The children who laboured
`An Óige a Thréigeadh'
9pm, Sunday 12 March
I was in Gaoth Dobhair at the weekend and as I walked into Teach Jack's you could be forgiven for thinking that a meeting of Coiste na n-Iarchimí had been arranged for there. Colm and Brian from the Clones ex-prisoners' group Clones Fáilte were present, as was Jim from Turf Lodge's Tús Nua group and Joe from the Marleybone group. As it turned out all of us were there for different reasons. Colm and Brian were attending the Ógra Shinn Féin Slogadh gathering, Jim and Joe simply for a bit of a break, and myself and Deirdre to attend the first public screening of `An Óige a Thréigeadh'. This is the latest production from Sonia Nic Giolla Easpaig, who previously produced `I gCillín an Bháis', the story of the blanket protest and hunger strikes in the H Blocks.
`An Óige a Thréigeadh' tells the story of the children from Donegal who were sold for six months each year at the hiring fairs. It was not just children from Donegal who were sold in this fashion but in Sonia's documentary we hear the voices of people from Gaoth Dobhair who speak of their experiences of the fairs and the people they worked for subsequently. One woman told of how she barricaded her door at night with the bed to stop the man that she worked for from entering her room. A man spoke of how he slept in the loft of the byre above the cows, sharing his bed with the cat that had just given birth. Another spoke of going to bed hungry each night. There were, of course, the humorous moments that made us laugh, those moments that display just how the human spirit can rise above hardship and oppression. As I watched the film, I thought of the experiences of republican prisoners and how their spirits too rose above their material conditions.
But this is not an era of our history that is spoken about often or recorded in poetry or ballad the way republicanism is. This is part of Ireland's hidden history. This is a story, yet again, of how children were exploited and abused. That is the story of a practice that lasted for decades in Catholic Ireland, which neither politicians nor churchmen saw fit to stand up to. It is to Sonia's credit that she has brought this chapter of our past to light. Danny Mhic Giolla Easpaig, who worked with Sonia on the production, said that the programme offered only a glimpse of what happened to the children who were sold at the fairs - only recounted the tales of those who had survived. Many others didn't live to tell the tale. Many never returned to their homes.
Good documentaries do not set out to convince us. They instead present us with the facts, or reveal to us information of which we previously were unaware. Good documentaries should stir our emotions, shake us out of our complacency, fill us with rage, make us feel that the lives of others have touched us in a way that it will be difficult ever again to forget. Given the talk in Teach Jack's following the screening, it would appear that `An Óige a Thréigeadh' achieved exactly that.
BY LAURENCE McKEOWN