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New Film – Men Of Arlington

Alex McDonnell comments on the new film featuring the homeless Irishmen in what was once Europe’s largest hostel, Arlington House, in London’s trendy Camden Town.

The Men of Arlington (BBC Northern Ireland) Dir: Enda Hughes

Men Of Arlington had its first screening in a very appropriate venue on 27

January, the Big House itself, although we could just as well have been on an ocean liner or in a west end hotel. It was strange to be eating nibbley bits of food (including fish n’ chips – one chip and one bit of fish in a tiny newspaper) and drinking complimentary beer, my first ever alcohol here, in the corridors of Arlington.

The four old TV rooms have been knocked through into a conference centre for hire and there were several plasma screen televisions hanging along the walls, including one the size of the side of our minibus at the end. The room was full for the screening with folk from Camden Council, One Housing (the new landlord) and I was relieved to see, the Irish residents (only about 20 of them left now).

The documentary film runs for over an hour and it’s a credit to Hotshot films from Belfast, Enda Hughes the director and Brendan Byrne the producer that you could have heard a pin drop during the film. There were a couple of moments when we heard people gasp and a bit of gentle laughter but no one got restless and no one left the room.

The gasp may have been from me when I saw my big old face in High Definition plastered on the side of the bus but I got over the shock of seeing (and hearing) myself in all my ragged glory and settled down to enjoy the tale of Peter, Joe and Seamus, extraordinary men with highly individual emigrant stories to tell. The film manages to interweave these narratives and the story of Arlington and Irish emigration to London seamlessly alongside words from others who were there like John Glynn, Keith Bird and myself.

This film is a recorded history of Irish London like none other since Declan Donnelan’s groundbreaking BBC film The Irishmen made in 1960 and never broadcast. Hotshot uses scenes from The Irishmen and there are other fascinating bits of film footage and still photography from the early days in the house and Irish Camden Town. Good use is also made of work from photography projects in the House by Deirdre O’Callaghan and Steve Pike available on this site and our sister site Bhoys of the Big House.

At the end of the screening a tearful Baroness Julia Neuberger, veteran social campaigner and chair of One Housing praised the film and introduced the creative team behind it, Enda and Brendan who dedicated the film to all the thousands of Irish men who had passed through the doors of Arlington and future and present generations who may yet again be arriving in great numbers following yet another economic disaster at home.

The Men of Arlington will be screening at the Dublin film festival on 27

February and will be broadcast by BBC Northern Ireland in March. If you are not in the geographical area contact your MP or TD or lobby your local broadcaster. This film needs to be seen.