Wednesday 21 August 2019

Television: No room for Kimye in film about Ballyfin

Ballyfin: Portrait of a house (RTE One)

Grand designs: Ballyfin in Co Laois, which was recently restored
Grand designs: Ballyfin in Co Laois, which was recently restored

John Boland

Staying in Ballyfin, according to its general manager, is "like staying in a friend's house" - except that a friend probably wouldn't charge you €440 for a single bed or €1,220 if you required an ensuite.

They're the overnight prices you'll pay in Ballyfin this November weekend, though they went unmentioned in Ballyfin: Portrait of a House (RTÉ1), which was far too high-minded to descend to such trivia. Instead we got a reverential history of the Co Laois demesne, about which I won't bore you seeing as the filmmakers had already bored me.

Suffice to say that a succession of conservation architects, architectural historians and interior designers, some of them directly involved in the house's recent restoration, marvelled at length about the design of the various rooms, and it was a relief when we got to hear from broadcaster and writer John Quinn, who had been a boarder there in the 1950s when the Patrician Brothers ran it as a school.

His memories of being wrenched from home and transplanted to this harsh environment were vividly expressed, but then it was back to marvelling at the restoration undertaken at the behest of its new owners, Chicago millionaire couple Fred and Kay Khehbiel and their Irish partner Jim Reynolds.

The Khehbiels weren't encountered in the film, and nor did we hear about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who honeymooned there last year but who were probably too downmarket to merit a mention. Instead we heard from Reynolds, who likened his first sighting of the pre-renovated Ballyfin both to Pompeii and to a fairytale: "It was like meeting Sleeping Beauty - in a rather sad state, of course".

Far from sleeping, it's now encouraging wealthy others to sleep there, though this promotional film didn't deign to put it quite so bluntly.

Paddy Moloney, for his part, is not unfamiliar with country houses, the Donnycarney musician having spent much time in Claddagh Records boss Garech Browne's Luggala demesne, which provides one of Ireland's most splendid sights when viewed from the Wicklow road high above.

But Paddy Moloney: Chieftain (RTÉ1) was a film about the man himself rather than his posh pals, even if the 78-year-old's wife, Rita, chided him at one point about his mentioning of them: "I hate it when he name-drops - that irritates me".

But the two of them made for very amiable and lively company as Paddy looked back on his life - including meeting the 16-year-old Rita when both of them worked in Baxendale's electrical shop on Capel Street.

Even then, though, Paddy had his musical "dream", nurtured in Donnycarney ("a nest of pipers", he recalled) and furthered when playing with Seán Ó Riada's Ceoltóirí Chualainn, though in the film he seemed intent on somewhat distancing himself from the man many still regard as his mentor.

But he was absorbing about the development and eventual international triumph of the Chieftains, and also about the tensions and defections along the way, and about his current plans, too. Asked by a journalist if her husband was retiring, Rita replied: "Yes, but he's in rehearsal for it." That, she recalled, was more than 10 years ago.

I've met the man many times over the years, and Liam McGrath's well-edited film engagingly captured both his life-long musical determination and his irrepressibly mischievous spirit.

The first instalment of The Joy (TV3) introduced us to the staff and inmates of Ireland's most famous/notorious prison. It didn't make for pretty viewing, with drugs and potential violence a constant.

"If you're weak you won't last," said 38-year-old Michael, serving four years for theft and in and out of the place since he was 16. "There's no honour among thieves", he reflected. "It's just a whole waste of life".

We got to see the riot squad escorting a violently disturbed prisoner from his cell and we learned about the "protection prisoners" who are at constant risk of attack from rival gang members. No doubt in subsequent episodes we'll get to learn a lot more that's both frightening and depressing.

Criminality was also central to Lugs Brannigan (TG4), an hour-long profile of the garda whose name was synonymous with the hard edge of Dublin policing from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Former trade union leader Des Geraghty recalled that "just the mention of his name was enough to frighten you", while the film's somewhat florid voiceover deemed him "the man who put manners on the unruly streets of the capital".

This he achieved by whacking corner boys with his black leather gloves (rumoured to contain marbles). He also had a thing about the teddy boys who emerged in the 1950s and about fare dodgers, pulling them off buses and detaining them long enough for them to miss the last bus home.

Regarded by some old Dubliners with affection ("Jaysus, if only Lugs were here now"), he was less fondly remembered by others.

"He was brutal, he was a bully," one man recalled. The film told his story well, while also vividly evoking a now vanished Dublin.

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