First Encounters: Ciarín Scott and Mary Finnegan
‘We have the same idiotic way of looking at the world’
Friends Ciarín Scott and Mary Finnegan. Photograph: Alan Betson
Ciarín Scott is a documentary film maker whose work includes a film about her father, architect Michael Scott. Originally from Sandycove, Co Dublin, she lived in London for many years before returning to Ireland in 2013. Her documentary about Christina Noble premieres tonight
I think Mary and I were were about 10 or 12 when we met, through our love of ponies. I loved riding ponies, but I wasn’t the best rider in the world and she was a terrific rider. I kept my pony Billy in a stable at the back of my house, Geragh, in Sandycove. I loved Billy.
When I was in boarding school for a term, we discovered that Billy wasn’t very well and he was immediately retired. Mary and I drifted apart when I hadn’t got anything to ride.
Then I went abroad and Mary went to college and lived abroad for 13 years after she got married. We lost contact for years and years. Mary did the right things, got properly educated. I went in a very different direction: I went wild in school, the nuns didn’t know what to do with me. Eventually, I went to the Sorbonne where, instead of going to lectures, I started watching two or three films a day. That made me want to be a film-maker.
Back home, a job came up with George Morrison. Working with George was like going to mini-film school. Eventually I felt a need to expand, so I went to London, worked as an assistant editor on features, and just kept saying “I’m a director” until someone gave me a job. I did a lot of commercials, won a lot of awards, then made documentaries. Then I took a sabbatical.
Mary and I had run into each other on one of my visits home. What really cemented us properly was my brother’s book. My brother Anthony, who was schizophrenic, had written his autobiography, Is That Me? He died two days after finishing it. There was a launch and Mary came to it. She said, let’s have lunch, and we talked properly to each other, caught up with our lives.
I felt Mary could help me to do the documentary on my father [Michael Scott: A Changing Man] . When I was asked to do a film about Christina [Noble], I didn’t know who she was. I asked Mary, because she had interviewed her a few years before that. I met Christina on and off over five years. It’s a very raw and honest film that tells her and her family’s story, the story of her own siblings, which has never been told.
I moved back to Dún Laoghaire last year. Now Mary and I see each other a lot, we’re on the phone talking about projects, I show her works in progress. People are wary of journalists but I can say anything to Mary and know she will never repeat it. And Mary and I make each other laugh, we have the same idiotic way of looking at the world.
In A House That Ceased To Be, a feature documentary about Christina Noble directed by Ciarín Scott, premieres at 8pm tonight in the IFI, Dublin
Mary Finnegan is an Irish journalist who started her reporting career at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. She contributed to the ‘Chicago Tribune’ when she lived in that city and now supplies stories to CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ news programme. She is also a producer for German TV’s ZDF, working on Irish stories. She lives in Dalkey with her husband Des Burke-Kennedy
Ciarín and I were part of a gang of kids that used to keep and ride ponies around Sandycove, Dalkey, Killiney, Glenageary. Some would come out on bikes and we’d ride around on Killiney beach. Ciarín was sent off to boarding school and I took over riding her pony for a while. I didn’t think of Ciarín at all, it was her pony Billy. Also, she had a clatter of gorgeous older brothers. I do remember going to a party or two in her house.
We’re both Killiney convent school girls. I went to Cluny, Ciarín to Holy Child. Then we lost contact for years and years. She went to Paris and London. I became a PE teacher and went off to Jamaica. Then I went to Mexico; I was there for the 1968 Olympics. My father, the late Peter Finnegan, worked for Independent newspapers and suggested I write a piece. I did, then reported on student riots there and covered the equestrian events. I got a job in RTÉ 18 months later, but shortly after met and married my husband and went off to America. We were posted to Chicago for more than four years.
Ciarín and I were slightly in touch over the years. Then I met her coming out of the Roundwood Inn when she was home one time and we made a reconnection. I had a lot more in common with her: by now I was working for CBS’s 60 Minutes as an associate producer. A report I’d worked on about Veronica Guerin had won an award.
I decided I’d catch up with her, so I went to the launch of her brother Anthony’s autobiography more than 10 years ago. I persuaded her she should do a documentary on her dad. Ciarín said, “I’ll do it if you produce it.” It took two years to get going. We haven’t worked together since then, but Ciarín uses me as a sounding board and vice versa. And my son-in-law Steve O’Reilly is Ciarín’s cameraman.
I like to think I had an influence on Ciarín’s moving back home. I got a bit fed up, we’d be having late night meals and I’d say let’s have another drink, and she’d say, “I’m catching a flight back tomorrow morning.” We met for lunch last week, for her to show me her new house, and I came back with two story ideas, they just evolved.
Ciarín’s Christina Noble film is outstandingly good. I saw a few sides to the Christina that I had met [interviewing her] and this movie captures that. It’s a very original treatment of an extraordinary person.
I lost both my parents in recent years. I was looking after them for the past six years with my family. I could not have met anyone more insightful, more supportive and more compassionate than Ciarín: without trying, she just is. She’s just simpatico.
And she’s also the best company ever. I go to lunch or dinner with her and six or eight hours later, we haven’t got it said.