John Connors will approach his role as MC of the Craic Concert in the spirit of the festival it launches on Friday, Feb. 24.
“I’ll improvise and have the craic,” he said of the event planned for Rockwood Music Hall, with comedian Siobhan Fallon Hogan, musician Brendan O’Shea, local comedians Craig Geraghty and Katie Boyle, and other guests yet to be announced.
It’s something he’s used to, having done the Irish Folk Awards and numerous charity events over the years.
Actor, screenwriter, documentary film-maker and activist Connors is “honored,” he said, to kick off CraicFest 25, which was founded by its director Terence Mulligan following a conversation with film director Jim Sheridan at the Galway Film Fleadh in the late 1990s.
“Twenty-five years is phenomenal,” Connors said.
His own directorial feature debut, “Black Guelph,” will be screened on the closing night of CraicFest 25, Saturday, March 4; while the documentary “The Ghost of Richard Harris” will have its New York premiere on Thursday, March 2, with a discussion afterwards with director Adrian Sipley, the subject’s actor son Jared Harris and Sheridan.
“No one has the craic like Irish people. Craic for me is a banner. It represents a number of things: the craic is having fun, slagging, singing, story-telling, welcomeness, love.
“You can feel it in the air in New York City, because we had a big part in creating the DNA of that place.
“Terence is someone who cares about Irish culture, and he cares deeply about the Irish culture in New York,” he said. ”That’s what I like about him.
“And he has the craic. He’s a lad. He’s like myself,” said Connors, a regular at the festival in recent years.
“In New York, there are no airs and graces,” he added, “Everyone is chill. As an artist you find you are really welcomed and looked after.”
The actor, who first rose to prominence in the TV hit “Love/Hate,” enjoys the company of Irish Americans. People back in Ireland often dismiss the diaspora, he said, using terms like “Plastic Paddy.”
“I hate that,” he said. “These are the most passionate people you could ever meet, about Ireland, about their ancestry. Very patriotic.
“I wish there were more like them at home, to be honest,” he said, adding about a gathering like CraicFest, “You walk away feeling proud to be Irish.”
Back home in Dublin, Connors is involved in the development of several projects. However, from the point of view of CraicFest 25, “Black Guelph” is his main focus.
By now an established presence, Connors has been able to get available official funding for his films, including some yet to be made, but that wasn’t the case with “Black Guelph.” In that context, he believes, the title, a reference to a powerful faction that protected the pope centuries ago in Rome, is particularly appropriate. The institutional stonewalling is not surprising, he feels, for what is “an anti-institutional film, in a way.”
Connors recalled. “I was told it was too dark. I responded that clerical abuse is a dark subject.”
It was suggested to him also that it wasn’t the right project for his directorial debut; but he described that as “ridiculous,” saying it wasn’t appropriate for anyone to dictate to him about what he should or shouldn’t make a film about.
In the end, someone who heard Connors speak about “Black Guelph” on a radio show reached out to him on Twitter about it and they became friends. “He’s funded the whole film,” Connors said.
Currently, he’s at the editing stage of “Leopardskin Jasper,” which he is producer on and plays a lead role in. It’s a dark romantic comedy written by fellow “Darndalian,” i.e. a native of Darndale, Dylan Stagno.
He has high praise for both the screenwriter, “a genius, one of the best writers I’ve ever encountered,” and the female lead, Jade Jordan, who’s given “one of the best performances I’ve ever seen on a film set.”
The project closest to his heart, though, is a documentary about the life of his grandmother, Chrissy Donohue Ward. “She’s a famous Traveller actress,” said Connors, who has long been a high-profile advocate for his community in addition to his other public roles.
And finally, he mentioned that he is about to embark on a project that has a few Hollywood names involved, but he can’t reveal more about it at this juncture other than to say it’s a “big step-up,” production wise.
“Editing, directing, acting, writing, producing,” Connors summarized his busy life professionally right now, “And having a ball doing it.”
For more details about the CraicFest 25, go to thecraicfest.com.