The fifty-seventh Irish documentary this year continues the rich vein of form: Older Than Ireland is an engaging watch throughout. The dawning realisation one might have during this thoroughly entertaining documentary is not how old these people are and still punching, but how young this country actually is.
Alex Fegan takes the same approach as he did to his last documentary, The Irish Pub: pick some interesting faces, put them in front of a static camera, and let them to the talking. Fegan unearths some characters and lets them take the viewer on a verbal tour of the history of 20th century Ireland, both political and personal. Among them are Bressie Nolan, Driminah, 103; Jack Powell, 101, Nenagh; Kathleen Brennan, 100, Longford; and the oldest – New York based Kathleen Snavely, who left Ireland with twenty five dollars in her pocket in the thirties, is a whopping 113.
There are tales about school and the brutality of teachers that sadly most experienced: teachers were “brutes,” “savages,” and “cruel”. We’re treated to stories of first kisses, first loves, dating rituals, and marriage. They like to compare then and now and while the women interviewed agree that men today are better with their children, they lament the fact that you “never see kids playing today.” Some are saddened with the lack of community, how neighbours rarely help and talk to each other now. Then there’s the trip through the War of Independence (one claims that the IRA were “no worse than the Black & Tans), there’s an interview with one of the last surviving witnesses to the massacre in Croke Park, and the Civil War. Throughout Fegan cleverly steers the interviews away from ‘It wasn’t like that in my day’ rants, which would have got old very quickly.
The socio-political commentary tails off a little the Civil War and it would have been nice if those assembled had more to say about how they witnessed Ireland’s slow change through the fifties, sixties and on but Older Than Ireland will appeal to those who enjoyed the cuddly warmth of His And Hers.