A still from “Keepers of the Channel Lights.”

Sligo short for Chicago IFF

An experimental short documentary by Sligo filmmaker Vincent Monahan, chosen to be shown at the 25th Chicago Irish Film Festival has just been nominated by the festival for their Consulate of Ireland Award 2024.

 This year’s festival runs from Feb. 29-March 1, 2024.  Monahan’s film will be included as part of the “Life Is Unpredictable: Shorts Program 1” showing on Friday, March 1 at 6 p.m. at the AMC New City Theater. 

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The filmmaker’s adaptation “Keepers of the Channel Lights” was inspired by the words of a song and a linked interview with local seaman Willie Murphy,  from Sligo author Maura Gilligan’s book “The Tide is Coming, A Book of Coney Island in Sligo Bay,” released in April, 2023.  Monahan was awarded the Creative Heartlands Poetry to Film Bursary in 2023, to allow him additional filming and editing time for this work.

Monahan is an innovative young film and documentary maker with several productions to his name, including the much lauded “A Greenland Story,” powerfully documents the impact of climate change on Greenland’s indigenous community.  “A Greenland Story” has won a number of international awards, including Best Environmental Film at the Montreal and Vancouver Independent Film Festivals.  A recent and major expansion in the journey of  “A Greenland Story” has been its acquisition by Aer Lingus to be shown on their long-haul flights from March 2024.

Vincent Monahan.

Gilligan’s “The Tide is Coming” is an artistic hardcover book that documents the stories of the last resident of Coney Island in Sligo Bay, through interviews, photography, poetry and paintings.  Primarily accessed by a tidal causeway, Coney Island derives its name from the copious colonies of rabbits which inhabit its dunes; the Gaelic word coinín metamorphosing into “Coney.”   This tiny island is said to have given its name to Coney Island in New York when a Sligo sea captain observed its colonies of rabbits close to Manhattan’s shores. 

As the title of this book suggests, the rhythm of the tides has, for centuries, dictated the rhythm of life on Coney Island.  In the transcribed interviews that form part of this book, the voice of John McGowan, island elder, illuminates eight decades of island life in the place his ancestors have inhabited since 1789, and possibly even earlier than that.  Emigration west across the Atlantic to America, much of it undocumented, featured strongly in the island’s history.

Photo © James Fraher

“The Tide is Coming” also features the work of Chicago-born photographer James Fraher and visual artist Catherine Fanning. The author Gilligan was born in India in 1954, returning to her mother’s home county of Sligo in 1966.  As a community arts-in-health facilitator, her projects cover visual art, spoken word, music and song, drama for radio, local history, storytelling, interview projects and short film.  In 2020, she was awarded “Artist in Residence” by Sligo Arts Service. As part of her residency, she wrote and composed a song “Lighters of The Channel Lights,” which was recorded in collaboration with noted Sligo musicians Ray Coen, Deirdre Correia and Anna Houston and performed as part of her linked maritime history exhibition, “Returning,” in the Yeats Building, Sligo.

Fraher was born in Chicago, and now resides in County Sligo. His signature black-and-white photography documents unique cultural aspects of people and places.  His photographs have been exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and France. 

Fanning was born in County Wicklow and now lives in County Sligo. Her creative practice is rooted in painting, printing, mixed media and community arts participation. She is significantly involved in managing community arts-in-health projects throughout County Sligo.

The natural world is a dominant source of inspiration in Fannin’s work. Her creative process evolves experimenting with collage, print, and drawing in a range of materials. Wild seed pods, grasses, flowers and leaves enter her work in intricate patterns, and bold oils and acrylics inform much of her abstract exhibited work. Visit here to view her work.). For more information or to purchase the book: Visit her website here.

To see the film in Chicago, visit here