Memory Trace

In 2005 a French production of a science fiction film, Memory Trace, was about to start shooting in Co. Leitrim, which was to be its main location. At the last minute one of their main financial backers pulled out and they had no choice but to put the project on hold. Hopefully they will get to return to it someday but I did find some information and what may have been a mocked up title image from it scattered through the Internet. From this I have managed to piece together what appears to have been its basic plot. I couldn’t find out who wrote the screenplay but the science fiction writer James P. Hogan (1914 -2010), who would have been living in Dromahair, Co. Leitrim at the time, appears to have been involved in someway (perhaps as a script consultant) but may well have even come up with the original story (but I cannot confirm this).

The story was to center around one main character, a former female journalist that slowly comes to the realisation that her memory has been wiped as she was about to go public with a potentially worldwide story who has now been placed in a life she never wished for. The society she inhabits appears on the surface to be free and democratic but is actually very tightly controlled behind the scenes by corporations through the State and media. We see their agents busily occupied with keeping the population within a narrow bandwidth of consciousness and approved trains of thought. The practice is that each country has variations on this set up but the same corporations are in charge and each have a dumping ground for various types of undesirables that have glimpsed or somehow discovered this truth. Burnt out agents of control get placed there as well. A person’s memory of this knowledge would be first wiped and replaced with a new but misleading revelation, in this case an urge to go back to nature. They then tell their friends and family they are moving to the countryside to get away from it all to pursue this simpler life. From behind the scenes any obstacle to this is seen to be removed and before they know it they and their families, if they have one, will be living there. They would then be monitored for a short period but if all seemed well they would be left to their own devices from that stage on.

In the story the main character keeps meeting other people like herself that all know deep down that something is very wrong with their lives and the world at large. They do experience traces of the removed memory from time to time but can’t put their finger on what the root problem might be. Implanting the desire to live sustainably turns out to be something of a self defeating goal which leads to most people’s energy being spent on keeping food on the table and basic survival. With her however, gradually and through living her everyday life in this way she again comes to the same realisations as before. By befriending a former agent who is confused about which reality he is in (we never truly learn if he is deactivated or not) she also understands what must have happened to her the last time she reached this point. She also meets a French national who is convinced of a supernatural reality and an ex-scientist who is equally convinced of an objective scientific reality. She now has to figure out how to get anyone to listen to what she knows and wonders what will happen to her if she does. The metaphor of the rusting motorcycle (once so full of energy and can be so again if restored) seems apt both for the story of the film and in a way aspects of the county itself.

While Leitrim was not to be identified by name in the film, the thinking may have been that as it was already marginalized, mysterious, isolated and badly represented politically (the county is split into two constituencies and even includes parts of Sligo and Roscommon), a low population, plus an over supply of rural housing it would be an obvious candidate for this place if such a thing were true.

I couldn’t figure out how the story progresses from this point on but it does end with her murder and her information getting released in a disguised form on the internet. Someone clicking on it is the way the film ends. The film was to leave open whether what she puts online is actually the truth or just her own interpretation of it. (Stephen Rennicks)

A postcard and print of this image can be purchased at this link.

Anthony Trollope in Leitrim

In the 1840s the writer Anthony Trollope was living in Drumsna where he came across the inspiration for his first, and some consider his best novel, The MacDermots of Ballycloran (1847). In his biography I found the following text by him on the house in question.

“I was located at a little town called Drumsna, or rather village, in the county Leitrim, where the postmaster had come to some sorrow about his money; and my friend John Merivale was staying with me for a day or two. As we were taking a walk in that most uninteresting country, we turned up through a deserted gateway, along a weedy, grass-grown avenue, till we came to the modern ruins of a country house. It was one of the most melancholy spots I ever visited. I will not describe it here, because I have done so in the first chapter of my first novel. We wandered about the place, suggesting to each other causes for the misery we saw there, and, while I was still among the ruined walls and decayed beams, I fabricated the plot of The MacDermots of Ballycloran.”

He began the story in 1843 and completed it in 1845, just as the Irish famine was beginning to take hold over the country, but it was not published until it was at its height in 1847. In some respects the story could be seen to parallel today. It chronicles the tragic demise of a landowning family who live in a dilapidated mansion in Co. Leitrim, whose mortgage (enforced by the vulgar builder Joe Flannelly) cannot be kept up. By the stories conclusion the family have had no choice but to abandon the property. When Trollope originally came on the actual house it was relatively modern and was an abandoned mansion. Of course today there are so many similarly desolate and melancholic looking abandoned mansion style houses, which were designed to imitate the imagined past glories of just these landowning classes. Today I was surprised to find the original houses two massive gables still standing and covered in thick stems of ivy. There is still a pile of stone and brick left over from the main body of the building, which was probably very valuable during our more recent building boom. Perhaps in this way the bad luck from this building was transferred to others and maybe this will also be their fate too?

The site is now part of the signposted Anthony Trollope trail which interestingly uses both the name of the original house, Headford (also the townland) and the fictional one. It strikes me that this is also a perfect example of one of the things the Guide is trying to explore. How someone can simply invent a story about a certain location and 150 years later it has become part of an accepted cultural tourist trail. Over time the more poignant and recorded fictional story or retelling of the ‘facts’ winning over the ‘truth’ everytime. (Stephen Rennicks)

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While I was there to take the photo I spoke with the artist Natalia Beylis for her daily sound diary The Sunken Hum. You can listen to me here.

Jerry Garcia visit

In 1993 Jerry Garcia (1942 – 1995) of the Grateful Dead visited the west of Ireland on a two week sketching and painting holiday. One of his paintings from that time, Irish Tree, can be seen at this link. I had heard he was spotted out one night in Monica’s pub in Drumshanbo on this trip and that he told the young guy who recognized him that up to that point he had gone totally unnoticed. He admitted that while he was happy to be anonymous it was also kind of nice to talk with someone who knew who he was as well. He is thought to have hired a car in Dublin airport and probably stayed at Paddy Macs B&B just along the street from the pub they were in. He is said to have been really taken with the town’s high street and Monica’s pub in particular and asked a lot of questions about both. He also talked about his father being half Irish and how he had never visited Ireland before but had often imagined what it might be like.

Late in the night he is said to have made a strange analogy between Leitrim and the LSD experience. They no doubt had a very profound conversation from that point on, one sentence of which the guy remembered and wrote down on a card which he brought into Monica the next night. He must have managed to convince her of the importance of the American customer from the night before as she did agree to put it on the wall behind the bar. Sadly it’s no longer there but I’m told it read ‘“What I got from my first trip was that my little personal fiction was just that. It was a fiction.” Jerry Garcia, Drumshanbo 1993’ (Stephen Rennicks)

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Good Brick

A lone used but still perfectly formed Glenboig brick is said to have materialized somewhere on the iron rich shore of Lough Allen near Cartronbeg during the winter of 2011. For a week or more people who know their brick came to see it from miles around and marvel but none could bear to touch, hold or retrieve it from the water. As word spread and more came to look, just as mysteriously as it appeared it was suddenly gone.

I did manage to locate a picture taken of the brick and did some research on the business that made it. They were manufactured by a company using that name in the town of Glenboig, Lancashire, UK between the 1800’s and 1980. They are said to have been the oldest and highest quality brick manufacturer then in operation anywhere in the world. They were the choice of any true craftsman builder and their use would elevate any building rich or poor to a higher level of construction. I also found this revealing text about the daunting characteristics of good brick.

Good building brick should be sound, free from cracks and flaws, also from stones, or lumps of any kind. Lumps of lime, however small, are especially dangerous; they slake when the brick is exposed to moisture, and split it to pieces. A small proportion of lime finely divided and disseminated throughout the mass is an advantage, as it affords the flux necessary for the proper vitrification of the brick. In examining a brick, lumps of any kind should be regarded with suspicion and tested. In order to ensure good brickwork the bricks must be regular in shape and uniform in size. Their edges should be square, straight, and sharply defined. Their surfaces should be even, not hollow; not too smooth, or the mortar will not adhere to them. The proportion of water that a brick will absorb is a very good indication of its quality. Insufficiently burnt bricks absorb a large proportion and are sure to decay in a short time. It is generally stated in books that a good brick should not absorb more than 1/15 of its weight of water. The absorption of average bricks is, however, generally about 1/6 of their weights, and it is only very highly vitrified bricks that take up so little as 1/13 or 1/15. Good bricks should be hard, and burnt so thoroughly that there is incipient vitrification all through the brick. This may be seen by examining a fractured surface, or the surface may be tested with a knife, which will make hardly any impression upon it unless the brick is underburnt. A brick thoroughly burnt and sound will give out a ringing sound when struck against another. A dull sound indicates a soft or shaky brick. A well-burnt brick will be very hard, and possesses great power of resistance to compression.

(Stephen Rennicks)

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Sex Pistols Relic Found

One of the most sought after Sex Pistols relics is thought to have turned up briefly in the antique and secondhand section of The Cultural Quarters in Ballinamore sometime in 2012. It is said to have been the 8-track version of Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols which was used in the film The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle (1980). In a scene Sue Catwoman gets into a chauffer driven car and he is seen slamming it into an 8-track car player for her. The film itself is described as a ‘mockumentary’ which created many of the myths surrounding the band today. The man who donated it to the shop with some other more ordinary items brought its provenance to the staff’s attention. He said that he had bought a box of props from the film very cheaply at a receiver’s auction (Glitterbest the Sex Pistols management company did go into receivership in 1979) when he lived in the UK in the early 80’s. This was all that he had left from it and he hoped it might bring in an extra few quid for them. It did indeed quickly sell to an unknown person, perhaps for 15 euro I heard, but it is likely to be still in the county. I did some research and found there was only one 8-track version of the album and it was actually pressed in Canada in 1977 by the Pistols US label Warner Bros and would fetch about 100 euro today. The one from the film could make anything at auction however but without any proof to show it was the actual one used it becomes just like the rest. It was a nice find for someone (and a bargain) but hard to know if it’s the real one. I’d like to believe it was. (Stephen Rennicks)  

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Reynolds of Lough Scur

A story is still told today in Co. Leitrim of a notoriously cruel chieftain of the name of Reynolds. He lived in the 1700’s on the banks of Lough Scur near the village of Keshkerrigan. It is said that the way he gained dominance in the region was that he invited all the other chieftains to his house under the pretence of holding a meeting so they could settle disputes by discussion and not violence. Once he had them all present he promptly cut off their heads and in this way could be said to have succeeded in his stated aim of having no more disputes. He also had a jail built for his enemies on what has become known as Jail Island. I actually heard about and went looking for the jail but was surprised to find his residence still in existence as well. It is on a tip of land adjacent to the lake with Jail Island just 30 metres or so behind it. I could just about make out its overgrown ruins from the shore. I found a picture of the ruins taken in the late 1880’s by Leland Lewis Duncan who was a regular visitor to nearby Annadale House. Duncan’s other photos of the county can be found in The Face of Time 1862-1923 Photographs of County Leitrim (1995). Reynolds house I found is marked on the ordnance survey map as ‘Fortified House’. From the picture I took you can see it is totally covered in trees and ivy and is in fact being held together by the thickest stems of ivy I have ever seen, which are also slowly strangling it as well. There were at least 2 floors to the building and parts of the upper floor, some sections of the walls and roof are pilled high inside it. The walls are so thick that at first I wondered if it was in fact the jail (see bottom picture).

I did get an eerie feeling inside but maybe only because I knew some of the history. It struck me as an almost forgotten place, somewhere that no one would want to visit or miss when gone. I had great difficulty finding a safe path to it along the thin water logged strip of land you have to walk across to reach it. There is of course no signage to identify it or explain what it was, which is very common in Ireland. This fact alone makes it almost inevitable that people need to create a story (if one doesn’t already exist) to put such ruins in some context. (Stephen Rennicks)

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1798 – The Year of the French

‘The Year of the French’ is a phrase that I have been familiar with since I was 9 as a TV mini series was made with that title and subject beside where I grew up outside Navan, Co. Meath. It chronicled the failed Irish rebellion of 1798. For one of its locations they used the local big house, Ardbraccan House, its avenue and the disused church which adjoins its grounds. I watched the series the following year it was shown on RTE and today can remember little or nothing of it. I do however have very vivid memories of watching the week or so they spent filming. Only through researching this article I realised it was the great Robert Stephens (1931-1995) who I met at this time, who must have been one of the principles of the cast. It’s very difficult to know for sure but he may have been playing the part of John Moore who joined the French forces and was made president of the short lived ‘Republic of Connaught’. As my family lived so close to the church we were welcome onto the set and standing at the back waiting in full costume and somehow exuding star quality that even I could recognize was someone who to me was an old man (he would have been 50). I could also tell that the crew were a little bit nervous and in awe of him but maybe this was just my perception. Perhaps for this reason he talked with me, it struck me he was relieved to get to talk light heartedly as you would to a child. I remember his very dignified English accent and that he was very self-depreciating and one line I remember him telling me that, “this acting is a funny business”.

The series has never been repeated on TV and has yet to be made available on video or DVD. I couldn’t even find a still or any image from it online (only this reference) so it is really like it has disappeared almost without a trace and exists only in the memory of those who made it, saw it or heard about it. Which is fitting as the latter way is how the period of Irish history the production tried to portray is remembered now anyway.

An important aspect of A Guide to Here Nor There is very much about how fiction is inherent in any retelling of history and how that becomes a very subjective truth in the process, history then like acting is a very funny business indeed. Therefore my following brief description of what happened can’t tell you what really happened but only indicate what may have. I would also recommend Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory (2009) by Guy Beiner which tackles just this subject.

A troop of just under a thousand French soldiers led by General Humbert landed at Killala on 22nd August 1798 and joined up with many rebels from the non sectarian United Irishmen. They had some victories against the English at first and even declared a ‘Republic of Connaught’ after one early battle in Castlebar. Leaving a small force behind they marched through Co. Mayo and into Co. Sligo where they were taken by surprise outside Collooney on 5th September. Bartholomew Teeling bravely managed to kill one of the English gunners and this turned the fray to Humbert’s forces favour. A statue of Teeling marks the spot today. They next marched to Dromahair where they crossed the border into Co. Leitrim in the early morning of Thursday the 6th. They had a short rest and are said to have drank wine in Villiers castle there. Humbert split his army and sent a small advance guard north towards Manorhamilton but this was only to give the impression to the British they were going north, they actually turned south and went to Drumkeeran and presumably the other group rejoined them by a circuitous route. The advance guard of the pursuing army caught up with the rear of the march along this part of the route. In fact they were hot on their trail and fighting with the rear column at points all the way through Co. Leitrim. Many Irish volunteers joined the march as it passed by and Leitrim was no exception.

At the front Humbert had time to camp on high ground in front of Drumkeerin village. The local people are said to have brought them milk, meat and potatoes and they were very impressed with the hospitality of the people there. They left again and continued south to Drumshanbo. A second army was now coming at them from the west and had reached Carrick-on-Shannon. Humbert had to get to the base of Lough Allen at Drumshanbo or risk being trapped. By midday of 7th September they reached the relative safety of the town and are said to have rested on the high ground where Laird’s jam factory would one day be and is now an industrial park (The Food Hub) which has the best view in the town in my opinion.

They managed to repulse the attack in Drumshanbo but didn’t delay long and left the town via the hilly road. I live on this road and knowing this now I cannot help but imagine what it must have looked like to see them marching past my front door pursued by the English, fighting as they went. The farmhouse I own appears on very early maps just after this period so it may well have been there at that time. An even more ancient ring-fort is also very close-by and is positioned to overlook the road which may also testify to its age. They next got to the townland of Roscarbin and went along the road skirting Lough Scur (where a battle is said to have also taken place), then through Keshkerrigan and onto Castlefore. Things were quickly falling apart by now, certainly in the rear and the skirmishes were getting bigger as the pursuing advance guard caught up, overtook and killed any stragglers they came across.

Humbert was trying to get to Granard where he thought that up to 2000 United Irishmen volunteers would be waiting but unknown to him they had already been defeated in a battle there. In the townland of Cloodrumin Humbert again split his forces to confuse the enemy of his intentions. One division got to Fenagh and fought a battle there before joining up again and fighting another battle at Carrigallen. They got through and made it to Cloone where they rested. Tradition has it that they used the iron gates from the graveyard as a grill to cook meat. The second approaching army had gotten as far as Mohill and they were still being closely pursued from behind. This combined force came to 23000 and by now Humberts forces were something under 2000. They were finally caught up with for the Battle of Ballinamuck on Saturday morning the 8th where their defeat was swift and inevitable.

They had just left Co. Leitrim, while they had been here there had still been a vain hope, but this was the last battle of the campaign. A much more detailed but still subjective version of them in Ireland can be read here. Another good guide to this subject is by local historian Father Liam Kelly in his A Flame Now Quenched Rebels Frenchmen in Leitrim.

The French had come in too small numbers and too late. If things had turned out differently the country might be a very different place today (we would have had our revolution earlier along with France and America). Perhaps this failure and the heroic myths and legends that would grew around it in the retelling were necessary to inspire others to success in the years to come? (Stephen Rennicks)