AN Bronntanas is a new five-part contemporary thriller, set in a fictional village in the West of Ireland, which is under pressure.
Featuring John Finn, an actor with strong Clare links, the show is told in the style of a Celtic Noir, with elements of the Coen brothers’ influence thrown in. It tells the story of the village’s struggle as the economy crashes and unemployment runs high. The main employer is the local fish factory and that, too, is beginning to go under and many will be broke.
When a rescue crew receives a distress call on a stormy night, to discover an abandoned fishing boat with a cargo of over a €1 million worth of drugs, the crew is faced with a moral dilemma. Do they hand the drugs to the authorities or sell the drugs and save their struggling village?
An Bronntanas stars Dara Devaney (Na Cloigne) and Owen McDonnell (Single Handed), alongside veteran American-Irish TV and theatre actor, John Finn (Cold Case). The original Irish language show was developed by Galway-based production company ROSG and Northern Ireland-based De Facto Films. It is directed by Tom Collins (Kings), who also produced with Ciarán Ó Cofaigh.
Speaking to The Clare Champion, John Finn explains how he got involved with the production and about his connection to County Clare.
Born into an immigrant family in the Bronx in New York City, John’s mother’s family was from Crusheen.
“My grandfather on my mother’s side, John Malone, was born in Crusheen and his mother’s name was Cahill and that is probably the older Crusheen name. Then my mother’s mother was from Moneygall in County Offaly. My father’s side, going further back, were from Donegal, and his mother’s family, the Dohertys, were from Donegal and Derry, I think. I’ve been to Clare myself many times. In fact, I was just talking about a wonderful restaurant in New Quay, Linnane’s, which is fantastic,” he said.
John recalls another family connection, again in Crusheen, where his mother’s uncle, Mick Malone, lived.
“He lived in Crusheen until he was in his 90s and he went down to St Joseph’s then. I came over in the 1970s and met him and he was a fiddle-player, playing in the style of the Tulla Céilí Band but I don’t think he was ever in the Tulla Céilí Band. I have a couple of early recordings of him and I know Comhaltas are aware of him. When I was here in the ‘70s, I met him and took him around in the car. He was in his 90s and John Reid, the piper, was there. It legitimised something in me at the time that this was part of where I came from. I play the bones, which I’ve been told is an actual valid instrument, but what I don’t do is blow my own horn. I still have family in Clare. Mary Leamy – whose grandfather and my grandfather, I think, were first cousins – she and her husband, Seamus Leamy, still live in Ennis and I visited them. We are all very close,” he said.
John explained that, while he was working as an actor on an independent film in the States, he was talking to the first assistant director about Ireland. He had a script he was trying to get set up in Ireland with Tom Collins.
Having contacted Tom Collins, Tom broached another idea with John on the back of a promotional ad that John and his Cold Case colleague, Kathryn Morris, did for TG4. In this ad, which was created like a typical scene from Cold Case, John and Kathryn were quizzing an Irish murder suspect, who claimed to have no English. However, they put the suspect in a tight spot when they spoke Irish back to him. Tom Collins was impressed by this and asked John how much Irish he had.
“I said, ‘not that much at all but what can we do’, and he said, ‘If you can get over here, we will pitch it to the commissioning editor at TG4 and see what she says’. I came over and did a screen test, with the help of a couple of people. Anyway, we pulled it off and, so far, the dust hasn’t settled, or maybe it has,” he said.
Asked how he managed the all-Irish programme, with not only actors speaking as Gaeilge around him but also the crew, John said it was a wonderful experience.
“Of course, I have ‘conas a tá tú’ and then I would have scripted lines but everything in between I wouldn’t know. We had a guy on the set called Peadar Cox, who was fantastic. He was there for everyone with the Irish but he really made it doable for me and we worked everything over until I was comfortable with it.
“Other than I was in the ad for TG4, I’ve never done anything for Irish television before. It was a gift for me and I really feel fortunate to be able to get a chance to do it. It was great [to have all the other actors talking Irish around me] and to have the crew talking in a practical sense, like ‘move this light here’ or ‘dolly the camera this way’ by not reverting to English at all. That, for me, was the charm of it, that it is a usable language. It did come as a surprise to me because the script directions were written for the most part in English and the lines itself were written as Gaeilge. Then, obviously, the local actors up there were fluent native speakers but to be able to hear the crew rattle through practical information, that to me was one of the highlights of it for me,” he said.
John plays the part of Sean Óg Green, a garda based in this rural village. Playing an officer of the law is nothing new to the American actor, having played so many in his career to date and also coming from a family of cops.
“Sean Óg Green is my character and the storyline, presented to cover a multitude of accent problems, is that I was born in Donegal and I went to New York and was in the police department there, which is certainly believable.
“I wanted to bring my son back and raise him in Connemara so I came back and joined the gardaí here. What it does is it covers me for a multitude of problems I would have with the ‘blas’, as it were. So for me, from my character’s point of view, it is a story of a father and a son trying to resolve generational issues. But people are calling it Celtic Noir and modern issues about drugs and crime and mayhem that could very easily happen on the Connemara coast,” he outlined.
An Bronntanas begins on October 23 and continues on Thursdays at 9.30pm on TG4.