OLDER THAN IRELAND (Ireland/PG/87mins)
Directed by Alex Fegan. Starring Bessie Nolan, Kathleen Snavely, Luke Dolan.
THE PLOT: Various Irish people who have reached 100 years of age and beyond reminisce about their lives, from the aftermath of the 1916 Rising through both World Wars, that first kiss, the arrival of television, the birth of rock’n’roll, hippies, the Pope’s visit, the arrival of RTE2 and the last kiss. Some, such as Dubliner Bessie Nolan and New York millionaire Kathleen Snavely, have plainly enjoyed quite a few rare oul’ times whilst others are merely spending each day patiently waiting in Dr. Death’s reception. All Irish life is here…
THE VERDICT: Having already turned the twee all the way up to 11 with 2013’s THE IRISH PUB, Alex Fegan puts another of our green and peasant land’s dying breed under the spotlight here, as he interviews 30 Irish people who were born before the 1916 Rising. As with THE IRISH PUB, there’s always a very real danger here that proceedings will slip into John Hinde’s ‘Creature Comforts’, as some cuddly, chucklesome old folk cough up a few golden memories and the odd vendetta, but once again, Fegan holds it together, managing to balance the magic with the tragic by keeping the hell out of the way.
With the arc of the film following the arc of a life, the 30 characters taking part get emotional about the early years and, in many cases, surprisingly hard about the latter, with more than one stating flatly that they’d rather be dead. Amidst all the flat caps, crooked teeth and conspiratorial cackles lies some deep home truths, OLDER THAN IRELAND leaving the viewer to make up their own mind where the line between bliss and piss might lie.
Review by Paul Byrne

Older Than Ireland
Review by Paul Byrne
4.0Magic & tragic
  • filmbuff2011

    With the centenary of the 1916 Rising next year and Ireland’s own centenary in 2022, it’s fascinating to think that there is a generation of people who are actually older than the country itself. That’s the simple but wonderfully effective concept behind Alex Fegan’s documentary Older Than Ireland. He interviewed a group of 30 Irish men and women who age from 100 to 113. He initially asked them to describe their childhood and then work towards what being 100+ means to them, and what they think of mortality and the afterlife. But something magical then happens. Their sense of humour comes through straight away, along with the memories of their lives now long past. Fegan starts with the stand-out of the film, Bessie Nolan, a lively lady who thinks that God has forgotten about her on his waiting list. He then introduces the other centenarians of the film, who love chatting to the camera. It becomes so much than just a reflection on lives well spent. They talk with warmth about their first kisses, how they proposed to their partners, their opinions on how Ireland has changed so much. The historical backdrop of The Rising and the War Of Independence is talked about but thankfully not too much, with one man actually being a witness to the Bloody Sunday massacre by the Black & Tans. Fegan has said that the film is about three things: Irishness, being 100+ and humanity. That’s absolutely right. While there is much warmth and gentle Irish humour in the film, he also balances that out with genuinely poignant and moving moments. Reflecting on the loss of his wife, one man simply says, ‘when she died, I died’. That’s the film’s most tear-inducing moment. It may not seem like much on paper, but Older Than Ireland is a gem of a film that comes alive through the personalities of these centenarians. The editing and narrative structure of the film is excellent, considering that there are 30 different voices all with different tones and different life experiences. The common thread that links them though is that they want to be heard. If someone can reach 100, then they have more than a lifetime’s worth of stories to tell. The only real complaint about this film is that it’s too short at 81 minutes. It would have been ideal at 100 minutes. This reviewer could certainly listen to these characters for another while. Older Than Ireland is a real charmer. ****