Local filmmaker to fulfill Irish dream

Monsignor John Sheridan (left) of Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church and Rev. Alan Elliott of Olivet Ministries in Calabasas are supporters of Declan Joyce's (center) efforts to make a film that would show the power of children, which would help unify the people of Northern Ireland. Both the monsignor and reverend are from Ireland. Heather O'Quinn / TMT

Declan Joyce is working through the children to help solve the conflicts in Northern Ireland.

By Ryan O’Quinn / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu is a long way from Northern Ireland, but for one local filmmaker Malibu is a place where dreams come true. And that’s why he is here, to fulfill a promise he made to himself at the age of 7-to help unify the people of Northern Ireland.

Declan Joyce decided one of the most powerful tools for reaching a large audience is the film industry, and made the move to Hollywood to achieve his goal. With the encouragement of mentors and friends, Joyce enrolled in UCLA’s screenwriting program and completed the screenplay for the feature titled “Irish Wonder.”

“It’s a story about why I’m here in L.A., why I’m here in Malibu,” said Malibu resident Joyce of his upcoming film project. “I believe in the American dream, and when I do this I believe I will have completed my life’s mission.”

Joyce, who was born in Ohio but holds dual citizenship in Ireland and the U.S., says his heart is in Ireland and pledges to donate all proceeds he would make from the film to charities there. After college, Joyce traveled to Northern Ireland to work as a missionary and worked primarily with children who are impacted by the conflict in that part of the world.

“Both my parents are Irish citizens and were effected deeply by what was happening in Northern Ireland,” Joyce said. “Although there are 64 million Irish Americans in the United States, Ireland is a subject that’s really not understood in this country.”

“The Troubles,” as they are often referred to in Ireland, is the period of time from the late 1960s to the present when more than 3,000 people have been killed in Northern Ireland.

A violent string of events began with the civil rights movement of the late ’60s, which was a rebellion against the discrimination of Catholics. The movement mobilized Catholics as a unified political voice for the first time since the creation of the Irish Republic in 1921. A significant majority of Catholics are aligned politically with a group known as nationalists, who want to unite Ireland. The political faction known as Unionists makes up 59 percent of the current population of Northern Ireland and want to remain loyal to the United Kingdom.

Various paramilitary groups have sprung up on both sides of the conflict, wreaking havoc on the civilian population, many of them children.

On July 28 of this year, the Irish Republican Army said it would resume disarmament and formally ordered an end to the armed campaign to end British rule. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gerry Adams, the president of the IRA’s political ally, Sinn Fein, called the announcement encouraging and added that time would tell if in fact the disarmament is for real.

Rev. Alan Elliott of Olivet Ministries in Calabasas, a native of Northern Ireland, said most of the communities there have lived in fear since “The Troubles” began.

“The nature of urban terrorism in many ways was pioneered in Northern Ireland,” Elliott said. “It is about segmenting a community that would otherwise live in harmony.”

While working near the Falls Road section of West Belfast, where much of the fierce fighting took place between Protestants and Catholics, Joyce had a dream about a man in Cleveland, Ohio who is charged with driving while intoxicated and is sentenced to serve probation in Ireland.

Joyce put pen to paper and drafted the story of his dream, which follows an American man to Belfast to coach a youth hockey league comprised of 11-year-olds from both sides of the denominational struggle.

“This story is about kids and unifying the people of Northern Ireland,” Joyce said. “I think the power to change Northern Ireland will come from the kids.”

Monsignor John Sheridan of Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church hails from County Longford, Ireland and is a supporter of Joyce’s effort.

“It is so important to get to the young people,” Sheridan said. “It would be good to see a movie with some punch to it that could make a difference. Through his energy and authenticity, Declan is doing something good.”

During one missionary trip to Ireland, Joyce was the subject of an article in The Irish Times and as a result caught the attention of then President Bill Clinton and subsequently George W. Bush. He has been invited to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day three times and says he has gotten positive feedback from everyone he has spoken with about the story.

“Declan has a real passion for all things Irish,” said Moya (Maire) Brennan, Grammy-nominated lead singer of the Irish Celtic band, Clannad. “Having seen the script for his ‘Irish Wonder’ movie, I can see he’s wanting to look at the Northern Irish situation in a new and refreshing way. Declan is one of the most highly motivated people I have ever met. He leaves no stone unturned and always amazes me with new ideas.”

Among his finest achievements Joyce counts receiving approval on his story from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Nobel Peace Prize winners David Trimble and John Hume of Northern Ireland.

Joyce has committed his proceeds to three charities: John Moxen’s Murlough House, which caters to youth groups and provides housing; Chris Rowe, who pastors a church and works with youth in Ireland; and a rehabilitation facility in County Kildare.

“Declan may have a point [with this film],” Rev. Elliott said. “There could be a peace movement among the young to say to the older generation ‘we are not going to carry on this pattern.'”

Currently, “Irish Wonder” is in the pre-production stage with a tentative principal photography start date this winter.

Joyce, who has worked as an actor and is currently working as a producer developing other screenplays, said the script is under consideration at various production companies and no star is officially attached.

More information on the film project “Irish Wonder” or Joyce can be obtained by calling 310.795.0867 or via e-mail at onlyirish@hotmail.com