Interview: Ronan Carley on his documentary ‘Roscommon Revealed’

Roscommon Revealed is the debut feature documentary of teacher and filmmaker Ronan Carley. Ronan and actor/musician Cuan Muyllaert go on a road movie with a difference, spending two weeks traveling and filming around County Roscommon taking in its famous and not-so-famous sites and colourful characters.

Your documentary Roscommon Revealed had its world premiere recently at Roscommon Arts Centre. What sort of feedback did you receive from the audience?

People were very taken with it. Some were surprised there is so much on offer in the county. A lot of them said they would visit some of the places they had seen in the film. Even some people who live there have never been to some of the attractions such as Rathcroghan and its Celtic sites and caves, the Arigna Mines and so on. They all really liked the car we travelled in, it got a lot of laughs. I was very pleased at the audience’s reactions.

Have you plans to screen the film anywhere else?

Yeah, Boyle Arts Festival really liked it and want show it as part of their summer festival.  I also plan to show it in the Carrick Cinema and Roscommon Arts Centre again as people have approached them about the film saying they heard about it and would like to see it.

You’re a teacher by profession, job sharing at the moment. What got you interested in making documentaries?

Back in 2001 my two sisters were on the Roscommon Ladies Football team. They had a championship match and I took the notion of filming the game even though I had never held a camera before that. I borrowed my brother’s camera and away I went. Sure I was clueless. I had no tripod, no monopod, just the camera. Needless to say the film was a bit shaky when I played it back.  Well they won that match and indeed every match after that which I filmed.  They went on to win the All Ireland which was shown on TnaG. I had about fifteen hours of filming done at this stage.

What did you do with the footage?

I tried to get someone to edit the tapes for me but no one would do it because there was so much involved. Eventually I found Brian Matthews in Navan, a professional filmmaker.   He told me to go through every tape and mark out everything I wanted shown.  After that, Brian offered to advise me on how to edit and what equipment to buy if I was really interested in pursuing it. So I gave his son grinds and he gave me lessons in editing.  It worked out well.

What inspired you to make a film about Roscommon?

I’ve heard it said Roscommon is ‘The undiscovered heart of Ireland’. I wanted to tap into that. Most of the other Western Counties have been done.   I initially started the film with a friend of mine but we found it hard to travel down at the same time because of other commitments. Time lapsed and I nearly gave up. I decided to give it one last push during the summer. That’s when Cuan Muyllaert actor and musician from Meath got involved.  You know people often joke ‘I only ever pass through Roscommon’ or ‘Nothin’ goes on down there’, I wanted to show other sides of the county.

Tell us a bit about the film.

We spent two weeks travelling around the whole county in an old car with ‘The Rat Look’.   We visited Strokestown House and Famine Museum, Rathcroghan Celtic site and historical caves, high rope walking in Boyle Forest Park, clay pipe making in Knockcroghery, Arigna Mines, Kilronan Castle and so much more. Cuan met a lot of interesting characters on the way.  Although we didn’t get everything in as I have sixty hours of filming which I cut to ninety eight minutes for the film, we did get to a lot of interesting places some of which I believe could be developed further. For instance Rathcroghan is the biggest Celtic site in Europe just as important as Newgrange which is exploited so well. I think people will be interested in stuff like that.

Did you receive any funding?

I didn’t look for it. I felt if someone did fund it they would have their own ideas on what they wanted. This way I had full control over the project. Having said that Roscommon County Council paid for the screening.

 You have sixty hours of footage. Do you plan to do anything with the extra footage?

I decided to make a double sided D.V.D which will be two hours long.  Roscommon Council, County Librarian Ritchie Farrell and Eugene Murphy the Roscommon Mayor are all enthusiastic in helping to promote the film.  I’m really hopeful of recouping some of the costs from DVD sales as the film did cost quite a bit to make. I’m doing some Blu-Ray DVDs for anyone who might want them.

You mentioned the car had “The Rat Look” what is that and where did you get idea to use the car?

I wanted to do something a bit different you know. I saw one of Billy Connolly’s films where he travelled around New Zealand on a motorbike. I spent a long time looking for the right car in the end I found a guy in Meath.  He agreed to loan his car to me once I didn’t wash it or remove any of the moss! He pulled it from a ditch and done it up with the Rat Look.  It’s a way of modifying a car to your own tastes you know, a personalised car with a certain look.  The “Ros-mobile” as we called it had a toy rat in a trap hanging in the back window, a roof rack with various things such as bails of hay, turf, and wellies to give it the bachelor look.  It added some humour to the film.

Where there any unexpected hurdles?

It wasn’t easy going back to people I had already interviewed and filmed when I was making the film with my friend. You know, asking them to go over the same things again. Generally most of them were alright about it.  The weather was very changeable.  The day I filmed the Roscommon Races it was raining. The next morning on the way home to Navan the sun was shining, typical I suppose.

Where there any unexpected benefits?

It’s too early to say, though I learned a lot about the county myself.  Also the people we met.  There are a lot of people doing very good work for the county.

You let the “characters” tell their stories. How did that go for you?

A lot of the interviews were prearranged which went very well. Most of them were very enthusiastic.  Sean Brown in Hell’s Kitchen in Castlerea was a great character. He was good fun. Having said that, we came across some interesting characters by chance.  For instance a woman we stopped in Cootehall Village for directions to John Mc Gahern’s place. Turned out, she knew him and she talked with us about him. Also auctioneer John Oates wanted to show us the birth place of Tom Cruise’s great, great grandfather.

What camera did you use?

I used a Sony XLR which I purchased last year. I knew what I wanted from the camera and it worked out well for me.

What’s your favourite part of the whole process?

I would say editing. I love to see the whole thing coming together. Some people were saying it was going to be a nightmare-editing sixty hours of filming down to ninety eight minutes. But I knew with ten years experience behind me I could do it. I filmed it with an eye for what I wanted to see. I enjoy filming but you’re at the mercy of the weather and so on.

When you made the film were you thinking of promoting the county from a tourist point of view?

No definitely not. I want people with even no interest in tourism to be able to sit down and enjoy it. You know to look at it and say, “That’s interesting” or “that’s funny”.  There’s a bit of everything in it. Overall I want people to be entertained.

Finally Ronan, what’s your next project?

I have been asked to go to Mexico to the Sierre Madre Mountains to film the native people who were driven out and up to the mountains by the Spanish four hundred years ago. They live in very harsh conditions. Mark Brady a business man from Navan approached me about it. He went there in the eighties and was appalled by the conditions. He fundraises and goes there regularly for a few months every year and works with the native people. Last year he helped them build a church. He is also providing employment in the area. I’m looking forward to meeting and filming the people there.

 Rose Byrne


Ronan can be contacted via email on ronancarley AT yahoo dot com


2 Replies to “Interview: Ronan Carley on his documentary ‘Roscommon Revealed’”

  1. What’s this film for, tourist buses? Love the over the top music! The director of Shoah must be worried with this fierce competition!

  2. To the best of my knowledge Ronan Carley made this documentary as a sort of homage to his home county of Roscommon! As far as I know he plans to release a version of it shortly for film festivals and also a longer multi-disc version for sale. I met him at the showing of it in the Arts Centre in Roscommon where it was very well received.

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