The quiet man
If you tread softly, it’s easy to sneak up on and be amazed by an almost forgotten Ireland, co-writer and star of Silence, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde, tells TARA BRADY
TIRED OF THE explosive exploits of superheroes? Bored with monolithic tentpole releases?
There is another way. This weekend, Silence will descend on selected cinemas. The latest film from veteran documentarian Pat Collins follows a young sound engineer, returning to Ireland after a 15-year absence, as he seeks out the country’s quietest landscapes. Our hero’s Luddite-friendly mission to escape all man-made sound takes him to Inishbofin, Galtymore, the Burren, Connemara, Ballycroy and Tory Island.
The cinema, in turn, is transformed into a contemplative, otherworldly space.
“It’s pared back,” nods Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde, Silence’s star and co-writer.
“The themes that are explored are subtle things like loss, our attraction to landscape, reconciling with the past, and language. Too much drama would have pushed those out to the edges. It’s like a meditation. Walk into the film and you have space. The dialogue is sparse. You’re not bombarded with what Hollywood might throw at you. Pat was very courageous in what he did.”
In common with his director – Pat Collins edited Film West and programmed the Galway Film Fleadh before moving into the documentary sector – Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde is a polymath. Born in Gaoth Dobhair, Donegal, Mac Giolla Bhríde worked as a civil engineer for 10 years before plumping for the road less travelled. The son of writer, educator and sean-nós singer Nellie Nic Giolla Bhríde and the brother of Corn Uí Riada sean-nós champion Dominic Mac Giolla Bhríde, Eoghan had a yen for the arts long before he made the jump.
“I had always been writing and working on short stories, but being a civil engineer as well, it just wasn’t working out,” he says. “It’s hard coming in from a 12-hour shift and starting work on something else. I just didn’t have the headspace. I had to bite the bullet. So I bought a ticket to Mexico and spent a year in Central America writing.”
Was the sean-nós an influence on his work?
“I think so. Growing up you often thought your language was in some ways inferior to other languages, that it couldn’t describe things like other languages with bigger lexicons. Especially English, because its so immediate and in-your-face and has so many words. Then you start to learn songs. And they really, really attracted me to Irish. The sean nós opened up new ways to express yourself or to be descriptive.”
Since Eoghan’s 2001 sojourn down Mexico way he has written two collections of short stories, Idir Feoil is Leathar (2002) and Díbeartaigh (2005), and founded Éabhlóid, a boutique multimedia imprint that publishes books and produces documentaries. Their newest film, Ar Leirg na Gaoithe, a portrait of Donegal fiddler John Doherty, will be broadcast by TG4 later this year.
There’s more en route. We catch up with Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde at the end of lengthy bus trip from Donegal to Dublin. It’s the first leg of a journey to Ecuador where the young multihyphenate plans to write his third collection of stories. “I didn’t know how busy I was until I started trying to get away,” he laughs. “Everything we do is small, so it just seems to tick along.”