DECEMBER 15TH LAST marked the first anniversary of the death of Páidí Ó Sé.
The passing of the Kingdom GAA legend in 2012 had drawn huge crowds. Prominent members of the sporting and political worlds travelled to Ventry in West Kerry as Páidí was buried a week before Christmas Day.
When darkness fell on 2012 and 2013 dawned on the Ghaeltacht area that hugs the western seaboard, Páidí’s family, friends and neighbours had to come to terms with a new existence. A dominant presence in their community was no longer around.
Louise Ní Fhiannachta has plenty childhood memories of Páidí. A native of Baile An Chótaigh near Ventry, she started working in the Ó Sé’s shop at age of 13. Her father Muiris was one of Páidí’s best friends. When Páidí put himself through his punitive training regimes pounding the roads, Louise would often be in the shop when he’d pop in after a lengthy trek.
In the wake of Páidí’s death, she started thinking of combining her local links with her nine to five as a film director. She approached TG4 and the BAI last January in relation to shooting a documentary about the eight-time All-Ireland senior winner. Páidí’s wife Máire and family were then consulted.
They gave their blessing and the result ‘Páidí Ó Sé – Rí an Pharóiste’ aired on TG4 on Christmas Day, ten days after the first anniversary of Páidí’s death. It’s a brilliant, illuminating piece of work packed with insight.
“When Paidi died so suddenly, it sparked a lot of questions within me about heroism in general”, says Ní Fhiannachta. “Also I wanted to look into what it means to be a hero in an isolated rural community. The documentary tries to recount his journey, playing through the 70′s and 80’s with the hope of a small community on his shoulders and the pressures that it placed him under.
“I was quite surprised how deeply his death effected me. I’ve been living in Galway for the last 18 years, so I felt detached and removed from it. Talking to my father Muiris and my brother Peter (both who feature in the documentary), I got a sense of how grief-stricken the parish was. Páidí was, as Míchéal Ó Sé put it, the king of the parish.”
Páidí Ó Sé
Filming took place over 12 days last July and August. The locals of this part of West Kerry are central to the piece.
“I could have done a documentary about Páidí on a national scale, I could have interviewed people like Cowen, Bertie and Dunphy about Páidí as the national figure. But I felt to some extent there had been a cariacature of him developing in the media.
“And to tell this story from a national point of view wouldn’t do him justice. I needed to tell his story from his childhood, what inspired him and what shaped him. And when the cameras left, who was Páidí O Sé?”
But it is Páidí’s wife Máire and children Neasa, Siún and Pádraig whose contributions are most powerful.
“The key here was trust”, reveals Ní Fhiannachta. “I asked the family to trust me 100%. I’m absolutely grateful that they did. Being sensitive was was paramount in my approach. They’d lost their husband and father just a year before.
“Máire’s honesty was mind blowing. Somebody described her to me as being the hero of the piece. She was beautiful in her delivery. You can’t ask her for more. They were all very keen.”
Máire Ó Sé
The array of contributions help paint a picture of a man who had Gaelic football at his very core. In doing so Ní Fhiannachta believes a new angle has been unveiled.
“I think it’s got to the essence of him. There is a certain poignancy to who he was in the community. The fall from grace with Kerry is dealt wit. He admitted in his own book that football came first and it was the first thing he thought of every day.
“The question then has to be asked, if one is obsessed with something and their whole life revolves around it, what do you do when that is suddenly taken away?”
The documentary has received glowing tributes and the local approval has been particularly gratifying.
“The phone started hopping once the credits rolled and there’s been a huge amount of texts and emails since then. The reaction has been quite amazing. I’m really glad people understood where I was coming from and the sensitivities involved.
“Being down home over Christmas, all the locals seemed to love it. It wasn’t any ordinary documentary. It was quite intimate and personal. And I’d sincerely hope this piece would help in some aspects of the healing process of the community.”
Director Louise Ní Fhiannachta
* Páidí Ó Sé – Rí An Pharóiste is directed by Louise Ní Fhiannachta. The director of photography was Colm Hogan with John Brennan on sound. Laura Ní Cheallaigh produced it and the editor was John Murphy.