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A view of the streetscape in Kilrush

Tracing a filmmaker’s West Clare roots

A DOCUMENTARY by renowned filmmaker Daisy Asquith, which explores the very personal story of her mother’s conception and subsequent adoption after a dance in the 1940s in West Clare, will be screened on Channel 4 on Sunday, March 29 at 8pm.

Her grandmother had to run away and give birth to her baby in secret before handing the baby over to nuns. Daisy’s mother was eventually adopted by English Catholics from Stoke-on-Trent. Her grandmother returned to Ireland and kept her secret. The identity of Daisy’s grandfather remained a mystery for another 60 years until Daisy and her mother decided it was time to find out who he was.

Their desperate need to know took them on a fascinating and moving adventure in social and sexual morality and the fear and shame that Catholicism has wrought on the Irish psyche for centuries, connecting them with a brand new family living an extraordinarily different life.

“I was compelled to find out who my family were. People can’t understand how strong that compulsion is unless they are adopted. You need to know who you are,” Daisy told The Clare Champion this week.

She said that, generally, people in West Clare made her feel welcome while she made the documentary.
“Most people in West Clare have welcomed me with open arms and I am delighted to have met my cousin, Johnny Browne and his wife, Mary. They are inspiring and loving people and I’m proud to call them my family.”

The filmmaker is hopeful that the documentary may inspire others, in a similar position, to explore their heritage.

“I hope the film gives hundreds of other ‘illegitimate babies’ the confidence to come out in the open and not be secret anymore. Being kept a secret is painful for the child and the mother. My grandmother showed great courage in going to England and ensuring my mother had the best chance of a good life. That is nothing to be ashamed of. I wish I could have thanked her for what she did for us before she died,” Daisy reflected.

Some of the filming took place in Kilrush, Kilkee and at the Rambling House in Kilmurry McMahon, whose proprietor is Paul Markham.

“I was interviewed about Ireland in the 1940s. Daisy was looking for a house that reflected that decade. I had to go down to the well and bring up a bucket of water. Then I had to fill the black kettle and boil it over the fire,” is how Paul described his role.

He said that he was not unnerved in front of the cameras.

“No bother at all. I’m getting familiar now with cameras. I was on Euro News prior this. It’s coming quite easy at this stage. I’m ready to go live at any time,” he said.

Daisy has worked as a freelance documentary maker for Channel 4 and the BBC for 18 years, making more than 20 one-hour films. Her films have won a Grierson award, two RTS awards and a Bafta nomination and been shortlisted for a number of others.

By Peter O’Connell

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