Saturday 18 November 2017

From homeless ‘ghost’ to filmmaking icon: Irish director celebrated on same street he once slept on

Film director Terry McMahon.
Film director Terry McMahon.

Cian Murray

As you enter The Icon Walk in Temple Bar, there is a sign saying 'this area celebrates the oddballs, crackpots and geniuses' of Irish culture.

The two movies Terry McMahon has written and directed indicate he is a man who has elements of all three, so it makes sense that the filmmaker would find a home there.

Artwork relating to both his films, Charlie Casanova and Patrick's Day, will be unveiled at a public ceremony in the Temple Bar walkway this Saturday at 1pm.

It wasn't long ago that McMahon was sleeping beneath the stars, rather than being compared to them.

The Mullingar native came to Dublin as a 15-year-old and immediately ended up living on the streets.

After 18 months of what McMahon calls a 'ghost' like existence, he became desperate for a way out of this situation.

“I was homeless for about a year and a half and born out of that, was a desperation to do something that stopped you feeling like a ghost in your own life.

“The only thing I knew I could do with no education, no secondary qualifications and no college education was to pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and have the capacity to put a couple of words together followed by a full-stop,” he told

He escaped the circle of homelessness and rented a bedsit for £11 pounds per week. It was there that a love for film was nurtured.

“There was a 24-hour video store and they had this extraordinary deal where for next to nothing you could rent out movies as long as they were back by 8am… so I used to watch five movies a night and it was the greatest education I've ever had.”

If this education was in solitude, the creation of McMahon's first movie could not have been more collaborative.

A late night Facebook status led to a group of like minded and some non-like minded individuals coming together to create a movie.

“I put (a status) up on Facebook (which said): ‘Intend making low budget feature – Charlie Casanova. Need cast, crew, equipment and a lot of balls. Any takers?’

“I felt like a moron... I reached across to delete it and somebody popped up."

That status led to a movie which was picked up by Studio Canal and became the first Irish film to compete at the prestigious SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas.

It also won the 'Best First Feature' award at the Galway Film Fleadh.

However, the film wasn't universally lauded. Many hated the film, with one Guardian critic even calling it 'embarrassing' and 'almost unwatchable.'

Patrick's Day, McMahon's second movie which was released three years later, was universally praised.

He even won the Best Script for a Film award at the IFTAs.

McMahon recognises the differences in reaction, but refuses to get carried away with either.

He said: "It's interesting to find yourself in a place where you have the crap kicked out of you in public and you experience what it's like to be lauded in public. Then you realise you can't be swayed by either."

Although appreciative of the honour, his attitude is similarly grounded when it comes to this latest event.

"The bizarre combination of having images on the wall of films you've been lucky enough to be a part of, where people are lying in the same sleeping bag you may have been lying in 20 years ago is simultaneously absurd, obscene and heartbreaking," he said.

Nonetheless, from that lonely sleeping bag to having his films placed alongside the likes of The Field, The Quiet Man and The Dead is certainly something worth celebrating.

Who knows, it may even inspire the next generation of oddballs, crackpots or geniuses.

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