This evening I attended the premiere of a new film looking at Waterford’s history from the viewpoint of Ballybricken, as part of the Imagine Arts Festival. I went with my family and we sensibly went well before screening time because before the film started, the entirety of St. Patrick’s Church (formerly a Methodist church, today used by Waterford’s Unitarian congregation) was packed out to such an extent that a second screening was set for 7pm. And having now seen the film, anyone who was turned away at 5 but returned at 7 won’t have been disappointed. Commissioned following the success of an earlier collaboration between documentary maker Mark Power and Waterford Youth Arts which looked at Barrack Street in the city, Ballybricken manages to give full life to a vital area in Waterford city and county’s history spanning from the 17th century to the present day.
Not unlike the Barrack Street film, Ballybricken is as much a biography of a public space as a microcosmic history of Waterford, and even Ireland. At one point in the film, we are transported from images of the 1892 pig buyers’ strike which saw pigs being brought under police escort into the bacon curing factories around Ballybricken green to a recent march in Waterford protesting the reduction of services offered in Waterford Regional Hospital, which took as its starting point Ballybricken.
This seems to me to get to the common thread of the entire documentary: Ballybricken’s special place in the history of Waterford comes from the fact that it was (and is) a shared space that over its history has seen everything take place there from bull runs and bull-baitings, hangings, disasters, fair days, football matches, strikes, protest marches as well as the daily commerce and life of any area. Full of humour and wit, as well as poignant recollection, the interviews are interspersed with shots of life on the green as it is now lived. All of this helps to give a sense of the place and the role of the green in the life of the city, and its importance to the people who lived around it and through it.
A wonderful film, the news that it is to be released along with sister documentary Barrack Street on DVD this Christmas ought to be celebrated. Not alone by Waterford people, but anyone with an interest in Ireland’s social history.