We are delighted to be partnering with Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) and working with the Silver Screen Critics as they enjoy this year’s programme. In this post, the critics cast their eyes to Brendan Gleeson’s Farewell to Hughes’s.
DIFF 2024 runs 22nd February – 2nd March. Explore the programme and get your tickets here.

Ann Kilemade:

Brendan Gleeson’s Farewell to Hughes’s is a succinct feature documentary made by Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and produced and presented by Brendan Gleeson – both accomplished musicians in their own right. To those uninitiated in traditional music, the lack of an introductory narrative may leave them curious to where it is headed. However, the story unfolds slowly to reveal a hidden world of music, song and dance.

The documentary tells of Hughes’s Pub, near Smithfield, an establishment that became a mecca for musicians, singers and dancers during the 1980s and ’90s, right up to recent times. With my own interest in traditional music,  I found myself asking ‘how did I not know about this place?’ While some of the musicians that feature will be well known to followers of ‘trad’, the pub was very much home to those that played out of interest and love for the music. You get a good sense of the various groups that had their own ‘session nights’, whether it be sean nós singing, set dancing, or the group of ladies that formed the ‘Fanny Power Session’. All this is unobtrusively revealed by Brendan Gleeson’s gentle probing during a number of interviews. The Hughes family members tell their story poignantly.

There’s a lovely scene showing a younger Breanndán O’Beaglaoích encouraging the set dancers. This was particularly emotional give the recent passing of his brother, the late Seamus O’Beaglaoích. With some striking photography and very interesting footage from the Irish Traditional Music Archive, this documentary goes on to examine the tragedy behind why Hughes’s was to close. Yet this is a celebration, an upbeat portrayal of a very Irish setting.  Rather than suggest that this is a film more for the ‘trad’ enthusiast, I would encourage all to see it. This may well lead the viewer to explore the many other documentaries made in recent years about Irish music scene, often made by other musicians, the player and director Dónal O’Connor being a case in point.

Ann McEwan:

Brendan Gleeson’s Farewell to Hughes’s documents the traditional music community in Hughes Pub Smithfield, Dublin city. Brendan is a talented fiddle and banjo player, with an interest in Irish folklore. The director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, approached Brendan about making a music documentary, and Brendan suggested Hughes’s as a subject. He had played in sessions in the family run pub for many years and was sad to hear that Hughes’s had closed during Covid-19.  

It was filmed over five days in January 2022, in and around the pub. Brendan interviews various musicians, singers and members of the Hughes family, as they gathered one last time to reminisce and recount Hughes’ contribution to traditional music. The interviews are interspersed with archival footage of music sessions as well as live sessions recorded during the making of the documentary. 

Among the many anecdotes, one musician recalls how she left her baby bag in her car whist she played in a session on her way to the maternity hospital to give birth! Some musicians regretted that there was no farewell night, a chance to mark the occasion with music and songs. Brendan said the “pub had closed its doors gently and was not driven to it”. He stresses how we need to value these significant places, so that they are not driven to close. This wonderful documentary is a social history observing the traditional music community in Dublin city, marking this particular time and place.  

Lorna Cady:

This documentary is a gem, capturing the spirit of M. Hughes pub in Dublin city centre. Brendan Gleeson, who used to frequent the spot and play music there, talks to bar staff, musicians and regular customers.  The film, made over five days in 2022, is in fact a look back at the pub as it used to be. Sadly it closed in 2021, but peacefully, with the Hughes family deciding the time was right to go. 

The Hughes family bought the pub in 1953 and it was initially run by the grandfather Martin, passed on to the father Michael – and lastly to the son Martin.  It was an early house, licensed to open in the the early hours of the morning to cater for the unsociable hours of the market workers nearby. Later in the day,  the ‘legal crowd’ populating the bar, having come in from roles and responsibilities  in the nearby Four Courts. 

The music evolved to be part of the cultural scene of the pub, sometimes with multiple sessions simultaneously playing across the two sections of the bar. This was often accompanied with set dancing, and guest musicians making an appearance. Everyone was welcome, and many of the regulars came back for years and years. Never did it have DJs or Bingo. 

Much of the film is set in the pub itself – a fascinating place – very dark and atmospheric with nostalgic adverts on the walls. Unchanged for years, the Luas passing the windows is often the only evidence we’re in the 21st century. There is footage of past staff, especially Michael Hughes, scenes outside in the district, and some excellent shots of the markets many years ago. The film is a poignant reminder of a very special place. 

Martina Kearney:

Traditional music, singing and dancing has been undergoing a revival of late, as highlighted by the recent campaign regarding the case of the Cobblestone pub in Smithfield and the 2022 release of Luke McManus’s film North Circular. However, in Brendan Gleeson’s Farewell to Hughes’s, it is clear that these culture seeds were sown and nurtured many years ago in this Dublin pub, situated at the back of the Four Courts next to Dublin’s Fruit and Vegetable Market. The film is essentially an homage to Hughes’s legacy and an acknowledgement of the loss of one more piece of Dublin which will never be replaced. 
The opening scenes of Brendan Gleeson overlooking Dublin’s current skyline to the tune of “Building Up and Tearing England Down” could prove to be somewhat prophetic as much of the city’s historic structures are being torn down to be reinstated as hotels. While walking past a derelict space with fellow musician Francis Gaffney, the pair talk of how this area was once a back entrance to the pub and how traders from the fish and fruit markets would knock on the door from 7am for access to avail of the nourishment the pub’s early licence allowed. 
Archive footage of the markets and of many music and dancing sessions in the pub are a real treat. More recent interviews with the Hughes family and musicians who played there until the pub closed its doors in 2021, reveal the richness of traditional music in the city as well as being a place where you could meet up with your “musical family”. The actor Seán McGinley shares with Brendan how some of the most artistic moments of his life happened in that bar. This is echoed by Martin Hughes, son of the original owner Michael Hughes, who explains that magic can only happen when you make a space for it. 
Stories are shared about the eclectic clientele who frequented Hughes’s over the years, members of the legal profession, gardaí accompanied by the “accused” who rubbed shoulders with market traders and musicians. There are marvellous musical moments in this film, many include Gleeson himself playing music, but one piece leaves a haunting impression: Sliabh na mBan, played by fiddler and ITMA director Liam O Connor in an empty eerily lit Hughes’s pub, conjures up all the ghosts of the past as well as future spectres of planning and development. 

Maureen Bushe:

If you have any – even background – interest in Irish traditional music, you will love this film. If, like me, you are Irish, have a bit of a grá for Brendan Gleeson, but had previously associated this type of music with leprechauns and ‘diddly do’… there is much to love in this film. Mick Hughes ran Hughes’s pub in Dublin city centre, from 1953 until he died in 2019. His son, Martin, a talented musician himself, had to let it close in 2021. 

A relaxed Gleeson, craggy as ever, in his old geansaí, interviews musicians who made the pub a welcoming ‘melting pot of tunes’ from all around Ireland. People came to play or just to listen to the best music and have a bit of spontaneous craic where magic could happen. There was no TV. There was no pressure to buy a drink. For many, it became a home away from home. There is a variety of solos, songs, set dancing and sessions in the various nooks and snugs. There are fiddles, guitars, flutes, and accordions. Gleeson joins in occasionally on the violin and banjo. A cheerful group of women called ‘the Fannys’ had played together there since they were young ones. Hughes’ pub gave many musicians their start.   

I loved the variety of music and the close-up filming of fingers on instruments. The interior lighting is subdued. It’s an old pub with lots of old wood and pictures. Daylight filters through the windows from the busy city outside.  As an ‘early’ pub, opening at 7am, it was once frequented by traders from the local fruit, flower, vegetable, and fish markets. Both barristers and criminals from the nearby Four Courts drank there.  The imagery in the film is impressive; of the Liffey, reflections, pigeons, bridges, seagulls, streets, and the old market, then interspersed is archival footage of buildings, carts, horses, houses, and traders. After ‘The Piper’s lament’ is played, the credits roll to ‘Dublin’s Fair City’.  This film is a fine tribute to a happy place of special memories. 

Brendan Gleeson’s Farewell to Hughes’s screens at DIFF on 1st March. 

Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) is Ireland’s premier film event, dedicated to presenting the best in contemporary and classic world cinema. It brings the world to Ireland and showcases Ireland to the world. With a rich history spanning several decades, DIFF showcases a diverse selection of films, hosts industry events, and fosters a vibrant film culture in Dublin.

Over the past 22 years, it has screened more than 1,600 international films from over 52 countries. The Festival has hosted over 600 high profile guests, including Al Pacino, Angela Lansbury, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Danny DeVito, Ennio Morricone, Joss Whedon, Julie Andrews, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stanley Tucci, and Stellan Skarsgård.

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Gemma Creagh is a writer, filmmaker and journalist. In 2014 she graduated with a First from NUIG’s MA Writing programme. Gemma’s play Spoiling Sunset was staged in Galway as part of the Jerome Hynes One Act Play series in 2014. Gemma was one of eight playwrights selected for AboutFACE’s 2021 Transatlantic Tales and is presently developing a play with the Axis Theatre and with the support of the Arts Council. She has been commissioned to submit a play by Voyeur Theatre to potentially be performed in Summer 2023 as part of the local arts festival. Gemma was the writer and co-producer of the five-part comedy Rental Boys for RTÉ’s Storyland. She has gone on to write, direct and produce shorts which screened at festivals around the world. She was commissioned to direct the short film, After You, by Filmbase and TBCT. Gemma has penned articles for magazines, industry websites and national newspapers, she’s the assistant editor for Film Ireland and she contributes reviews to RTE Radio One’s Arena on occasion.

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