “very real possibility that [the road] would never be completed”, adding: “This sense of a motorway going nowhere seemed to resonate in the dark years post-bailout.”

Walsh said some people benefited from the road in terms of selling their land while others had their land split in two, making life difficult for some farmers.

Speaking about the halting of construction on the motorway, Frank O’Sullivan, who was interviewed in Crusheen near the start of the filming process, states: “If the older people were around they wouldn’t believe it, that a road would actually pass and, like the Celtic Tiger, it has stalled.

“They ran out of juice when they came to Gort, ran out of money, no more coins.”

frank Frank O’Sullivan (left) When All Is Ruin Once Again When All Is Ruin Once Again

Eventually the recession started to lift, for some people at least, and the road was completed. 

Walsh and Beardsworth moved from one end of the motorway to the other, from Crusheen to Gort, during the course of filming.

Walsh told us making the documentary was a great way for them to get to know their neighbours, many of whom invited them into their homes for several hours to talk.

We’re in a privileged position, we can go into people’s houses and ask them about their lives.

A local screening of the film recently brought together people from all over the community, including relatives of those who featured in the documentary but have since passed away.

Walsh said many people initially had impression that the documentary would be about “whether the road was bad or good”, but added: “That was not really our intention.”

Life and death 

External factors that occurred during the filming period took the documentary in unexpected directions. 

The personal experiences of Walsh and his wife Jill Beardsworth, who produces the film, affected the themes explored. They had to deal with the loss of her father while filming the project, as well as the joy of welcoming two sons. 

“It started off quite simply as a project about a road bypassing the lives of the people in the area,” Walsh recalls, adding: “A lot of life happens over eight years.”

The documentary tells the stories of people living in the area affected by the motorway as well as the wider themes of change, how human behaviour is impacting the earth, and life and death. 

zac Zac Clarke (right) When All Is Ruin Once Again When All Is Ruin Once Again

One of the first people we’re introduced to is Zac Clarke. He tells us: “Some people are awful afraid of death, you know … what’s the point? Everybody dies, everything dies. But it doesn’t die, it just changes.”

The multi-character story is told via modern and archive footage, both in black and white.

WB Yeats 

The documentary also explores climate change and at one point the voice of philosopher John Moriarty states: “There are now 7,000 million of us on the earth, 7,000 million human beings and in our behaviour now it seems to me we are the AIDS virus to the Earth.

We’re doing to the Earth exactly what the AIDS virus does to the human body – we’re breaking down its immune system. If this is so, then we’re into ecological disaster, ecological breakdown.

The title of the documentary comes from the closing lines of the WB Yeats poem To Be Carved on a Stone at Ballylee: “And may these characters remain, when all is ruin once again.”

Thoor Ballylee is a Norman tower in south Galway that Yeats had renovated and lived in as a summer house in the 1920s. It’s located at the end of the motorway.

The tower flooded at both the start and end of the filming process, which Walsh described as “something quite significant” that “really influenced the film”.

flood Flooding at Thoor Ballylee When All Is Ruin Once Again When All Is Ruin Once Again

Walsh noted that flooding happens for a number of reasons, but one is undoubtedly the impact humans are having on Earth in terms of deforestation and disrupting natural resources. 

“It could be argued that it isn’t time that will make Thoor Ballylee ‘ruin again’ but flooding brought on by climate change and also man’s use and abuse of the earth…

“I think we have our collective heads in the sand about our use of the planet’s resources,” he said. 

When All Is Ruin Once Again will be screened at the IFI Documentary Festival in Dublin city at 5.40pm on Sunday 30 September, followed by a Q&A with Walsh and Beardsworth

The documentary will also be screened at the IndieCork Film Festival at the Gate Cinema in Cork city at 4.30pm on Saturday 13 October, and at Cinema Killarney as part of the Kerry Film Festival on Friday 19 October at 7pm.

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