Best Documentary

Land without God – Film Review

Land without God – Film Review by Frank L.

Directed by Mannix Flynn, Maedbh McMahon and Lotta Petronella
Writer: Gerard Mannix Flynn

Mannix Flynn was born on 4th May 1957, 41 years after the Proclamation of the Republic, which declared as one of its aspirations to cherish all the children of the nation equally. Flynn was one of fifteen children brought up in Mercer House which lies between York street and Cuffe Street and within spitting distance of St Stephen’s Green and fashionable Grafton Street. His existence was a world apart from any sort of luxury. His family were poor and in the eyes of the State that was worthy of moral censure. The poor had to be controlled. One of the means of control was the use of a series of penitentiaries euphemistically called “industrial schools” for children and adolescents. Flynn is a survivor of the system.

The film starts with Flynn visiting Mercer House and intersperses views of it with contemporary interviews with some of his siblings. It is not easy viewing. He describes his own banishment to the industrial school St. Joseph’s at Letterfrack aged 10. Approximately 200 miles from Dublin it is in a remote and inaccessible, albeit windswept beautiful part of Galway. It was a world apart from the streets of Dublin. He describes his arrival and the physical and sexual abuse he endured.

He deals with various other institutions walking through their now derelict remains. The word “cherish” never formed any part of the ethos of these institutions. Flynn as narrator is calm and contemplative as he recalls this unholy alliance between the State and the Roman Catholic Church to control the unwanted poor, the process given a veneer of shabby respectability by the use of the law. The calmness of his delivery makes his experiences all the more damning. Some of his siblings are less articulate than him and bear their emotional scars more visibly.

The documentary lasts just over an hour and a half and it bears witness to a system of cruelty that was allowed to flourish at the centre of society. This documentary helps to ensure that what happened is not forgotten. Hopefully, it will assist in assuring its like is not repeated in other similar areas but given the current system of direct provision it would be difficult to be confident.


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