New Fr Des documentary to premiere at Galway Film Fleadh

Fr Des Wilson with Noelle Ryan
David Roy

HAVING previewed in work-in-progress form at Docs Ireland 2021, the finished version of a new film about the life and work of late west Belfast priest Fr Des Wilson will have its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh tomorrow evening.

Directed by Belfast film-maker Vincent Kinnaird and featuring narration by Stephen Rea, Fr Des – The Way He Saw It will be shown at the Pálás Cinema in Galway on July 7 at 8pm, followed by Q&A with the director and guests.

Affectionately known to many as 'the people's priest', Fr Des was driven by his faith and a socialist and humanitarian outlook, spending his life helping those in need even as the Troubles erupted.

Amid civil strife he followed the example set by Jesus in caring for the downtrodden. Despite being ostracised by the hierarchy of the Church for a period due to some of his activities, he continued to work for justice and against inequality until the end of his life in November 2019.

The film's narrative is primarily recounted in Fr Des's own words, with contributions from Stephen Rea. The Oscar-nominated actor was a great advocate of Des and was involved in a number of his community theatre productions over the years.

"Des wasn't afraid to highlight the fact that the authorities had a definite policy of segregating people as a key part of their system, and that the two tribes mythology – Catholics and Protestants as enemies – was a convenient way of keeping people in their place and keeping control of political boundaries," says Vincent Kinnaird.

"For decades, Des gathered opinions from and kept dialogue open with loyalist and republican working class groups. Such communications between these groupings has been hushed by mainstream media in Ireland and in Britain. But the connections were there."

The late Noelle Ryan, Frank Cahill and Fr Brian Mullan, who were massively important people in Fr Des's life, feature in the documentary through archive footage. Other contributors include Rev Brian Smeaton, a Church of Ireland minister on the Shankill road in 1969, civil rights activist, MP and community activist Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey, and Ballymurphy resident Eilish Rooney, a senior figure in the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University and a key figure at the Springhill Community House founded by Fr Des.

Kinnaird adds: "Des's incisive, well-informed, philosophical, practical, no-nonsense, humanitarian approach and perspective needs to be heard. For this reason the film has been made with many great film-makers as collaborators in collective effort.

"The interviews and sequences with Des in the documentary took place between 2011 and 2018 and form the narrative of the film, accompanied by other footage and archive gathered during this time."

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