Irish film's senior stars share tale of the century

Bessie Nolan in Older Than Ireland

TECHNICALLY this film should be called Older Than The Irish Free State, considering that 'Ireland’ is slightly older than 100, but let’s not quibble with what is a fascinating documentary.

After his entertaining 2013 film The Irish Pub – about old Irish bars and their quirky landlords – Alex Fegan's latest offering sees 30 Irish centenarians reflecting back on their unusually long lives.

From Kathleen Snavely (113) in upstate New York – officially the oldest ever Irish person – to Ireland’s oldest man (Roscommon's Luke Dolan, 108) and from Ellie Lawther (106) from Belfast to 101-year-old Dubliner Flann Brennan, we hear stories of schooldays, first kisses, the Irish Civil War and how the introduction of electricity impacted on the interviewees’ lives.

Because of their impressive age, most have outlived their partners and so there are sad reminiscences about loved ones and the moment they lost them.

If the star of The Irish Pub was the hilariously grumpy Paul Gartlan, the star of Older Than Ireland is Bessie Nolan, from Drimnagh in Dublin. She looks brilliant for her age and her style recalls New Yorker Iris Apfel, herself the star of a recent documentary (Iris); she has a great sense of humour and is as sharp as a tack.

Smoking away at the ripe old age of 103, she jokes: "I’m not on the register... God forgot all about me!"

Drawn from all corners of Ireland, some of the interviewees have brilliant names – Dorothea Findlater, May Spain, Kitty Fingleton, Dolly Atley, Winnifred Anderson, Madge Fanning...; they sound like fictional characters. Yet these are real people with fascinating insights into how Ireland has changed in the past century.

Jackie O’Sullivan, from Kerry, speaks about his time in the IRA and how he was glad to get out of it. This is a man who personally met Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera.

Galway girls Mary Kilroy and Margaret Kelly are great value. Margaret says that, "the washing machine’s the best thing that ever came out" while Mary has a deep think about the current Pope and concludes: "He’s talking a lot about gay people lately. You wouldn’t know what he’d do."

Belfast native Ellie Lawther says there’s no secret to her longevity apart from keeping busy, while Madge Fanning keeps saying she never gets excited about anything; maybe that’s her secret.

It’s a great premise for a documentary and it’s a fantastic film.

:: Older Than Ireland opens at QFT Belfast tomorrow and runs until Thursday October 8 ( See our interview with director Alex Fegan in tomorrow's Weekend section.


Documentary. Bessie Nolan, Ellie Lawther, Mary Kilroy, Jackie O’Sullivan, Flann Brennan, Rose O’Halloran, Kathleen Snavely

Director: Alex Fegan



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