Tales of Cork blow-ins feature in new documentary

A new documentary airing tonight, talks to various outsiders - including three from Cork - who have made Dingle in Kerry their home. CARA O’DOHERTY talks to Cork-based film-maker Ben Kavanagh about how it came about, and the unique Irish territorial attitude to blow-ins
Tales of Cork blow-ins feature in new documentary

Billy from East Cork who loves Dingle.

IN 2020, Ben Kavanagh’s short film, Meat Is Murder, brought light entertainment with a serious message to Cork audiences.

The Kerry film-maker lives in Cork and has a degree in Film and Media Studies from UCC. He regularly collaborates with Cork actors and creatives, and his latest project has a significant Cork connection.

Kavanagh has produced and edited Blow-Ins, a new documentary directed by Malcolm Willis and shot on location in Dingle, Kerry. 

It focuses on the blow-ins - people who have moved to Dingle from places as close as Cork and as far away as Australia.

Malcolm Willis moved from England to Ireland several years ago and directed documentaries, including Kilimanjaro Mama. Kavanagh worked on that documentary, and the pair have collaborated ever since.

Kavanagh says Blow-Ins came about partly because of the pandemic lockdowns.

“Malcolm and I were working on an idea for a documentary, but it involved a lot of travelling and we were restricted in where we could go”.

Malcolm was in Dingle in a fish and chip shop and started to chat with a man from Liverpool. He wondered how and why a Liverpudlian was working in a chipper in Dingle. It planted a seed in Malcolm’s head, so we interviewed a couple of people in Dingle, and it became apparent that out of the 2,000 or so people who live there, about a third of them are blow-ins.”

The documentary focuses on several people, both blow-ins and locals, as well as three Cork people who made a move to Dingle over the years.

Kirsten, from Cork city, lives and works on a farm in Dingle, while Paul from East Cork runs a local shop. Billy, also from East Cork, talks openly about his love for Dingle, but says it takes at least four generations to become a local, while Kirsten says when her time comes, she will be buried in Kerry soil - but she will always be from Cork.

Paul from East Cork runs a local shop in Dingle.
Paul from East Cork runs a local shop in Dingle.

Paul says that as much as he has made Dingle his home, he will never really be a local, but is still regarded as local when he comes home, despite a lifetime of travel.

Contributors to the documentary talk about the strange Irish phenomenon of blow-ins; while the concept exists across the globe, it usually refers to people from far away. Here, a blow-in can simply be someone from the other side of the county.

As a blow-in himself, Kavanagh said he has never really felt out of place in Cork.

“It is less territorial in Cork; there is such a mix of people throughout the county, I’ve felt out of place apart from the odd Kerryman joke, but sure, you get them everywhere.”

Kavanagh says working on the documentary has added to his insight of what it means to be a local, but he says Dingle, in particular, has its own unique understanding of what it means to belong.

“In most countries, someone from a place that’s two hours away from you would be considered a local, but in Ireland, it’s so territorial.

“I went to school in Tralee, but I remember going back to Dingle. I went into a petrol station, and some fella said to me, you are a Tralee fella, what are you doing here? I was from 20 minutes up the road.”

The documentary pays homage to Fungie the dolphin, Dingle’s most exotic blow-in, who became a symbol of Kerry after making it his home for 30 years.

“When we started filming, Fungie was still in Dingle, and it struck as interesting how important he became to the community, not just the tourists, but to everyone who lived there.”

Finding people willing to talk on camera proved to be tricky at the start, but contributors didn’t take long to come aboard.

Kirsten from Cork city, who lives on a farm in Dingle.
Kirsten from Cork city, who lives on a farm in Dingle.

“It’s a touchy subject in some senses, moving somewhere and wanting to fit in; some people didn’t want to draw attention to that or talk about the negative sides of fitting in,” says Kavanagh.

However, with time there was no shortage of people who wanted to participate in the documentary; Kavanagh says the biggest challenge was knowing when to call a halt on the interviews.

“Our biggest problem was choosing when to finish it. We could have kept going for another two years!

“To this day, we’re going back and finding people who have heard about the documentary and asking why we didn’t put them in it, and people come up and say I’m from this place or that.

“Dingle has a huge mix of people for the size of the place. We had to stop because we would never have been able to finish otherwise.”

With six months of footage to cut down into an hour of television time, Kavanagh and Willis had the tough challenge of editing. Kavanagh says that Will does an overall outlay of what he wants the documentary to look like, and then it is Kavanagh’s job to refine it.

“As a director, Malcolm works in broad strokes, and then I go in and make the tough decisions about when to cut, to refine.

“It is the editor’s job to be harsh, but it is all done to make the best documentary possible.”

Blow-Ins premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh, and screens on RTÉ1 tonight (Thursday Sept 8). You can also see it on the RTÉ Player.

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