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Review of the Documentary Film, "Glenafooka, the Glen of the Ghost"

Updated on December 2, 2016
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The Midnight Muse studies folklore, traditions, and mythology so that she can continue to preserve these beautiful living traditions.

Glenafooka: The Glen of the Ghost
Glenafooka: The Glen of the Ghost | Source

Basic Information

Title:
Glenafooka: The Glen of the Ghost
Producer:
Mary Sue Connelly
Distributor:
Icarus Films
Studio:
Viacom Media Networks
Time:
53 minutes
Release Dates:
2000, 2006
Genre:
Documentary

About the Film

"Glenafooka" is a documentary film that carefully reveals the intricately woven folk traditions and beliefs of rural Ireland and provides insight into the how these traditions influence the daily lives of the people who preserve their memories. The powerful imagery portrayed throughout the film allows the viewer encounter the hauntingly beautiful and mysterious landscape in which the fairies, or ghosts, continue to live today. It is through the eyes of the old, who still remember, that we are guided through their words to experience the Irish countryside - both the seen and unseen.

This documentary explains folk traditions, superstitions, and cultural beliefs as they are practiced from the past to the present. The local people who live in the areas surrounding Glenafooka, many of who are elderly, each take turns telling their own stories in their words about their experiences with the fairies. In Irish, the name Glenafooka is written as Gleann an Phuca and quite literally translates the the glen of the pooka or fairies. Using interviews and cinematography that helps to illustrate daily life in rural Ireland, this film clearly illustrates how these folk traditions have continued directly from Pagan times till they were adopted into Irish Catholicism and continue to be practiced today.

Speaker Presentations

Additional commentary and information is presented by such well known people as Dr. Patricia Lysaght (Professor of Irish Folklore), Sister Phil O’Shea (Brigidine Nun), Jim Fitzpatrick (Artist), Eddie Lenihan (Historian and Storyteller), Michael Coady (Writer and Poet), and Emer Martin (Writer).

The Location

The small rural village of Glenafooka is located near the outskirts of Clonea, Co. Waterford in Ireland. The majority of the locations that are discussed in the documentary film are located in Co. Waterford. As a point of reference, the town of Ballynevin, which is mentioned within the film, is only 4 km. from Clonea. In contrast, Glendalough is a little bit further away and is indicated to be about 22 km. away from Clonea.

Modern Influences on Tradition

Although most of the information reflects older beliefs and traditions, there are a few instances where it would appear that one or two individuals from the younger generation have been influenced by the recent Neo-Pagan movement. Consequently, during the interviews with these more youthful individuals, it can be noted that their interpretations of the folk beliefs and traditions contain a much more modernized and what could be construed as perspective conducive to an outsider rather than as someone who grew up with these traditions as a natural part of their environment.

Saint Brigit

Even today, the schools continue to teach children about the miracles of St. Brigit. These stories are taught as a true history and not just as a simple myth. At Glendalough, there is a holy well called Tobair Iosa Muire Brigde, or the Spout. It is believed that this is where St. Brigit plucked out one of her eyes so she would not have to marry a man chosen by her father. She then threw it upon the ground and where it landed a well spouted forth.

Folk Traditions of Sacred Places

Sacred Wells

Little bits of older folklore resonate throughout the documentary including the mention of a white eel that can be found within the waters of a sacred well. This particular piece of folklore predates the salmon of knowledge that is found mentioned within much of the more common Irish mythology and folklore.

Near Ballynevin, Co. Waterford, there is a healing well called the Well of Mothel. In the Irish language, it is known as Tobar Chuain, or St. Cuan’s Well. In more recent times, the pattern that is practiced at the Well of Mothel has become something of a drunken brawl until finally the parish priests put a stop to the misbehavior. It is said that the pattern held at the well, on the second Sunday in July, attracts approximately two thousand people. At the time of the pattern the fertility of the land would be at its height. The well was intrinsically tied to the prosperity and health of the land. The pattern included going around the stream and around the well nine times before sunrise or sunset.

Sacred Stones

Other more common folk traditions discussed within the film include the use of a rosary while walking counter-clockwise around a stone. There is no effort made to obscure the effects of Paganism or Catholicism, but rather the film accurately documents these traditions as they have continued and are still held today.

Curses

Mention is also made of the strength of curses, such as that which was given by a priest or a widow, if someone were to cross them. Both the priest and the widow were believed to be empowered with the ability to bring a great curse upon a person; however, the most lethal curse was the widow’s curse. In her grief and loneliness she was granted the strength that was given to her to survive and care for her children and so the widow was also endowed with the ability to curse those who would wrong her. The widow could curse a rack of hay and bring it to ruin. The most likely method was probably by placing rancid butter under the haystack which was then make it rot from the ground up.

Common signs of a curse included butter left on the door latch, or on the window, or on the gate could be evidence that someone was trying to bring a curse against a person or cause their cow’s milk to dry up. Eggs placed in the garden in place of potatoes was a sure sign that someone was trying to curse you or at least an act of mischief to cause a householder grief.

Otherworldly Visitors

The role of witches, fairies, and ghosts in Irish traditions are not dissimilar from each other and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

Witches

Some of those interviewed within the documentary discuss the 1895 burning of Bridget Cleary in Ballyvadleigh. Bridget’s husband accused his wife of being a witch and a changeling and together with eight relatives burned her to death. A week later, her charred remains were discovered within a shallow grave and resulted in the arrest and trial of the husband and relatives responsible for her death. Till his last day, the husband believed that his wife had been taken away and replaced by a changeling and that the person he killed was not the wife that he loved. These folk beliefs are not something of a whimsical nature, but rather remain at the core being of the people and influence how the world around them is interpreted.

Fairies

From the headless coach, or dullahan, riding across the fields to the bean sidhe, or banshee, who combs her hair and keens during the night; fairy spirits act as foreboding messengers from the other world, known also as Tir na Og, heralding the death of friends and family. Even for the non-superstitious, the appearance of these beings is acknowledged and treated with respect.

Conclusion

The beliefs associated with folklore and mythology explain the Irish cosmology and as such deserve respect. It is not a series of fantastic images and incoherent superstitions, but rather a complex method of understanding the known and unknown. It allows us to further comprehend the liminality that is evident in the daily lives of the people and land of Ireland that go beyond the basic concepts of life and death.

© 2015 Midnight Muse

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