In the fascinating new film documentary In Sunshine or In Shadows, which will screen on the closing night of this year’s Craic Fest on March 10 at the Tribeca Cinema, award-winning director Andrew Gallimore explores that remarkable night in Irish sporting history when the ultimate outsider climbed to the top of the world rankings.
It’s been over a quarter of a century now since legendary boxer Barry McGuigan sent Irish pulses racing, but there was a time when Ireland needed the featherweight world champion more than they could ever have expressed.
That time arrived on a balmy hot night in London in 1985 when McGuigan, the Clones Cyclone, dropped the long reigning featherweight champion Eusebio Pedroza from Panama in the seventh round and won a 15 round decision in a fight that riveted the whole country.
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What a night that was for Ireland. With the ongoing Troubles in the North scarring both communities and fraying the bonds between Northern Ireland and the Republic, here was man who seemed to exemplify everything that was best in us.
McGuigan had courage, skill, smarts and style. He was born to become a world champion.
Irish sporting heroes have further to climb. The country's isolation, its lack of facilities in the recession hit 1980s, and its slim contribution to the world rakings all argued against McGuigan.
There were political hurdles too. But as the film makes clear, from the beginning McGuigan knew he wanted to represent the whole of Ireland, including all of its faith traditions and political aspirations.
He refused any narrow or bluntly sectarian gestures and that meant he was embraced by all, both Protestant and Catholic.
"The shadows ran deep," says McGuigan. "And my fights felt a little like sunshine. Both sides would say, 'Leave the fighting to McGuigan.' You see, it was also entertainment – people loved to forget the Troubles a while.
“The fact that I wouldn't wear green, white and gold or put on a sign that said this is who I represent was powerful. It was a very mature and dangerous thing to do. I wouldn't choose sides. People appreciated that."
McGuigan followed the example of football legend George Best and stayed away from any kind of sectarian displays throughout his entire career, professionally and personally.
In the 1980s he fell for and eventually married a Protestant, and in his own way became a symbol of the reconciliation the whole country was seeking.
You'll be moved and inspired by this David and Goliath tale that contains that rarest of all things -- a truly happy ending.
Veteran Irish actor Colm Meaney, most famous to U.S. audiences for his role as ships captain on Star Trek, will be on hand on the March 9 Craic Fest opening night at the Tribeca Cinema for a screening of the film Parked, where he plays the unlikely hero Fred.
Fred has returned to Ireland after many years away and finds himself reduced to living in his car. But his sad situation changes when he strikes up a friendship with Cathal, a dope-smoking 21-year-old with a remarkably positive attitude.
Cathal resolves to help Fred sort his life out, and his efforts are spectacularly successful. Fred gathers up the courage to begin a relationship with Jules, an attractive music teacher who lives nearby.
But everything isn’t perfect because Fred still struggles mightily with his own pride, and telling Jules about his reduced circumstances seems impossible.
Meanwhile, Cathal’s life is threatened by his increasingly out of control drug habit. The three friends are set on a collision course that will change their lives in this lovely, heartfelt drama that’s as cheering as a shot of Irish whiskey.
And speaking of whiskey, did you know the Craic festival is sponsored by Tullamore Dew? That means open bars and Irish conviviality as you wait for the screenings. How’s that for civilized?
This year for the first time the Craic Fest will also feature a Kids Fleadh (meaning kids festival) which will present a special program of family-friendly short films and Irish stepdancing, and will take place on the closing day of the festival on Saturday March 10.
It’s not hard to guess that tickets to the Rubberbandits live gig have been selling like hot cakes, but the Craic Fest is first and foremost about film, and this year’s lineup is among the strongest examples we’ve yet seen.