Foscadh: Get ready for the new wave as Gaeilge

Dónall O Héalai shines in this ambiguous, compelling drama

Dónall O Héalai delivers a strong performance in Foscadh – the latest film to emerge from the current wave of exciting and varied Irish-language titles.
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Director: Sean Breathnach
Cert: 16
Genre: Drama
Starring: Dónall O Héalai, Fionnuala Flaherty, Cillian Ó Gairbhí, Macdara Ó Fátharta
Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins

Make way for the CINE4 juggernaut. Make way for Nuathonn Scannáin Ghaeilge.

Arriving ahead of the already heavily laurelled An Cailín Ciúin and Róise & Frank, Foscadh is the latest film to emerge from the current wave of exciting and varied Irish-language titles. This fine example of the incoming TG4 revolution is written and directed by first-time film-maker Seán Breathnach and produced by Paddy Hayes , both of whom have several TG4 credits.

Inspired by characters from the novel The Thing About December by Donal Ryan, the film poignantly chronicles rural male loneliness, neurodiversity, and windswept landscapes.

Set against the mountains of Connemara, Foscadh tells the story of John Cunliffe (Dónall O Héalai), a reclusive, cosseted, and entirely innocent 20-something farmer, who is suddenly thrust into the wider world when he is orphaned and left with a homestead to run. Creeping corporate interests – and a burgeoning wind technology empire – add to his burdens.


Despite the care and advice of Paddy (Macdara Ó Fátharta), a wise relative, the wider world is immediately unkind. A local thug soon descends upon John, who finds himself hospitalised. There’s a bright side. In the ward he befriends fellow patient Dave (Cillian Ó’Gairbhí) and sympathetic nurse Siobhán (Fionnuala Flaherty). These bonds have a profound impact on the previously sheltered John.

Working from Ryan’s source material, writer-director Breathnach takes a story that might have played like a Gaelic Marty and invests it with many ambiguities. Siobhán’s motivations in befriending John are as unclear as the protagonist’s condition. Is John a bit gormless, to use the vernacular, or is he managing a diagnosable disability? The reliable Ó Fátharta suggests the former; terrific and ambiguous performances from Ó’Gairbhí and Flaherty keep us guessing. Colm Hogan’s cinematography, which is as damp as it is gorgeous, adds to the calculated grey areas.

O Héalai is remarkable in the central role, which couldn’t be further from his fierce, determined turn in last year’s Arracht. A genuine Irish-language movie star is born.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic