A film about medieval Irish monks shot in the middle of a heatwave in Connemara and starring no less than two Marvel Comics superheroes is set for a global cinematic release.
Pilgrimage received its Irish premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh last week attended by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
It is already creating quite a buzz, with two national newspapers giving it four and five stars.
Producer Conor Barry describes it as “a medieval western road movie”
“It’s an exploration of what faith makes you do which is an interesting subject given the current situation with Isis. Ireland in the 13th century hasn’t really been represented before in dramatic history,” he explains.
The writer Jamie Hannigan developed the script after hearing about the legend of St Matthias. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Matthias was chosen by a cast of lots among disciples to replace Judas Iscariot following Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and his subsequent death.
There are many accounts about the death of Matthias. One of them states he was stoned at Jerusalem by the Jews and then beheaded. The stone used to kill him became a treasured relic, reputed to have fierce powers.
When the Pope decreed that this relic must be returned to Rome from Ireland, a group of monks set out on a perilous journey across an island torn apart by tribal warriors and Norman invaders.
“It’s quite original in terms of its take on this period. Its action driven but it also features the Irish language in 25% of the dialogue – it features French, Latin and English, so it’s very authentic.”
There is talk that it may well be a contender for best foreign language film when the annual Oscar awards come around.
The film made for just €4.7m has struck gold by having two actors playing the lead roles in block buster hero projects. Tom Holland is hitting global big screens as Spider-Man, while Jon Bernthal, who starred in Wolf of Wall Street and in The Walking Dead, takes the lead role in the first series on Netflix of The Punisher, also a Marvel Comics character.
“Our American partners were XYZ Films who have a very good record for tracking talent that will be big.
“They identified these actors as being on the up. They went on pursue the superhero projects after they had committed to Pilgrimage, which finished filming in May 2015. In fact, both Tom and Jon did some of their audition tapes while filming in Mayo and Galway.”
Holland plays the pious young novice who charts the journey while Bernthal is a mute lay-brother with a violent past. Directed by Brendan Muldowney, it also stars Richard Armitage, star of the Hobbit and Captain America, who plays a vicious Norman knight.
Holland, whose first big break was in the title role in Billy Elliot The Musical in London’s West End, took lessons in Irish with a language coach for the role and can now manage a smattering of sentences ‘as gaelige’. His grandmother hails from Tipperary Shot mainly in Leenane and Cong, the scenery was truly breathtaking, admits Conor.
“We only discovered after we got there that Leenane is the wettest place in Europe. Yet, when we were filming in April 2015 we probably had the best heat wave of all time, it was like Italy with these blue skies. We had to wait sometimes for the skies to get grey when we needed a bit of gloom,” he recalls.
“Richard Armitage tells the story of filming on a beach and seeing a storm out to sea about an hour and a half away. When it landed it pelted everyone with hailstones and rain and then just disappeared. If anything, it added to the magical atmosphere – it was epic.
“I can’t say enough good things about filming in Galway and Mayo. It was an amazing experience. The quality of the crew was phenomenal.”
Bernthal concurred in an interview in the Irish Times.
“We weren’t in a studio trying to create magical worlds. We were trekking into them. Where we were shooting was so beautiful, you’d think: this is the most beautiful place on Earth. Until the next location: nope, this is the most beautiful place in Earth.
“I’ve had the privilege to shoot in a lot of countries but no place and no people had an effect on me like Ireland. Everyone was kind. I’ve never met an Irishman I didn’t like.”
The film used a lot of local extras that the producer heartily declares as amazing.
“These guys were out there with big beards, long hair, wearing costumes in very physically challenging fights and in very tough conditions. They added a real authentic air to the film, they were phenomenal.”
Buoyed by the publicity of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Pilgrimage is getting a US theatrical release, a rarity for an Irish film.
It will not however be showing in Galway as it is only being released in arthouse cinemas. But it will be available on iTunes and on DVD from July 28.
Italian archer brings whole new outdoor leisure pursuit to Loughrea
An eagle-eyed Italian has converted a cohort of locals in Loughrea into archery enthusiasts – in the heart of their local forest.
Mattia Cestonaro set up Loch Riach Traditional Archery, the first field archery club in Galway to be affiliated to the Irish Field Archery Federation (IFAF).
After raising nearly €800 in public donations, he established the course geared to different levels in a forest located in Peterswell on the Slieve Aughty Mountains.
Field archery has participants shooting at various targets. The targets may be concentric circles, animal faces on paper or 3D animal targets, from a variety of distances, which can be marked or unmarked.
There is a main course layout in a loop shape, where small groups of archers, typically up to four, walk around and stop at each station to hit a target.
The club is a non-profit organisation with the main aim to promote our beloved sport in Ireland.
“This is a sport for everyone, we have kids, adults, families shooting together. It’s some mighty fun,” enthused the native of Vicenza in north-eastern Italy.
“This is an exciting new activity for the local community, as well as to visitors from other counties and clubs.”
Mattia has created three small bridges to cross the river in different points using pallets on the course located on over 160 acres of forest. There are currently 14 targets spread out over 1.5km, crossing different types of terrain.
The club teaches a ‘traditional, instinctive way of shooting’.
“It is a challenging course with different tricky shots, uphill, downhill, between trees. We tried as much as we could to use natural backstops to make the shots look as natural as possible,” he explains.
“We think our club as a group of friends who share the same passion, we organise many social activities and we encourage members to volunteer in the club’s activities.”
The main course is made entirely of 3D targets.
“We believe there is nothing else like the sight of a realistic 3D target in the forest.”
Several of the first courses held last July sold out. The courses in August completely sold out.
It costs €50 per person for four weekly classes lasting an hour and a half, with the minimum age of eight set for participants. Archers aged under 18 must have at least one parent participating in the course with them. Adult membership of the club costs €60 for the year, while kids pay €30, which includes membership to the social club.
“There was an overwhelming response to our first beginner courses and an ever more surprising conversion rate, which saw the 100% of those who completed the course become members of the club. This was amazing and already repaid the months of hard work in the woods,” enthuses Mattia.
The club will now concentrate on making sure all the new members receive proper support during their first months in the archery world.
Mattia was doing field archery in Italy but took a few years off until he got the opportunity here over three years ago to reignite his passion.
“I went back into it thanks to my friend Enea, who is the son of the iconic Italian character Papetto, who is one of the greatest masters of Instinctive shooting and whose values and philosophy he is trying to promote and keep live for over 45 years.
“This is the same I’m trying to do with the club, I am offering beginner courses where we cover all the basics of field archery and where I try to spread my archery philosophy which has the social aspect of this discipline in his core values.
“To put it in simple words, I’m in love with this sport, and I try to transmit my passion to other people.”
The Italian moved to Ireland from Italy in 2014 looking for a change in lifestyle. After three months in Clifden, he transferred to Galway and found a job in supply chain with Schneider Electric, where he continues to work.
In December 2020 he bought a house in Loughrea and moved in with his partner Tatiana.
“It was a huge step in our life, and we couldn’t be happier with our choice. We found a lovely welcoming community, everyone is so kind with us and there is so much to do around here: from the lake which is at our doorstep, and we walk daily with our dogs, to the numerous sport activities available.”
Mattia plays with the Loughrea Rugby Club and recently helped organise a group of 14 Italian teenagers to visit Loughrea from his old club, the Rangers Rugby Vicenza. They stayed with host families and trained with the Loughrea RFC for a week.
Mike Feerick of Ireland Reaching Out said he and wife Eileen regularly get behind the bow and arrow on a Sunday morning after completing a beginner’s course earlier this summer.
He has praised Mattia’s hard work, with the support of Coillte, in turning an area of Slieve Aughties into a recreation hub.
“It’s interesting that someone has come to live among us and helped us strengthen our community, starting a new pastime in the locality which takes advantage of the wonderful hinterland we have in East Galway.”
“It is a big undertaking for any one person – but he has persevered and indeed succeeded.”
Mattia has plans to expand the course with new targets and create a bigger training range.
“We plan to create nice picnic areas for members to spend time together with benches and tables and some shelter for the rainy days. We also plan to host the first official IFAF shooting in 2023, where people from other clubs from all Ireland will come over to compete as part of the IFAF annual calendar,” he explains.
“The future ahead is exciting, and I am very proud to be able to offer something different to a community which is giving so much to me and my family in terms of quality of life.”
Hurdle cleared for Claregalway traffic calming and flood relief scheme
A dispute over land acquisition that threatened to sink a long-awaited traffic calming scheme and flood relief works in Claregalway has been resolved.
A meeting of the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District councillors heard that an agreement had been reached with the landowner, enabling the Council to proceed with its plans to install a surface water drainage scheme at the bridge.
Cllr Jim Cuddy (Ind) said following repeated representations, he had been assured that a resolution had been found.
“I have been informed that we are waiting for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) to come back to the Council to tell them to proceed,” said Cllr Cuddy.
This came as councillors hit out at the lack of progress on the project, with Cllr James Charity (Ind) pointing out that it had been three years since they approved the project.
“I have had a lot of complains in the last few days about flash flooding in Claregalway, on the street outside Centra . . . we’ve mentioned it in here ad nauseum,” he said.
“It is very frustrating for communities and residents up there that this is not progressing – it’s a long-standing problem that’s being put on the long finger.”
Cllr Albert Dolan (FF) said it was disappointing that having approved the project in 2019, councillors were being kept in the dark and had received no official communication from the National Roads Project Office (NRPO) to explain the delay.
“It’s three years on and we have not seen any progress . . . the Athenry Oranmore councillors are not happy that this has been delayed for so long without being given a reason,” said Cllr Dolan.
Cllr Charity suggested that a representative of the NRPO should be invited to a meeting of local area councillors to explain the lack of progress.
“If the matter is progressing, we need an update from them. Resolution with the landowner is one thing but the TII committed to this in 2019, so now there is a question of funding as well,” said Cllr Charity.
Cllr Liam Carroll (FG) concurred and said with the increasing cost of construction materials, funding would need to be addressed without delay.
HSE-owned houses have been left lying empty for past four years
A local councillor has expressed his fury at the fact that two structurally-sound houses in Gort have been lying idle for the past four years by their owners, the Health Service Executive – despite families locally crying out for a home.
Cllr Gerry Finnerty wants a system put in place to insist that the owners of any long-term vacant properties should ‘use it or lose it’.
The two adjoining houses at located in a prime location on the Ennis Road in Gort and while they are structurally in good shape, they have become overgrown and there is even vegetation growing out of the chimneys.
According to Cllr Finnerty, the imposing two-storey properties could each house a family of five or six if they became available on the market.
The councillor has raised the deteriorating state of these two houses with the HSE on a number of occasions but has not got any satisfactory response.
“They are just sitting on their hands,” he remarked.
“Shame on them at a time when people are really struggling for accommodation and these two dwellings could easily be brought back into use before they deteriorate any further,” Cllr Finnerty added.
The houses were originally owned by Gort Mental Health Services – but due to running costs, upkeep and a lack of clients it was decided to offload these properties which were then taken over by the HSE.
At the time it was expected that the HSE would put them to some use, but they have not been occupied since they acquired them and parts of the dwellings are now boarded up.
The properties have their own entrance, two large rear gardens and two car garages. However, on closer inspection, some of the tiles are falling off the roof and there is vegetation growing out of one of the chimneys. The exterior has also become overgrown.
Cllr Finnerty explained that the HSE had been approached by both himself and a number of concerned asking them to either sell them off or utilise them but the response has been vague.
“No state body should be allowed to leave property vacant at any time not to mind in a housing crisis that currently. It should be a case of use it or lose it.
“The Government are out of touch in relation to what is happening out there. This is just one example of property that could be occupied going to waste.
“If the amount of vacant properties were brought back into use, it would certainly go some way towards addressing the crisis,” he said.