When Bono sang “I see seven towers but I only see one way out” on Running to Stand Still he was referring to the blight of heroin that had engulfed Ballymun, the high-rise tower blocks built in the sixties as a short term answer to the city’s housing crisis. Ill-conceived and planned, the complex inevitably sank into a morass of anti-social behaviour and the scourge of hard drugs by the 1980s.
Ballymun Lullaby is an excellent documentary that does much to dispel lingering myths about the area as it goes through a long-overdue regeneration. Music and the salvation within music are at the core of the story as it follows the progress of the Ballymun youth choir and orchestra as it prepares to perform and release their debut EP with the help of composer Daragh O’Toole and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.
But the film is also a social history of Ballymun from inception, to decay, and now rebirth. At the centre of the story is ebullient music teacher Ron Cooney, a very funny and charming man who is also more than a bit of a philosopher. It’s his job to bring together and tutor the young musicians for their performance and he is a man on a mission. He has a burning desire to show the local kids that music can save lives and offer hope. Some of the most memorable moments here are the scenes of terrible poverty intercut with the fresh and innocent faces of the young kids in the choir and orchestra.
Ballymun boy Glen Hansard is on hand to make some gnomic statements but he does make the laugh-out-loud comment “We used to look down on people from Finglas.” Maybe he means it literally but happily enough it is the people who still live in Ballymun who do the talking here.
Uplifting, full of hope, moving and beautifully made, Ballymun Lullaby is a small and lovely film.