You'll often hear it said by people, even those without a word of Irish, that TG4 produces some fabulous television programmes. On Saturday night past we saw one of those programmes screened as part of the Belfast Film Festival.

Frankie told the story of Frankie Kennedy, a young boy from Greenan in Andersonstown who went to Donegal, fell in love with a beautiful young girl four years his junior and, at the same time, with the traditional music of Ireland.

The handsome couple, Frankie and Mairead Mooney, together with a bunch of friends became known throughout the world as Altan, one of the most successful traditional bands of the past 20 years. The fairy tale should have seen the two living happily ever after but tragically, in a cruel blow, Frankie was struck down by cancer and died 10 years ago.

With laughter and tears in equal measure, Mairin Seoighe's Scannain Dobharchu film was wonderfully crafted; it told different stories at the same time. There was the love story of Frankie and Mairead - the Donegal lass refused to speak in English to him and poor Frankie had to repair to Cumann Chluain Ard where Albert Fry would translate Mairead's letters.

There was the story of family love, with Francie Mooney and Agnes Kennedy taking on starring roles.

There was the story of Belfast's close connection with the Donegal Gaeltacht, but most of all it was the story of Irish music, its place in the hearth and heart of Irish society.

There was Frankie's development as a musician from the shy young boy whispering his name on Ciaran Mac Mathuna's TV programme to the man who would insist on the best studios and engineers to work on Altan's records.

And there was the story of Frankie's bravery as he faced his cruel fate with humour, pride and courage. He insisted that Altan should live on after he had gone and so it has. The band are a tribute to his memory as is this tender, loving programme, and with many of Frankie's musical collaborators present at Saturday's screening it was even more poignant, his loss more keenly felt.

The link between Irish language television station TG4 and the Belfast Film Festival has been growing over the past four years long may it continue.

Robert McMillan (for the Irish News)

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