Childhood on Blasket island inspires films

Filmmaker Simon Hambrook tells Sharon Ní Chonchuir how a hippie upbringing off the Kerry coast has become a source of creativity

CHILDHOOD memories are precious to us all. They give us a sense of where we came from and the people and places that shaped the adults we have become. Imagine how it might feel if your childhood memories consisted of life with your hippie parents on the Great Blasket Island at the end of the 1970s. Can you picture how such a childhood might have impacted on the person you are today? These are the questions filmmaker Simon Hambrook is grappling with as he makes the second in a series of films about his early life on the Great Blasket Island. He made his first film, the 12- minute The Isle of My Youth in April of last year and it has since appeared at the New Designers Exhibition in London and at Keswick Film Festival. Now he is in the process of making a follow-up film called The Isle of My Heart .

“This all started when I began to write a book about my family’s life on the island about a year and a half ago,” says Simon, who at that time was living in Torquay in England. “I realised I missed Ireland and the island so much. It ignited my desire to return and made me want to make a film about what the island means to me.”

His early life on the island is certainly an unusual one. His parents were searching for something different to the lifestyle on offer in the UK in the 1970s. “They saw an ad in The Times asking people to come and work on the Dingle Peninsula,” says Simon. “It seemed like the thing for them.”

And so it proved to be. They worked for a local businessman, leading horse-riding trips, doing handiwork and eventually moving out to run the café and hostel on the Great Blasket Island in 1977.

“They moved there with my brother and lived there with sheep, goats and visitors,” says Simon. “I was conceived there and spent my first two and a half years living there.”

The Hambrook family moved to another island off Connemara in the early 1980s but often returned to the Great Blasket. Simon’s most vivid and formative memories are of his time there.

“I remember Patrick Dunleavy, the only other permanent resident of the island, giving my brother and me sweets. Our parents never gave us sweets so this was really something special for us. I remember another girl called Sinéad sharing her chocolate with me. I remember coming back to the island and finding our toys still hidden in the sand from our previous visit. Mostly, what I remember is the shape of the island looming on the horizon and it feeling and looking like home.”

He recreated his memory of Sinéad offering him chocolate using Super8 film in the opening of The Isle of My Youth and this struck a chord with people.

“It really captured the feel of that moment and people thought it was a real bit of footage,” says Simon. “This new film will be more focussed on recreating more of those memories on the island.”

The first part of the new film will feature his life in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The second will be shot in 60mm format and will seek to portray the special abandoned atmosphere of the place. “Our cameras will look at the village from the sea and from the hill and capture the vast expanse and power of the island,” he says.

The final part of the film will follow the filmmakers as they journey to the end of the island, shooting the sights they see.

“Our arrival at the end of the island should make for a suitable ending for the film,” says Simon.

It is unlikely to mark the end of his infatuation with the island.

Once shooting is over, he then plans to remain on the Dingle Peninsula.

“When I came back last year, I knew then that I had to come back and live here,” he says. “It’s taken this long to make it happen but now is the time.”

He also hopes to make even more films about the island in the future. “Dylan Thomas started writing a script for Twenty Years A-Growing’ — Muiris Ó Súilleabháin’s book about his life on the island and I would love to film that,” laughs Simon. “It’s perhaps a little too ambitious for me just yet.”


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