Cork man's film of Camino sea journey a tribute to late crew member

A Macroom filmmaker’s account of an epic Camino sea journey also serves as a tribute to one of the crew who has since died, writes Esther McCarthy

Cork man's film of Camino sea journey a tribute to late crew member

A Macroom filmmaker’s account of an epic Camino sea journey also serves as a tribute to one of the crew who has since died, writes Esther McCarthy

A FEW years ago, a crew of men embarked on an epic and audacious journey of the Camino — not by land, but by sea. The crew of explorers set out on a 2,500km journey from Ireland to northern Spain in a traditional

rowing boat, a naomhóg, which they built themselves.

Poet Danny Sheehy, artist Liam Holden, musician Brendan Begley, and stonemason Brendan Moriarty spent six weeks of the following three years on the water, with Glen Hansard joining the crew as substitute on the final leg. The Camino Voyage — a remarkable account of their journey and its impact on them — will open the Dingle International Film Festival tonight.

For Macroom filmmaker Dónal Ó Céilleachair, the opportunity to document their efforts was too good to miss, even though he was busy wrapping another film at the time.

“I was in my Dublin studio at the time, and Kevin Cummins from Cláracha Gaeilge was there, and he said: ‘These guys are going out and doing the Camino by naomhóg. They’re going out next week and you’d be the perfect person to follow them’.

“I’d felt I was in need of a sabbatical, I was planning to take a bit of time off. And when he told me who was on it, I said, ‘I don’t care if they only get as far an Dun Laoghaire, it’ll be interesting’,” he says, laughing.

Still, filming a documentary at sea for six weeks at a time over three years was going to present all sorts of challenges.

The crew of the Naomh Gobnait on their journey from Ireland to Spain on ‘The Camino Voyage’.
The crew of the Naomh Gobnait on their journey from Ireland to Spain on ‘The Camino Voyage’.

“Logistics are a nightmare. A, they’re Kerrymen, so they’ll never tell you where they’re rowing and when they’ll get there,” jokes Ó Céilleachair.

“B, you’re a Corkman, so they’re trying to trick you all the time.

“C, you’re at sea, so they actually don’t know where they’re going to be. They’ll have a plan to be at a certain place at a certain time, but depending on the winds, on the tides, on their own fatigue, they may or may not get there. It was a logistical nightmare, really. Plus salt, seawater, and technology do not go together. We’d a little bit of damage here and there but fortunately we didn’t lose anything, which is a miracle.”

For the most part, the two-man crew consisted of the director and cameraman Bob Kelly, a seasoned traveller and travel-documentary maker.

Filmmaker Donal Ó Ceilleachair
Filmmaker Donal Ó Ceilleachair

It’s a charming film, packed with the personalities of the characters who inhabit it, and the friends they make along the way. “I think there was something about this boat, it really sparked peoples’ imaginations,” says Ó Céilleachair.

“The further we went, the more amazed people got. People pull into harbours all the time in big yachts, they’ve come from all over the world. But nobody blinks an eye because they’re just another yacht, basically. But when four men like this, who are not young men, are rowing in those conditions, people are like, ‘My God’. And when they’d arrive, people would ask, ‘What can we do for you? What do you need?’ That generosity of spirit was amazing. There is definitely something similar about the Celtic people, that’s for sure.”

The participation of Hansard adds a new dimension, and Ó Céilleachair was impressed by the level of his commitment. “Glen’s the real thing, he’s a real genuine character. He pours himself 100% into whatever he does. He takes everything as a challenge and he’s so generous in spirit. If he’s playing music, he’ll try to get everybody into it. He brought a whole level of energy to it.”

It was, agrees Ó Céilleachair, a bonding experience for all involved, which made the death of Danny Sheehy last year all the more poignant. The poet had continued his naomhóg journey south with a new crew last year, and tragically lost his life after the boat overturned.

“Liam called me. It was like 12 o’clock on a Friday night. I thought that was very late to be calling when I saw it in the morning and I called him straight away. He just said, ‘Danny’s gone’. We both couldn’t believe it because Danny is one of those eternal figures. I still couldn’t believe it until I went to Danny’s wake and I saw him in his house down in Ballyferriter.

“Danny was really the one who brought everyone else together, and Danny was always the one who inspired everybody else. Danny was one of those genuine people. It was really great to be around him. It’s a joy to see the film because Danny’s so alive in it.”

Dingle Film Festival: Other highlights

Michael Inside

Filmed mostly in the former Cork Prison, Frank Berry’s remarkable feature centres on the experiences of a first-time prisoner and features a stellar performance from young actor Dafhyd Flynn.

Black ’47

Lance Daly’s gritty revenge thriller set during the famine, Black ’47, will also screen at Dingle. It tells the story of Feeney, an Irish ranger who returns home from fighting for the English army, devastated to see the effects of famine on his country. When he discovers what has happened to his family, he goes on a murderous rampage, seeking out those involved.

Kissing Candice

Shot under the Irish Film Board’s Catalyst Scheme, this marks the feature debut of well-known music video director Aoife McCardle. It stars Red Rock’s Ann Skelly, above, as Candice, a 17-year-old who longs to escape the boredom of her seaside town, only finding solace in her vivid imagination.

Keepers of the Flame

The new feature-length documentary by Emmy Award winner Nuala O’Connor, is her feature directorial debut and makes its world premiere at Dingle.

It tells the story of generations dealing with the consequences of war and civil war, of what is remembered and what is forgotten.

Bob Dylan: Trouble No More

The European premiere features a combination of live footage from his 1979 gospel tour and sermons delivered by actor Michael Shannon.

Animation Dingle

Industry and third-level participants unite to celebrate the best in class of animated content. The event is made up of conferences, screenings, workshops, and the International Student Animation Awards 2018.

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