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Kathleen Kilbane-In the Presence of a Holy Child

The film tells the true story of a young Irish/Scottish girl, Kathleen Kilbane, who displayed an exceptional sanctity during her short life. She spent her formative years in an orphanage in Scotland and when she turned 12 years old she was sent to live with her grandmother on Achill Island, Ireland, only to be diagnosed with the same disease that killed her mother; tuberculosis.

She spent the last fifteen months of her life at a Sanatorium in Co Mayo. It was here that she was befriended by a Christian Brother, Maurice Anselm Conway. He recognized a holiness in the child., he wrote of her, “It is nice to remember these evenings of long ago when one felt so close to a saint.”

She would say countless Rosaries each day, she had a devout love of The Blessed Virgin Mary and she wore a blue ribbon in her hair as a tribute to her. As she lay dying she prayed for a patient who sat with her that she would never again suffer from migraines which had afflicted the young woman throughout her life. From then on she never suffered from headaches again. On the morning of her death, the other patients visited her in repose in the mortuary at the sanatorium, they prayed to and for her, they touched their prayer books, rosary beads and holy pictures to her forehead and hands and they treasured them afterwards as relics.

A solitary white rose had bloomed overnight on a rose bush at the sanatorium and was discovered on the morning of her death- the staff at the sanatorium knew that the rose bush had never bloomed before. They placed the rose on Kathleen's breast and she was buried with it.

Br. Conway wrote down Kathleen’s story after she died, he wrote 5 or 6 handwritten copies, each slightly different, and gave them to friends. Our film is based on one of these handwritten copies, the owner of which photocopied it for us, as it is too precious to her to let it out of her possession.

In 2003 an Irish priest edited the work and published it as, No More Tears in My Eyes; The Story of Kathleen Kilbane. Since the publication of this book, many have come to pray to Kathleen, to visit her grave and to ask for her help. Stories are coming to light of how she has helped those to pray to her. Some of those stories we published in a book we compiled about Kathleen. It was my father who coined the phrase, The ‘Little Saint’ of Achill Island. We used it as the title of our book.
It is hoped that in the future she becomes a recognised Saint.

Our film is a docudrama which uses Br Conway’s own words to tell her story. It was done on a very small budget, my daughter played Kathleen, my wife as a nurse and myself as Br. Conway. Friends and neighbours filled out the rest of the small cast and my father narrated the film. We filmed at the places were Kathleen roamed and played on Achill Island and we filmed at the Sanatorium where she spent the final 15 months of her life.

  • Dominic Kennedy
    The Irish Giant of Knocknaknee, A Nordie in the 'Knee, The Quiet Leprechaun,
  • Dominic Kennedy
    The Irish Giant of Knocknaknee, A Nordie in the 'Knee, The Quiet Leprechaun,
  • Victor Kennedy
  • Brother Maurice Anselm Conway
  • Dominic Kennedy
  • Bettina Ebert-Kennedy
  • Victor Kennedy
  • Sophie Kennedy
    Key Cast
    "Kathleen Kilbane"
  • Dominic Kennedy
    Key Cast
    "Br. Anselm Conway"
  • Bettina Ebert-Kennedy
    Key Cast
  • Paul Seston
    Key Cast
  • Peggy Woods
    Key Cast
    "Kathleen's Granny"
  • Anna-Theresa Schiesslbauer
    Key Cast
  • Dominic Kennedy
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Docudrama, True Story, narrative documentary
  • Runtime:
    51 minutes 4 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    February 21, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    1,000 EUR
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Germany, Ireland
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Dominic Kennedy

I'm Dominic Kennedy. I'm 47 years old and I come from the Ards Peninsula/Strangford Lough area, County Down, Northern Ireland. I received a meagre education from which I was expelled at the age of 15; something to do with my reluctance to take orders and a rebellious streak. My family and I were poor. We lived in the deep countryside and had a small plot of land on which we toiled and produced a fair amount of food from, as well as a few animals, hens and ducks for eggs, goats for milk. But all that poverty and self-sustainability didn’t stop me hoovering up any film I could watch on our little 12 inch B&W TV, which also ran off a car battery which was handy because we didn’t have proper electricity, just a diesel generator. of which my father was most reluctant to use, only to be put on when you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

I loved films from as early an age as I can remember, but was restricted by what was shown during the day and early evening, old films, westerns, comedies, Laurel & Hardy, more westerns, Harold Lloyd, old war movies, everything black and white and small. But I would see colour pictures in the Radio Times TV listings magazine that whetted my appetite for those film for grown-ups. A colour image of John Boorman’s Excalibur stays in my mind, Woody Allen, Hammer Horror’s, Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac (even though that was black and white) The Dollars trilogy, the yearning to see Gilliam’s Brazil after seeing a poster for that film. Laying upside down, head facing down the stairs at night-time, sneaking a look through a gap in the bannisters of the Terence Hill & Bud Spencer westerns my dad watched. Sobbing my heart out for being sent to bed early for some misdemeanour which meant not getting to see Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. Blushing madly through a Carry On film whilst sitting next to my mother. Wishing that The Flight of the Phoenix would never end.

After my expulsion from school, a great calm came over me and I first started writing short stories. I daydreamed a lot. Daydreamed film stories. I enjoyed them so much that I wish I could sit down and watch something like that on the telly. Then I had a revelation - nobody else knew of these stories, only me. So if I wanted to watch them I’d have to make them myself.

I left home for England at the age of 23, worked at a Rudolf Steiner residential school for disabled children. Met my wife there, moved to Munich, Germany a year later to be with her. (She’s German and was about to start college) Four years in Munich doing shit temporary work and no film-making. We then moved to England in 1999.

My first taste of making films came in the year 2000 when I did a short weekend editing course at a college in Essex. I picked up the basics very quickly on the very early Adobe Premiere software. I went back to the same college doing a year-long media course, very handy, as I then had access to video cameras, editing machines and fellow students I could sweet-talk into appearing in front of the camera. My first ever film -Halt Den Mund (later retitled as Pop Goes the Weasel) is still lurking on Youtube. After 3 years in Essex, it was back to Germany, this time to the town of Garmisch Partenkirchen, nestled under the Alps.

After my mother died in 2005, I gathered all the video footage I ever shot of her and all the old photographs and pieced together over the space of 2 years, 2 tribute films to her, that I could share with my family. My father took note of my skills and a few years later he read a book called, No More Tears In My Eyes, The Story Of Kathleen Kilbane. It was about a young girl in the mid-1940’s in a TB sanatorium in Ireland. Her story was written by a Christian Brother who visited her there. She was a very saintly girl who believed deeply in God and the Virgin Mary. She died of TB just over a year after the Brother got to know her. It’s a very sad story and it strongly affected my dad. He asked me if I would come to Achill Island with him to visit Kathleen's grave and to bring my video camera. And so began a series of 4 films we have made about her.

My dad is a big fan of the John Wayne film, The Quiet Man, and as Cong, the village where a lot of that classic film was shot, isn’t too far from Achill Island and Kathleen’s grave, we dreamt up 2 little comedy parody films inspired by it and featuring a lot of the original locations. They have led to us making The Irish Giant of Knocknaknee, a film with hand puppets. The reason behind the hand puppets is simple. My dad, who acted in The Quiet Man parodies and a few dramatized scenes in the Kathleen films, is such a bad actor and so bad at remembering his lines, that I told him I didn’t want him acting any more, that I’d rather use hand puppets.

As with all the films I’ve made with my dad, they are real family affairs, family being very cheap to hire, though they can bite back quite savagely when bossed around too much. For The Irish Giant of Knocknaknee, my dad built the sets, vehicles and props, my wife, daughter and 2 of my sisters helped to operate the puppets. My wife also made the puppet (soldier) costumes and played the violin for the soundtrack. I particularly like to make comedy films – there's just too much horror and drama out there and not enough good silly comedy.

We followed The Irish Giant up with A Nordie in the ‘Knee, utilising the same village set with hand puppets. We filled out the cast with a couple of live actors, we had a good time making another silly Irish comedy film. All my films are on Youtube if you feel like having a look.

My most recent film is an attempt to tell Kathleen Kilbane's story as comprehensively as we can on a micro-budget. The new film is called, Kathleen Kilbane - In the Presence of a Holy Child. I think it is my best film to date. Now just think what I could do with a proper budget a professional crew & cast of actors!

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Director Statement

Nothing is true, everything is permitted