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Ballymun Lullaby

Ballymun Lullaby

Released 16 December 2011
Director Frank Berry

Ron Cooney, Tara O'Brien, Darren Scully, Wayne Beatty, Glen Hansard, Fr. Peter McVerry, David Brophy, Tony Fallon, Daragh O'Toole
Producer(s) Frank Berry
Origin Ireland
Running Time 80 minutes
Genre Documentary
Rating TBC

Local pride.

When it comes to images of urban deprivation in Ireland, nothing beats Ballymun. Moyross in Limerick may come close but the flats in Ballymun have always been the epitome of the modern day slum, at least in the minds of the media. The actual people who live in Ballymun have always protested about their area’s depiction as a hellish, no-go area. They’ve spoken about the strong sense of community in the estate, despite the social problems. Well finally we have a film to give these people a voice.

This film opens with a concise sequence detailing how Ireland’s only ever high-rise housing estate came about. It also depicts how, due to incompetent planners and negligent government, it promptly fell to ruin. It briefly shows some of the massive social problems they created, among them drugs, violence and anti-social behaviour. This eventually led to the Ballymun Regeneration Programme. Six of the seven tower blocks have been demolished now but the programme has stalled as result of the economic downturn.

An interested observer to all this is Ron Cooney, who has been working in the area for the last fifteen years as the driving force behind the Ballymun Music Programme. The programme was started in order to give children in Ballymun free music lessons. Though it started with Cooney teaching only one class how to play the recorder, it has now grown to establish junior orchestras, wind bands and choirs. The programme now runs in nine national schools in the area and also provides support for second and third level music students.

In 2008, the programme approached composer Darragh O’Toole to write an original suite to be performed by the children of Ballymun. O’Toole worked with local teenagers who contributed lyrics to three of the four pieces in the suite. This film centres on the production of the album, which would be called Ballymun Lullaby.

Mainly the film centres on Cooney as he goes about his working day. A hugely charismatic, larger-than-life figure, Cooney is clearly a force to be reckoned with. His interaction with the school kids is a hoot. “Will you get your sister to give me a call later?” he asks one young girl. Then turning to the camera he says, “Jaysus, that didn’t sound good, did it?”

The film also follows three locals, Darren, who wrote some of the lyrics, Tara, a fifteen-year-old flautist and Wayne, a singer who’s a graduate of the programme. They all express their pride in the area and a feeling that it has an unfairly negative reputation. There are also contributions from Fr. Peter McVerry and former Ballymun resident Glen Hansard, the Frames musician, about the area and the perceptions towards it, largely generated by the media. We see how the CD is produced and the suite performed by the children’s orchestra in a sell-out performance in the Helix theatre in early 2009.

This is a terrific documentary that dares to take a positive look at one of the most denigrated areas in the state. That said, it doesn’t dodge the many problems the area still faces and Darren and Wayne describe the harassment they can face on a daily basis.

However the main tone is one of positivity and you can’t help but be moved as the children perform the pieces, the standout of which is 'The World is Your Oyster'. Ron Cooney is the star of the show though, revealing himself as both a great character but also a true hero, devoting his life to working with people that many in society write off automatically.

This is a sweet, heart-warming film that deserves a wide audience and you’d hope that it will raise awareness of the CD and inspire people to get out and buy it for Christmas.

- Jim O’Connor