Friday 17 January 2020

City's suburbs and slums brought back to life by priest's long-lost home movies

Pat Kenny’s grandfather Jim Kenny is shown on his elephant at Dublin Zoo
Pat Kenny’s grandfather Jim Kenny is shown on his elephant at Dublin Zoo

Long-lost home movie reels from a Dublin priest are set to give the nation a unique glimpse into life in the capital nearly 100 years ago.

The silent films - taken in the inner city in the last century and stitched together in a new RTE documentary - give a remarkable window into life before television.

The man behind the lens was Fr Jack Delaney, who served in parishes in Dublin's inner city and suburbs for more than 50 years, from 1930 until his death in 1982.


The box of 16mm film rolls were taken into the Irish Film Institute archive in the 1990s by Fr Delaney's niece Irene Devitt - and now they have been put together into a documentary.

The amateur film-maker's status as a priest gave him an access-all-areas pass to people from all walks of life.

"To look at Fr Jack Delaney's footage, which he captured in the 1930s, it has so much history attached to it," said folk historian Terry Fagan.

"I don't know if Fr Jack realised what he was capturing in the different aspects of life in the community. To look at it is really amazing."

He had film rolls of rare footage on everyone from tenement dwellers and schoolkids in the inner-city slums of Dublin to middle-class families in the suburbs.

In Father Delaney, Silent Witness, residents and nuns in a Magdalene Laundry, as well as communities and family on religious or festive occasions are among the most poignant subjects in his home movies.

Film director Jim Sheridan, who watched the footage with his playwright brother, Peter, recognises locations he used for My Left Foot in the footage taken by the priest.

The Oscar-winning director, who was amazed at the quality of the reels, said it is remarkable looking at shots of the Corpus Christi parades he remembered from his own childhood, the kind of opulence and visual nature of the May Day parades.

"All these people dressed up in their finery and some of them didn't have shoes, but on the holy day of obligation they are all dressed up to the nines," he said.

A relative of broadcaster Pat Kenny was one of the more colourful figures in the footage.

Kenny is filmed sitting down with his aunt Nora Whyte (101) to watch footage of his grandfather Jim Kenny performing tricks for the camera with an elephant at Dublin Zoo.

There is also unique footage from the Magdalene Laundry on Dublin's Gloucester Street, later renamed Sean MacDermott Street.

Films taken by the young priest, who was chaplain of the Magdalene Laundries, show the young girls walking round and also performing concerts.

However, former Magdalene Laundry resident, Gabrielle O'Gorman, believes the happy faces don't portray the real picture. She remembers being told if she performed in a show she would be allowed to go free.

"But they still didn't let me go," she said.

Father Delaney, Silent Witness airs tonight at 10.15pm on RTE One

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