DIR: Keith Walsh • PRO: Jill Beardsworth
In 2010, a section of motorway was built between Crusheen (a small village in County Clare), and Gort ( a town in south County Galway lying just north of the border with County Clare situated on the old Galway-Limerick road). One week after the road was opened, a troika bailout was announced and funding to continue building the highway to further bypass other small towns and villages, was immediately halted.
Ceasing construction on the road reflected a greater symptom of the recession. Once the money ran out, so too did the need to provide greater connectedness – however, there are those who could argue that villages and towns in rural Clare/Galway were always allied – building a motorway to bypass them, did not necessarily ensure that communications ceased to exist – the infrastructure survived but simply altered its form.
Partners, director Keith Walsh and producer Jill Beardsworth once lived in Crusheen. When the new road was built, they decided to move to Gort and along the way, they met with, and spoke to people whose depth of existence had been materially affected by the motorway build. Walsh felt compelled to document a tangible record of lives impacted by modernisation.
Over a timespan of eight years, Walsh began to process the filmic effects of remoteness and seclusion. The final completion of the motorway took three years but Walsh knew that the impact of such a venture would reverberate both before and after the last yard of tarmac was rolled. He stated that people were keen to share their experiences with him – they wanted to recount the passing of memories but they imparted their wisdom with a keenness of humour and sense of fun.
A key character in the documentary, albeit broodingly silent, is Thoor Ballylee – once the homestead of William Butler Years, who purchased the dilapidated property in 1917 for a pittance or so it is claimed. Yeats may have thought he was getting a bargain but the tower had fallen into serious disrepair and needed extensive work. Wiring it for electricity was the first port of call. Yeats, a man not given to excessive rhetoric, positioned a plaque with these words at the foot of the tower;
I, the poet William Yeats,
With old mill boards and sea-green slates,
And smithy work from the Gort forge,
Restored this tower for my wife George;
And may these characters remain
When all is ruin once again.
At one stage, Thoor Ballylee was in danger of fulfilling the prophecy chiselled into its mottled walls when the flooding Streamstown River threatened to bring about the ‘ruin’ it so aptly predicted. Such was the damage caused during storms that, from time to time, Thoor Ballylee has indeed fallen into dereliction and disrepair.
In addition to the unfinished motorway, other signs of neglect proved that there was little capital to go towards reclaiming the tower. However, just as the motorway that continued on from Gort was restarted in 2014 (opening in September 2017), the economic fortunes of Thoor Ballylee started to recover and also in 2014, a community group calling themselves the ‘Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society’ leased the tower from Failte Ireland going on to dedicate their efforts into maintaining this stunning edifice as a tourist attraction.
In making When All Is Ruin Once Again, Walsh and Beardsworth have always maintained that it was an ideal way of becoming acquainted with the people of rural communities in the area. Their goal was not to weigh in on the environmental or sociological pros and cons of circumventing villages and towns in a sparsely populated countryside, but to get to know their neighbours by rediscovering a lexicon of musicality and beauty.
Does evolution really intimate that other ancient ways must recede into obscurity? Should the reeds of progress curve with the wind or break and splinter? Has the dawn of the new, annihilated aspects of what some perceive to be a jaded past, one best set to one side? What makes When All Is Ruin Once Again so special is Walsh’s ability to see both sides and allow viewers reach their own conclusions.
When All Is Ruin Once Again is available on demand from 24th April 2020