‘I am 12. I don’t know what my career will be’ – Catherine Clinch, star of An Cailín Ciúin

Actor shines in Irish-language film that secured spot at ‘big three’ European film festivals

Catherine Clinch, 12-year-old star of An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl), the first Irish-language film to play at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival, was expecting a few days of red carpets and noisy premieres. That is not how things worked out. She and her family travelled to the German capital. Then Covid reared its head. There was some confusion with an initial positive result. Confirmation soon arrived.

“My mom and I were running around trying to find a test,” she says. “Eventually we found a place and that one was positive. So we didn’t end up going to the festival or anything. We ended up isolating.”

So her first experience of a major film festival was room service in a Berlin hotel? "They didn't even have room service," Tom Clinch, her father, says with a tolerant laugh.

Colm Bairéad's excellent film, which opens the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on Wednesday, tells the story of a young girl who learns vital life lessons while spending a summer in the country with relatives. Tensions eventually open up to reveal the grimmest of secrets. Based on a short story by Claire Keegan, the film had already drawn attention by securing its spot at one of the "big three" European festivals (Cannes and Venice complete the trifecta). A triumphant premiere followed.


An Cailín Ciúin went on to win the grand prix of the Generation Kplus International Jury and receive a special mention from the children’s jury.

Educated at Scoil Bhríde in Ranelagh, Catherine Clinch has some showbusiness blood in her veins. Her mother is the internationally successful singer Méav Ní Mhaolchatha – identified as just “Méav” on her album sleeves – but the starring role still came as a surprise.


“I had musical theatre lessons and stuff,” she says from isolation in Berlin. “But I have never been in anything like this before. I go to an Irish-language school. They sent out things to all kids who go to Irish-language school to find someone who spoke fluent Irish. On my audition, because of Covid, it was recorded at home. And then we sent it off to them. It was very near the beginning of Covid when they were doing the audition.”

She later did an audition in person. Her parents then got the good news.

“They found out before me obviously,” she says. “When we found out we were about to go on holiday to Cork. They sat me down and told me I had the part. I was very excited.”

Produced for Cine4, an Irish-language partnership between Screen Ireland, TG4 and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, An Cailín Ciúin melds beautiful, fluid cinematography in with superb performances from Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett. The budget was not enormous, but one's first encounter with a professional film set is always a shock. The noise. The people. The endless waiting.

“To be honest, I didn’t really know anything,” Catherine Clinch says. “It was actually a lot harder than I expected. I spent my entire day there. I missed six weeks of school. I had a tutor, but I didn’t manage to get much work done because I was in most of the scenes. I was basically working all the time. I wasn’t expecting that. I knew it would be hard, but I think it was a lot more challenging than I was expecting.”

And all this was happening under Covid restrictions. Nell Roddy, co-founder of Break Out Pictures, the film's Irish distributors, tells us An Cailín Ciúin will arrive in commercial cinemas "later in the year". It now moves on to its prime position as the opening title of the 20th Dublin International Film Festival and then to the busy Glasgow Film Festival. Other festival slots are likely to follow. Such premieres are always major events, but there is particular focus on the first night. What does Catherine Clinch expect of the red-carpet shenanigans in Dublin?


“Yeah, I’m quite excited. Obviously I would have been more prepared,” she says, pondering her failure to make it to the Berlin premiere. “I’ve never been to a red-carpet event before. It was supposed to happen here, but I couldn’t go. So this is even more important now. It is the only chance I will get because I missed the other one.”

This is a fine debut film performance from Catherine Clinch. The whole film revolves around her and she maintains a singular focus throughout. Yet it sounds as if the opportunity came out of the blue. Does she have any plans to act in the future? Might she make a career of it? Is this an unfair question to ask someone so young?

“I mean. . . hopefully,” she says with impressive calm. “Obviously I am 12. So I don’t really know what my career will be. But I would enjoy it.”

An Cailín Ciúin opens The Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on Wednesday, February 23rd