Hush-A-Bye Baby

Directed by Margo Harkin, Written by Margo Harkin and Stephanie English, Produced by Tom Collins

Goretti, Majella, Sinead and Dinky are four school friends living in the catholic ghettos of the Bogside and Creggan estates in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1984. At the age of 15 they are full of youthful exuberance and boys feature largely in their interests. When Goretti meets Ciarán at an Irish language class a romance begins.

The local political climate in 1984 is dominated by the last throes of the `Supergrass’ (paid informer) trials. As the end of the school term approaches, this reality comes suddenly to Goretti’s door when she is informed that Ciarán has been ‘lifted ‘in a British Army Swoop. She discovers that her personal shock is overshadowed by his mother’s devastation and soon realises that she has to cope alone while Ciarán’s family has first claim on prison visits. Goretti’s isolation increases when it dawns on her that she is pregnant. She believes she cannot confide her shame to anyone except Ciarán and in order to maintain her secret she writes to him in poor schoolgirl Irish. Since prisoners are not allowed to receive letters in Irish Ciarán never gets her heavy-hearted note. Goretti becomes more depressed and now perceives everything from the point of view of her secret pregnancy.

In August she goes to the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking region) in Donegal with her friend Dinky. While she is there she accidentally hears a radio debate on the subject of abortion (In the year following the abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland). She is deeply affected by this and also by the recurring imagery of The Virgin Mary who has been a constantly represented and attractive role model in her Catholic upbringing. The dichotomy between her upbringing and the situation she now finds herself in, her increasing isolation and her apparent abandonment by Ciarán, are more than she can bear.

The film explores attitudes to sexuality at a time when the ‘Troubles’ dominated domestic as well as political life in Northern Ireland and religion remained an important foundation of social behaviour. Lead actress Emer McCourt won several international awards for her performance as Goretti and the film features the acting debut of the young Sinéad O’Connor who also wrote the musical score.

Derry Film & Video Workshop was a Channel 4 franchised workshop under the former ACCT Workshop Declaration which was integral to the founding of Channel 4 Television as a mechanism for providing access to under-represented voices. The Derry Film & Video Workshop closed in 1990. 72 min, colour

Produced by Derry Film & Video Workshop 1990 funded by Channel 4 Television, RTÉ and British Screen Finance with assistance from the Arts Council of Ireland.

Hush-A-Bye Baby © Margo Harkin


Winner: Best Drama 1990
11th International Celtic Film Festival,Gweedore, Donegal, Ireland

Winner: Official Jury Special Prize Bronze Leopard for Best Actress to Emer McCourt, 1990
Locarno Film Festival, Switzerland

Winner: The Ecumenical Award, 1990
Locarno Film Festival, Switzerland

Winner: Best Film, 1990
Journée Cinématographiques Orléans, France

Official Irish Entry: ‘Young European Film of the Year’ 1990
The Felix Awards, Glasgow

Winner: Best Drama 1991
Femmes de Créteil

Winner: Best Actress for Emer McCourt 1991
Premiers Plans Film Festival, Paris, France

Winner: Best Actress for Emer McCourt 1992
Pescara Film Festival, Italy

Press Quotes

“The film achieves its emotional force with deceptive simplicity. But it clearly knows what it’s talking about.”

Derek Malcolm, The Guardian 1990

“…impressive achievement”

Sean French, Observer 1990

“The film not only flouts the conventions and stereotypes of `Troubles drama’ but also triumphs over the simple mindedness of the rites of passage movie.”

New Musical Express 1990

“The acme of low budget film making.”

Time Out 1990

Books, Articles and Links

The film has been extensively anthologised in books and articles on Irish cinema including the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing and has been described as `a ground-breaking film in Irish Cinema’.

Cullingford, Elizabeth Butler. “Seamus and Sinead: From “Limbo” to Saturday Night Live by way of Hush-a-Bye Baby.” Colby Quarterly 30.1 March 1994. 43-62. Available at:

Harkin, Margo. “Broadcasting in a Divided Community.” Ed Martin McLoone. Culture, Identity and Broadcasting in Ireland: Local Issues, Global Perspectives. Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, 1991. 110-117.

Conrad, Kathryn. Locked in the Family Cell: Gender, Sexuality, and Political Agency in Irish National Discourse. Irish Literature and Culture Series, ed. Michael Patrick Gillespie. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.

Further Infomation


Drama - Theatrical


Derry Film & Video Workshop

Release Year


Period Set




Margo Harkin and Stephanie English


Margo Harkin


Tom Collins


Emer McCourt - Goretti Friel

Michael Liebman - Ciaran

Cathy Casey - Dinky

Julie Marie Reynolds - Majella

Sinéad O’Connor - Sinéad

Rosina Brown - Mrs. Friel

Seamus Ball - Mr. Friel

Julie McDonald - Fidelma

Marie Jones - Mrs. McGuigan

Alan Howley - Lenny

David Coyle - Father Devine

Brenda Winter - Schoolteacher

Sean Doherty - Irish-speaking soldier

Brendan MacGabhann - Irish teacher

Irene Bates - Bean an Tí