By David Hennessy
The Irish Cultural Centre will present a double bill screening of two documentary films that focus on the destruction of Dublin’s North Inner City.
On Saturday 10 December, the centre will screen Alive Alive O- A Requiem for Dublin and the short film Looking On, which is 40 years old this year and includes rare footage of Bono and U2 in their early days.
Both films are made by the award- winning film maker Sé Merry Doyle and focus on a subject very close to Sé’s heart, the destruction of Dublin’s North Inner City.
Looking On was Merry Doyle’s very first film which he made in 1982.
Twenty years later in 2001 Sé once again returned to the same subject to make his most personal film to date, Alive Alive O – A Requiem For Dublin – which documents the destruction of working class Dublin.
Sé Merry Doyle told The Irish World how he came to make Looking On:
“The film is about the moving out of inner city citizens to the outer suburbs and all that that entails.
“Dublin Corporation had put together a massive plan to demolish what was known as the heart of the inner city, the tenement houses on Gardiner Street and Sean McDermott Street.
“Artists got in touch with the activists in the area so they had this festival called Looking On.
“I don’t know why. I just decided, ‘I’m going to make a documentary about this’.
“I almost literally stole- or borrowed- the cameras. We filmed over a period of many weeks.”
The film includes rare footage of a young U2 performing on the roof of the community hall in Sheriff Street.
“The U2 thing, we had about half an hour’s notice that they were going to play.
“They climbed with a rope ladder to get on the roof of the community hall and that was a big moment in the film.
“The film was made with no money and it finally came out 1982, which is now its 40th anniversary.”
It was years later that Sé was inspired to make another film about Dublin’s social issues when he observed the arrest of a Street Trader who was selling goods. He would document the erosion of street markets in Dublin, while at the same time a statue was erected to Molly Malone on Dublin’s richest street.
This would be Alive Alive O- A Requiem for Dublin. The film chronicles the dispersal of Dublin Street Traders whose Patron Saint was ironically Molly Malone.
“I was walking down Henry street and I saw a policeman arresting a woman who was selling things from her pram as they used to, and not only that but he took the wheels off her pram.
“He immobilized her.
“I felt, ‘This is really odd’.
“It kind of dawned on me, ‘What’s going on here? This is the city of Molly Malone. What is this onslaught against people trading would?’
“They would go out for a day’s work with their pram. Then when they had sold their stuff, they would go to the supermarket and buy food so they were a part of commerce, but they weren’t recognised as such.
“So I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to return to the same theme’.
“But this time it was concentrating on the Iveagh Market.
“I filmed the last days trading of the Iveagh Market which is still in the news because it’s been lying empty ever since I shot that day.”
Still lying empty, the market that was set up by the Guinness family to alleviate poverty in the city has fallen into a state of disrepair.
“We were also filming the emergence of the Financial Services Centre on the Quays and the Celtic Tiger was coming in. It was just knocking on the door and the city was changing forever.
“There’s a statue of Molly Malone on Grafton Street.
“Someone said, ‘If someone stood beside it selling things from a pram, they would be arrested forthwith’.
“I just thought these people are what I grew up with and what happened to them was very unfair and unjust.”
The film’s themes are still important today.
“It’s been well documented, the amount of hotels and Dublin city centre becoming a lifeless place.
“Last year they tried to close down The Cobblestone. They decided to turn it into a hotel.
“Thousands of people just rose up and marched. I thought, ‘Great’.
“That’s amazing. You need that to happen, you need the Iveagh Market to reopen.
“I think it’s a part of our lives we throw away at our peril.
“The Financial Services Centre that’s right beside that community now has an enormous wall, it’s like the Berlin wall that separates the new wealth from the old community.
“All of these communities have their problems with drugs or violence and people like Gregory (Tony, socialist TD who features in the film) kind of brought that down to a more tolerable level.
“It’s still not gone by any means but when a community starts to fracture and break up, then all the darkness starts to come in whether it be drugs, or whatever else.
“When you have a sense of strong community, it can protect its own assets.”
Following the screening Sé Merry Doyle will take part in a Q&A with broadcaster Piers Thompson, founder of Portobello Radio. Piers is also involved in the campaign Justice for Grenfell campaign.
The double bill screening of Looking On and Alive Alive O – A Requiem for Dublin starts at 7pm on Saturday 10 December at The Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith.