The Silver Branch – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by Katrina Costello
Stars: Patrick McCormack, John Joe Conway
The karst limestone scenery of the Burren is a harsh but magnificent, unique landscape. Patrick McCormack was born in its midst close by Mullaghmore mountain. As a youth, he was painfully shy but through boxing, he found his confidence, married, raised a family of five and apart from farming the land, made time to reflect on the big things of life which encompassed him. He committed his thoughts in the form of poems to the page.
Katrina Costello reveals McCormack’s enduring fascination with the beauty of the natural world which embraces him on a daily basis. She photographs the magic of a flower opening, a bird feeding her chick and much else besides. It is this magic and the surroundings in which it happens which fascinates McCormack. Its ability to repeat itself through the seasons further grips McCormack as he farms and tends his livestock. It is a delicate balance. Increasingly few men and women are able to endure the hardships which are the flip side of this unforgiving landscape. It requires a community of spirit and McCormack shows by his frequent visits to his elderly bachelor neighbour John Joe Conway that his immediate community is of immense importance to him. However, he is fully conscious that the way of life that he loves is threatened and if it disappears a vast tract of human experience will be lost forever. This thought pains him.
However, in the late nineteen nineties another unexpected threat arose to disrupt his existence. The proposal by the Office of Public Works to build an interpretative centre on the site of Mullaghmore. McCormack was aghast. The idea had widespread support in the community but he and a small band of others questioned the wisdom of what was being proposed and took legal action to stop it. Costello tells that David and Goliath story which McCormack and his supporters eventually won. But it came at a price as the tranquility of the community was divided into pro and anti which is sadly inevitable in a dispute which centred on two very different views of the world. If Costello is to be criticised for this excellent documentary it is that she does not set out what the benefits of the proposal were as seen by the OPW and its local supporters. The documentary as regards the interpretative centre is as seen by McCormack and his small group.
Costello captures the toughness of the life which McCormack has made his own. It is a life of constant physical labour but with the glory of an unspoilt magnificent landscape to lift your spirit. Notwithstanding the selfless commitment of McCormack to it, its viability will remain in doubt as persuading a new generation to celebrate it is far from certain. Costello has created a documentary worthy of McCormack who is a quiet, great man. The clamour and strains that surrounds much of urban and indeed rural life is called into question. McCormack found in a remote part of County Clare an existential serenity which fortuitously for him was his birthplace. Costello has provided a worthy celebration of this unsung hero.