Following a new passion in lifeJuly 6, 2012 - 7:00am
We may be going through tough times at present in Ireland, with young people being forced to emigrate to find work, but at least these people have some chance to follow their dreams when it comes to education.
Back in the 1970s when Des Kilbane left secondary school on Achill Island, he’d have given as much thought to flying to the moon as he would have had to studying film and television.
He loved watching films but pursuing a career in this area just wasn’t an option for the 16-year-old. Five decades on, after working in jobs from construction to computers, Galway-based Des embarked on a new life when he took redundancy in 2004.
He is now taking part in this year’s Arts Festival with a documentary on the artist Jennifer Cunningham, which will accompany her exhibition, Just Add Water. This is a homage to Ireland’s decaying Art Deco seaside villages, including Salthill and both exhibition and documentary will be shown in NUI Galway Art Gallery.
Des is also working on a documentary on a subject very close to his heart, which will be broadcast on TG4 later this year.
A Fighting Heart, which is being produced by Dublin’s Midas Productions is a film about US boxer, Johnny Kilbane, who held the World Featherweight title for 11 years from 1911 to 1923. On St Patrick’s Day 1912, when he came back to Cleveland with the title, 200,000 people came out to greet him – a reception that has never been given to anybody else in that state since.
Johnny Kilbane, boxer, dancer, fiddle player and poet, was born in Cleveland to a father from Achill and a mother who came from Achill stock, explains Des.
Des first heard about Johnny Kilbane from his father as a youngster growing up on Achill. The famous boxer had visited the Mayo island in 1922 and when he returned to America, he had wanted to take Des’s uncle Peter with him.
“He probably saw something of himself in Peter, who was a great fighter,” says Des.
Peter didn’t go with him, but life on Achill was tough. Des’s father left at 12 to work in the potato fields of England and spent decades travelling between Achill and the UK. Des himself left the island after doing his Leaving Cert in the early 1970s, like his brothers and sisters before him. In his case, he wanted to leave.
His older brothers had emigrated to England and every summer they’d come home with tales of dances, bringing the latest records and fashion with them. Des was intrigued.
“All I wanted was to do the Leaving Cert and get out. Every one of us knew we were going to go.”
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.