Shown at the Central Scotland Documentary Festival (CSDF) on November 5, Ballymanus is a documentary about the 1943 explosion that killed nineteen people, mostly teenagers, in the Irish village of the same name in rural Donegal.
The film was also this year’s winner of the CSDF Audience Award, voted for by the attendees of the festival.
Watching the film…
Opening with a sequence of old photos and moody shots of the Irish coastal land, we hear from the locals about how Ballymanus once had a hard-working self-sufficient community that enjoyed the simple things in life; tending to the cows at day and dancing in the hall at night.
This all changed the day a WW2 mine washed up on the beach and exploded, wiping out what was described in the film as nearly an entire generation of young men.
The near hour-long documentary prioritises sensitivity and respect towards the victims and their families, interviewing with a gentle disposition and tenderly coaxing out the stories it seemed no one had previously cared about.
The film treats the loss of life with a beautiful sense of care, reflecting on the pain of the community as well as calling out the response and action, or lack thereof, from local and national authorities and the church.
Its curated score of emotional Irish folk paired with appropriate silences beautifully complimented the film, giving a sense of a deep-rooted Irish community and the pain and neglect they suffered because of the mine and the lack of justice given.
When speaking to the filmmakers, Patrick Sharkey and Séan Doupe, after the screening, Sharkey said they were surprised at the locals’ willingness to talk about the incident: “We were trepidatious about opening old wounds… but it was the people worst affected who wanted to speak about it”.
Doupe, when expressing that until informed by Sharkey he had no idea of the explosion, added: “I was shocked I hadn’t heard of it… It’s important that people know about it.”
Sharkey is the one of the two originally from the area, having been shown the beach by his grandfather whose fourteen-year-old cousin died due to the explosion, but Doupe said that over the course of filming he was treated with such warmth and affection from the locals “it came to feel like home”.
The personal history and genuine care from the filmmakers resulted in a polished final product which had several in the audience tearing up.
The beautiful cinematography, flattering score, and skillful flashbacks- which featured descendants of the victims- aided in the storytelling and truly helped the interviewees to shine.
It’s a documentary made with the utmost respect, telling the story of a genuinely heart-wrenchingly tragedy that should be known by significantly more people; hopefully this film continues to spread the word of what happened on that day in 1943 on Ballymanus beach to help honour the lives of those lost.
Featured Image Credit: ballymanusfilm on Instagram