‘It’s about life and death’: Frampton vs Kielty

As the finale event of the Docs Ireland film festival, boxing legend Carl Frampton and comedian/presenter Patrick Kielty had a one-to-one conversation with an audience of over a hundred at the Cineworld complex, interspersed with clips from their documentary films and interviews with others on the topics of Northern Ireland’s contentious past and outlooks for the future.

Patrick KIELTY and Carl FRAMPTON. Frampton vs Kielty. Docs Ireland film festival event. Cinemagic, Odyssey, Belfast, Northern Ireland. © Allan LEONARD @MrUlster

The first clip was from Frampton’s “Men in Crisis”, where his interviewee Ryan (22:54) discusses his emotions in dealing with the suicide of his twin brother. We learn the effect of the preceding death of their mother, and Kielty remarked: “People don’t allow for everyday loss; people don’t know the rest.”

Asked about how he got involved in documentary filmmaking, Frampton replied with the fact that north and west Belfast have some of the highest rates for death by suicide in Europe. He was approached and interested in exploring mental health with others, and thanked DoubleBand Films for “holding my hand” in producing his documentary film. Kielty remarked that he once thought he was making documentaries about other people, but he realised that he was interviewing those who had been through something like him. Frampton agreed: “That was exactly the same. It was therapy for me.”

Kielty screened a clip from his documentary, “My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me”, of a group conversation with students at Shimna Integrated College. During the episode, Kielty discovers that within the group are two with opposite unionist/nationalist constitutional aspirations yet are friendly towards each other: “That’s progress… I never met a unionist until I left school.” Frampton responded: “My way to integration was through boxing.”

Kielty shared that for the purpose of the documentary being screened across the UK, they had to break down the language and explain that Shimna was an integrated college, where Protestants and Catholics attend the same school. He remembered when former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam opened a cross-community playgroup in Dundrum, describing it as a big deal because Dundrum didn’t have a primary school — it had two primary schools for a population of 1,000, or 100 kids:

“The idea of taking a kid at five — we’ll teach you how to be Irish, we’ll teach you how to be British, we’ll teach you different religion, different culture, different history (usually the history is about the same person). Then we pop everybody back into society again at the age of 16 — when you’ve just built up enough mistrust — and wonder how the [fecking] thing goes wrong.”

Kielty said that he would like to see more integrated education as an option and “by osmosis it becomes the norm”. Frampton added his sense of hopefulness, describing how the school he attended, Glengormley High School, now has integrated status: “If you had told me 20 years ago that that would be the case, I would have said, ‘Not a chance.’”

Both expressed frustration with Northern Ireland’s political deadlock. Frampton said: “We have two leading parties (DUP and Sinn Féin) that despise everything about each other… If the Shinners say something, the DUP may agree with it but they have to be seen to disagree with it, and vice versa. How do you get anywhere when that’s the attitude?”

He thought that unionists are opposed to integrated education because they think it dilutes their unionism or loyalism, and nationalists are opposed because they think it dilutes their Catholicism and republicanism.

Kielty’s suggestion for political leaders was for each to maximise accommodation: “If you want to preserve the Union, you want to make those who potentially would vote for a united Ireland feel more comfortable in Northern Ireland. So, weirdly, you probably want to make Northern Ireland feel more Irish. Conversely, if you want to convince people that their future’s in a united Ireland, then you’re going to have to do that by letting them be as British as they want in it.”

In introducing the next clip from the BBC TV series, “Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland”, Frampton said: “Kids should be shown this.” He added that the richness was in hearing stories from those we haven’t heard from before, and the honesty in their storytelling. Kielty agreed and credited the director, James Bluemel, whose approach was to sit with each participant and speak with them as a person first: “One of the things we still have a bit further to go is actually seeing a person as a person.”

To make his point, Kielty recalled how Mo Mowlam brought loyalist Billy Hutchinson to one of his comedy performances. The comedian at first thought it was a joke — loyalists were responsible for the murder of Kielty’s father — but realised that it was doubly seriously intentional: “Mo brought Hutchinson so that each of us could see the other as a person… Most important was for everyone else in that room to see me and him just as two people having a shared experience. I think that’s one of the things that [Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland] has given us — a window into here that if we can maybe see each other and are able to communicate in some way as people, that might help the healing process.”

In a clip from “One Hundred Years of Union”, Kielty interviewed Bronagh (20:15), the granddaughter of Jean McConville, who was abducted and killed by the IRA. When her body was recovered at a beach in 2003, Bronagh was there as a child of seven or eight, thinking it was a day out; she now carries a negative association with beaches. In Bronagh’s case, transgenerational trauma wasn’t something that was transferred from a living parent to child, but by new triggers, such as a teacher taking and sharing a photo of her holding a dove at her mother’s funeral service: “I wish my teacher never had done that because I always felt different [from] then… I never got to meet my granny. I was robbed of all the chances of having memories of my granny, and that’s something I live with.” Kielty discussed with Bronagh a sense of “living with trauma”, to which she replied, “And they’re bringing up families… It’s a ripple effect brought on back to the rest of us.”

YouTube video

In a clip of his interview with Tyson Fury, Frampton asked the boxing champion about what he wanted to have as his legacy. Fury responded that he has achieved all he wants to in boxing — unbeaten heavyweight champion of the world — and he’ll spend more time as an advocate for mental health. He wants to be a good husband and father: “Most importantly, above all, I just want to be happy. That’s probably the hardest thing on the list.” Frampton replied, “I agree.” For himself, Frampton repeated his post-boxing career choices of documentarian and presenter: “I enjoy making documentaries. Maybe more on boxing. Boxing is full of characters.”

Frampton asked Kielty how was he able to perform comedy, particularly after the likes of the Shankill Road bombing, when venues across the province were cancelling shows but Kielty decided not to. Kielty answered: “The people of Belfast and Northern Ireland had been through so much over those ten days that someone was going to have open the doors and try to start again.”

Frampton followed up by asking Kielty whether it was easier for him to joke about what was happening in Northern Ireland at the time because of what happened to his dad. Kielty replied that it meant no one could “pull him up” on it, and he described how the Empire felt “like a bigger club”:

“Growing up back then you just assume that anybody you were going to be talking to has gone through something, directly or indirectly. I remember saying at the time that what happened to my dad wasn’t normal, but in 1980s Northern Ireland it wasn’t special… nobody said they couldn’t believe it… I didn’t realise that I had so many people rooting for me; I just thought they were coming to see the show. With hindsight, I realise that there were so many going, ‘There’s a wee bit of us, there.’ You know, the best performances are always when you can see a wee bit of yourself in something. I didn’t see it at the time.

The main conversation ended with a philosophical note by Kielty: “We talk about ‘it’s life or death’ — [but] ‘it’s about life and death’. Some bad things happen, some good things happen — that’s just on the day-to-day basis in everybody’s life. I think that especially after ‘Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland’, I really feel that for people here, life is for living.”

In the question-and-answer session, Dessie from West Wellbeing asked Frampton whether he thought his documentary “Men in Crisis” changed his mindset about mental health. Frampton replied: “Absolutely. The feedback from the documentary has been incredible, genuinely. I’ve been able to point a few people in touch with you, who you’ve helped out.”

Another audience member asked Kielty if having become a father himself has given him any inner peace. Kielty replied: “Being able to bring my kids to Dundrum, to let them see that there I’m not Paddy Kielty but ‘Jackie’s wee son’. There are things like that that make me smile. I call it ‘happy-sad’ — you should be sad but you’re smiling.”

Cross-published at Mr Ulster.

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