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Dull witches' brew

IT'S ALL the fault of Stephenie Meyer. Were it not for her Twilight books, the young-adult shelves of the world's bookstores would not now be groaning under the weight of tons of copycat romantic-horror sagas about teenagers with supernatural powers.

And thanks to the runaway success of the Twilight movies, every second one of these, irrespective of quality or originality, now seems to be lurching its way, like a particularly well-flossed member of the undead, onto our television screens.

The latest in a long, and I suspect rapidly lengthening, line is The Secret Circle, based on novels by LJ Smith, whose Vampire Diaries books have already been turned into a successful series.

After her mother dies in an accident (or WAS it?), teenager Cassie Blake, played by pretty, blonde, bland Britt Robertson, moves with her impossibly youthful-looking grandmother to Chance Harbour, where her mum and dad, also dead, grew up.

In no time, Cassie suspects something is not right. Her car (every teen has a car) bursts into flames. The town drunk, who also happens to be the bar owner and the father of the hot guy Cassie takes a fancy to, tells her he loved her mother, and their families "are written in the stars".

Cassie soon discovers everyone, including her and her grandmother are witches, and that her new high-school friends -- each of whom is missing at least one parent -- are eager for her to complete their circle.

Ah, but some of the adults -- notably the school principal, who's also the mother of its teenage bitch-in-residence -- appear to be stirring up trouble dating back to old conflicts that have something to do with Cassie's parents.

The Secret Circle is pretty much what you'd expect it to be; it's slick, polished, looks great and features a large cast of pretty young (and not so young) things with variable acting ability. But even by the standards of this burgeoning mini-genre, it's tame and tepid.

The problem is that witches don't have the same universal appeal as vampires, werewolves and zombies. When they're not summoning up the Devil, what do they do?

As with the Harry Potter stories, the power struggles in The Secret Circle have about as much relevance to the wider world as a Celtic-Rangers match. It's all a long, long way down from the brilliant Buffy.

I doubt there are any witches lurking in Leitrim, although as Johnny Cogan's lovely film Homeland demonstrated, there's no shortage of colourful individuals, despite it having the smallest population (just short of 32,000 as of the 2011 census) of any county.

Ravaged by emigration, Leitrim had a hard time hanging onto people. In 1847, the population was 160,000; by the 1990s, it had steadily dropped to around 25,000.

Cogan took his camera to meet the natives, the foreign blow-ins and the internal migrants (being a Dubliner, he's one himself) who have a built a multicultural community that seems unique.

John Gallagher emigrated to New York, where he witnessed the great civil rights struggles of the 1960s. When he returned to live out his life in Leitrim, he brought the successful battle to overturn the crippling land valuation laws to the Supreme Court.

Hans Wieland move from Germany in 1985,searching for a life of self-sufficiency. His friends couldn't understand why he was moving from a rich country to a poor one, but he's found inner peace there.

"Germany's too strict," said Hans's countryman, Peter Kern. "Here, everybody was rocking the same boat, because no one had any money." Despite his lack of interest in material things, Peter's hand-made candles, which he started selling to one Leitrim shop at a time, now sell nationwide.

"I was like we came from hell to heaven," said a young woman called Law Law, a member of Leitrim's small but happy Iranian community.

Homeland was a stand-alone film that would easily have stretched to two parts. But as the saying goes, small is beautiful.

The Secret Circle 3/5 Homeland 4/5