Aoife Kelleher’s One Million Dubliners is a beautiful homage to the people of Glasnevin Cemetery – living and dead.
Resident historian Shane MacThomáis, the obvious star of the show, is our guide throughout the documentary.
With great wit, he tells the stories of Parnell, de Valera, Collins, Markievicz, Behan and the many other 19th and 20th century heroes buried here. He recalls the stories of ordinary Dubliners too, with equal charisma and passion.
There are more people under the ground at Glasnevin than walking the streets of Dublin today. That neat little sum is plugged throughout the film as proof that the cemetery serves as Ireland’s national burial grounds; modern Irish history can be mapped out simply by the names and ailments listed on the death register.
As we quickly learn, Michael Collins’ grave draws the most interest from visitors. He gets flowers for Valentine’s Day (while de Valera gets none).
We meet the “mysterious” Frenchwoman who regularly visits to place roses by Collins’ graveside. She has fallen in love with him (or rather, Liam Neeson’s portrayal of him in the eponymous biopic). She vows never to marry because no man can live up to Collins.
Far from being the oddball we might expect, the woman actually offers a unique insight into our devotion to heroes and how we celebrate the lives of the dead.
Her Vietnamese friend offers the best quote of the film: People are not truly dead “until the day I forget them”.
What really makes the film is the chirpy cast of characters: the florists; the gravediggers; the funeral director. They guide us through the history of the cemetery, with MacThomáis at the helm.
Kelleher beautifully captures the spirit of Dublin and explores the mysteries and sadness of death without being over sentimental.
Footage of the Angels Memory Garden, the resting place of thousands of stillborn infants, makes for the most difficult viewing. Such tragedies have affected many families in Ireland and Kelleher handles this sensitive topic with such care.
One Million Dubliners is naturally very moving and emotive, but it also bluntly answers some unspoken questions: What happens to the body when it is cremated? How does a gravedigger go about his work? Do funeral directors harden to death?
A must-see, One Million Dubliners will get you thinking about the big questions — and it will lift your spirits
One Million Dubliners is showing at the Light House Cinema until November 27 or catch it on the RTÉ Player