New film celebrates Irish ‘queen of Paraguay’

1,000 guests attend glittering premiere, the social event of year in capital Asunción

It is safe to say no other Irish film this year will have a first viewing quite like that of Eliza Lynch – Queen of Paraguay , the documentary about the epic life of the Co Cork woman who became the national heroine of this South American nation.

On a balmy Wednesday night in the capital Asunción, over 1,000 guests glided down a 400m red carpet staked out by reporters from Paraguay’s television stations covering live what was by general consensus the city’s social event of the year.

As searchlights danced in the night sky above, Mili Britez – Paraguay's answer to Joan Rivers – excitedly interviewed a slightly stunned-looking Maria Doyle Kennedy whose moving interpretation of Lynch looking back on her life from beyond the grave is the film's emotional heart.

Courageous and contradictory
The Irish actress channelled Lynch's famous sense of style arriving in a vintage indigo dress and stunning floral headpiece. She described her character as "a courageous, controversial, contradictory, complicated woman . . . I was haunted by her. It was a remarkable life."


The evening was a private screening hosted by Conor McEnroy, the Wicklow man who owns one of this country's biggest banks and whose financial backing made the documentary about one of the few links between Ireland and Paraguay possible. Joining him was the country's president, Federico Franco, as well as two of Lynch's great-grandchildren.

The film is based on The Lives of Eliza Lynch , the authoritative 2009 biography by Michael Lillis and Ronan Fanning, which rescued the reputation of a woman who for more than a century was labelled an avaricious, war-mongering prostitute by her detractors.

Directed by Alan Gilsenan, it explores her relationship with Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López and chillingly recounts the history of the cataclysmic war he launched against his neighbours – Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay – which left him and two-thirds of Paraguay's population dead by the time it ended in 1870.

Scarred history
The war was Paraguay's own holocaust, leaving deep scars that still haunt its relations with Argentina and especially Brazil to this day. Speaking to the audience after the screening, Lynch's biographer Lillis said Paraguay, like Ireland, "knows the problems of small countries having powerful neighbours".

Mr Franco praised the film and recalled Tony Blair's apology for the British government's failings during the Famine. In an interview with The Irish Times, he called on Brazil to make a "gesture" to help "cauterise" Paraguay's wounds from the conflict by following the example of Argentina and Uruguay and returning its long-held trophies of war.

Epic tale
The film's producer, Stuart Switzer, expects an official world premiere at a major film festival later this year, with Irish audiences able to see it in early 2014. But he hopes his involvement with Lynch does not end there and is in talks with European studios about turning the Cork woman's story into a television drama series.

“It is an epic tale,” says Switzer. “They have done big things with the Eva Perón story and I believe this one is bigger, better and wider.”

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America