Journalist and director of 'Rocky Road to Dublin'
PETER LENNON:PETER LENNON, who has died aged 81, spent almost 50 years working as a journalist in Ireland, France and Britain, writing mainly for the Guardian. In 1967 he took time off to direct the warts-and-all documentary film Rocky Road to Dublin,which, on its release, was hailed in this newspaper as “original, funny, often poetic and altogether the liveliest film yet made about this country”.
Made in the immediate wake of the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, it posed the question: “What do you do with your revolution once you’ve got it?”
John Huston, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Seán Ó Faoláin and Douglas Gageby were among those interviewed for the film, which includes an unintentionally hilarious account of a day in the life of the late Fr Michael Cleary in which he explains his reasons for being celibate. The film censor told Lennon: “Since there is no sex in the film, Peter, there is nothing I can do against you.”
A panellist on the Late Late Showsaid the film had been made with “communist money”. The Irish Pressmocked its maker: “Poor Peter. For him all is blackness here, from birth to grave. He fears he is wandering through a dark tunnel, groping through a tunnel of no love, with no contraceptives, no real freedom.”
The organisers of the Cork Film Festival refused to show the film in competition, and after a short run at the International Film Theatre on St Stephen’s Green, it disappeared from view.
It was restored by the Irish Film Board in 2004 and made available on DVD the following year.
Born in Dublin in 1930, Lennon was one of three children of Peter Lennon and his wife Delia (née Fenton). He grew up in Rathmines and attended Synge Street CBS.
He worked for the Dublin Savings Bank before taking up journalism, contributing articles to The Irish Times, Evening Mailand Sunday Press.A spell in the midlands prompted him to broaden his horizons.
He settled in Paris, after visiting the city in 1955. Living in cheap hotels, he taught English and freelanced for Irish newspapers. He also wrote short stories for the New Yorkerand Atlantic Monthly.
In the early 1960s he was hired by the Guardianto write on the arts in France. He formed a lasting friendship with Samuel Beckett, and described meeting the writer for a drink. “We drank Irish whiskey, no more than three glasses. Shortly after seven he went home. My strongest impression was that I had been with a nice man, an experience which leaves you with a reassured feeling which is very underrated.”
A less pleasant experience was when Peter O’Toole threatened to throw him down the stairs of the bar in which they were drinking, after the actor took exception to being described as “Liverpool Irish”.
Assigned to cover the Dublin Theatre Festival in the mid-1960s, Lennon was told by friends and acquaintances that Ireland had become a more liberal society.
On examination, however, he found that censorship, insularity and the dominance of the clergy still prevailed. He wrote accordingly in a series of articles for the Guardian, which he decided to follow with a documentary film.
It was filmed over 16 days on a budget of £20,000, put up by a friend of Lennon’s. Raoul Coutard, who had worked with Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, was the cinematographer.
Rocky Road to Dublinwas chosen as an official French entry for the critics’ week section of the Cannes Film Festival in 1968. The festival came to an abrupt end when French film directors caused its closure in solidarity with the student revolt – but not before Lennon’s film was shown. It was subsequently shown in such outposts of insurrection as the Sorbonne and the Renault factory in Paris. Lennon had amusing stories to tell of fights breaking out among the audiences as they debated the film’s revolutionary credentials.
The film won praise in Cahiers du Cinéma, and the New York Times’Paris correspondent wrote: “ Rocky Road to Dublinmakes it outrageous, if not impossible, for outsiders to ever again see Ireland only in comforting clichés.”
After the Guardianallowed his contract to lapse in 1969, Lennon successfully sued the paper. He moved to London where he wrote for the Sunday Timesand then the Listener. He resumed contributing to the Guardianin the mid-1980s and was rehired on a contract in 1989. He retired in 2005.
His wife Eeva, son Samuel, daughter Suzanne and brothers John and Tony survive him.
Peter Gerald Lennon: born February 28th, 1930; died March 18th, 2011