Ronan Daly shimmied his way into After The Dance, which screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
After The Dance, directed and filmed by Daisy Asquith, is a documentary following her mother’s search for family and the scars that shame and secrecy can leave behind.
Conceived by unmarried parents after a local dance in Co. Clare, Pat, Daisy’s mother, was given up for adoption to an English couple and remained a family secret for some forty years, until she met the eight half-siblings that were born after her mother’s marriage. Pat was overjoyed to have found a flesh and blood family, but soon found that their familial bond was overshadowed by the still present feeling that she was a black stain on the family’s pride and she was effectively banned from ever setting foot in Co. Clare. However, in the Irish West, Catholic shame and guilt so often go hand in hand with a great deal of craic to be had, so don’t write this film off as a gloomy affair just yet.
The documentary begins with Pat and Daisy exploring the local church that Pat’s parents would have attended, with Pat noting that, although the Catholic Church has been responsible for her effective banishment from her homeland and caused a profound sense of loss and isolation throughout her life, (okay, it is just a little bit gloomy at times, but it gets better, I promise), she nonetheless finds herself essentially programmed by her upbringing to respect the church and its teachings. Twenty years after she was first told not to set foot in the county, Pat’s mother is now dead and she feels that her right to know her heritage outweighs the likelihood of embarrassment reaching beyond the grave.
With the support of Daisy and just one of her eight siblings, Pat steps bravely into the rural West, looking to find her father, with only the name Tom Brown and a few bare facts to go on. We’re given a pretty colourful look at the locals, who all seem to be variations of the same drunken old charmers, with their heavy accents carefully subtitled. This is interspersed with a few black and white short pieces of footage of the Ireland of yesteryear, with Sean and Mary O’Reilly walking barefoot home from school and the bent, smiling Mr. O Flaherty working away happily in his potato patch. The effect here feels very tongue in cheek and is definitely a lot of fun, though it does skirt dangerously close in its editing to patronising the quaint wee country Irish folk.
All of this is put phenomenally into perspective when we encounter John and Mary Browne, who seem to have a reputation for being “a bit odd” and who live with an insistence on sticking to tradition, feeling that “with every advance, you lose something.” Johnny has never travelled farther from home than Limerick while Mary is a woman of few words with an impressive collection of woollen hats. While at first glance, this couple seem to embody the decades old Ireland which would have branded Pat as the social equivalent of leprosy, they’re very soon revealed to be the warmest, most welcoming sort of family Pat could have asked for, not giving an ounce of undue worry to what people might say.
“We find that if people don’t do any harm, we’re happy with them, like.” – Johnny Browne.
Pat and Daisy’s journey doesn’t end in Clare, and they soon set out to find out as much as they can about where and who they came from.
“It’s like putting the piece in a jigsaw that brings out the picture.” – Pat.
Charismatic and honest, hilarious and heartbreaking, this film speaks volumes about shame, guilt, the all-too-Irish obsession with not ‘letting the family down’ and the hopefully equally Irish sentiment of ‘Family’s family, and feck anyone that has a problem with that.’
After The Dance is a healthy reminder that although some of the ignorance and apathy in recent Irish history is staggering, maybe sweeping our shame under the rug isn’t the best response.
After The Dance screened on Thursday, 26th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.