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Rooney  The life of James Ignatius Rooney, a Dublin rubbish collector during the week and a Gaelic sportsman at the weekends.

A charming film, and now also a time-capsule of a fondly-remembered Dublin

Rooney  As all agree, this is an utterly charming, unpretentious film. It is helped by the acting talent of the famous Abbey Theatre, Dublin. And although the lead character of ‘the Rooney’ himself is played by an Englishman, John Gregson fairly inhabits his working-class Dublin character, with an accent that never jars in comparison to the real Irish actors – except perhaps he finds the test of acting tipsy while keeping the brogue a bit much for him. Of course today an English film about Irish life might seem patronising, but they did a creditably sympathetic job in 1958, perhaps helped by an Irish scriptwriter’s fleshing out of Catherine Cookson’s story and the wonderfully atmospheric filming of Dublin city.

A curiosity of the film is that Barry Fitzgerald’s voice-over to the establishing shots of the Dublin of 1957 – the year when the filming was done – speaks complacently of the unchanging face of the old city, and references what was then a favourite landmark of all Dubliners, Nelson’s Pillar, saying:

‘ – – – the dawn broke over the old city and everything was pretty much as it was the night before – and Nelson’s statue still stood in O’Connell Street – – – .’

In retrospect, this observation has been made to seem ironical, since we know that the IRA blew the statue of Nelson atop his Pillar to smithereens shortly after 1:30 on the morning of 8 March 1966.

Rooney  So the film is a nostalgic reminder of more innocent times. The official version of the reaction of Dubliners, to the destruction of this much-loved and familiar landmark, is that general gaiety broke out in the city. Certainly the Irish have an attractive penchant to make the best of anything – even a funeral. But some elderly people of that town I once spoke to were adamant that, on the whole, Dublin folk had rather ‘the boyos’ had left old Nelson where he was. And, when the remaining stump was blown up by the army, after the Corporation declared it ‘a dangerous structure,’ the good people of the Irish Capital sorely missed being able to take friends and relatives from the country up the spiral staircase, inside the Pillar, to share Nelson’s unparallelled crow’s-nest view of Dublin!

Part of the charm of old films is that they have become time-capsules, trapping the past as it flits through the lens, to preserve it’s fluttering motion more perfectly than flies in amber!

And for lovers of unfamiliar sports, the filmed spectacle of an actual game of hurley, in which our fictional hero is presented as the star player, conveys all the ferocity of a game with ancient origins in the wild and often violent training of Irishmen for hand-to-hand combat in war – and since helmets and face-guards were still shunned at this time as badges of cowardice, one must admire the rugged ruins of many a battered face. Old Nelson’s head, still lying in the Dublin City Library and Archive, is hardly the worse for wear.

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