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Take a Drink and Remember the Man: ‘Waking Ned Devine’
by Eoin Varden

Tullymore is a wrong turn on the map. A village so small its thatched homes contain bedrooms colder than the surrounding emerald waves. Most of the local folk are as old as the shore cliffs eroded by years of thrashing waters, with seemingly a single boy under the age of thirty. The villagers’ homebody personalities furnish a tone of folksy innocence for two leads Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sullivan’s sly larceny. “I been here all me life,” Jackie asserts to lottery man Jim Kelly, who believes to have found a winner in lifetime local Ned Devine. Unknown to Jim, Ned passed only nights before, ticket in hand and smile upheld by a stubborn Irish chin as the lottery balls cashed in what life he had left. Jackie, who has dwindled the county winner down to Tullymore, now figures he can trick the lottery and pocket the jackpot. It’s a craic of a time, roaring with deadpan laughs, a delightful cast of characters, plenty of whiskeys, and pissing rain. 

Jackie glares at the television as the lottery balls drop. His wife Annie refuses to bring in an after supper apple tart until lured in by his feigning excitement of a potential early retirement. Writer and director Kirk Jones sets the stage with Jackie always after a slice of the pie. His greed rolls in muck like the stock of local pig farmer Finn, who refuses to give up the pen for his former lover, Maggie. She finds his swine stink repugnant, to the point of distancing herself and her son Maurice, who Finn believes his own. Maurice yearns for a father’s presence, embodying this need while giving penance to the young priest substituting the resident one on sabbatical. The boy’s absolutions provide a welcoming comfort for the newcomer in an old-timers environment. Enter the village’s eccentric personalities: pub owners who repair toasters for the local witch and men who seek to win over those they fancy with fruity soaps. 

This lineup smiles for the camera, accepting a potential rogues’ gallery fate upon Jackie’s proposal to split the winnings. Nearly seven million pounds between their fifty-two. A plan that helps the village just as much as it does Jackie and Michael, both of whom hope to gain a get-out-of-jail-free card. Michael impersonated Ned for Jim, the lottery man, who plans to return in a few days to validate the winner’s identity by questioning the village. Jackie warns them he’ll come with a case of hay-fever, on-brand for an outsider. The town erupts in a booze-filled frenzy, a sign of what’s to come once the quid reaches pockets. 

At the film’s heart are these characters—people who till the nooks and crannies of rural village life in spades. A father seeks guidance in a child, and past lovers are kept apart by a lasting stench. But most of all, a romance between two lifelong friends. Jackie and Michael fail and triumph together, whether it be riding dirt bikes bare naked to save each others’ arses, failing to bribe a cat lady with coconut cremes, or robbing the state in a heist nearly compromised by some human bomb of a casket. Their friendship is portrayed tenderly through the eyes of both Ian Bannen and David Kelly, who, like many an Irish geezer, appears perpetually preserved by pursed cigarettes. The two play a tried and true friendship with lines that sound nearly eulogistic. It remains the warmth at the core of a tale enamored with hope and future for this aging community.

It’s no surprise the film is so infatuated with its characters. All cast and crew agreed to work at reduced rates to help get the picture made, and it shows. The ensemble, backed with a grand score by composer Shaun Davey, emote everything from sardonic tones to vulnerable pleads. Their infectious passion eclipses the scheme to distribute Ned’s passing wealth while performing drunken sing-songs for one another in the moonlight. 

Like many a nineties movie, Waking Ned Devine has a pace and style fated to be dated. Sections of the runtime will have you uttering go on, go on, go on, go on… often pulling teeth in its structure. Although, this reaction is most common if the viewer fails to keep up with the rounds. It contains more than fifty-two whiskeys poured and plenty of pints to fill you up in the meantime. Not embracing the village culture guarantees an automatic absence from the good craic by its end. Fiddle strings are given a mighty lash at the pub as a witch flies away on her mobility scooter only to face divine intervention. It’s something you ought to see, not just for the wry humor but also the feel-good, laid back, wholesome quality its collective trust—both real and fictional—brings to the screen. The final iconic shot brings us back to the eroded cliffs, which now bask in the light of dawn while glasses of hot whiskey clink to the future. Sláinte.