When media student, Alison Millar, filmed what she considered innocent domestic scenes with Ireland’s ‘pop star priest’ Father Michael Cleary in 1991, little did she realise that one day her footage of Cleary, housekeeper, Phyllis and their son Ross would amount to a hidden video diary of a secret family.
Using original footage from her student archive, in The Holy Show, Alison now traces the impact of a national scandal on those who were closest to it, revealing in startling intimacy the secret life of Ireland's most charismatic and controversial cleric and his closeted family.
With exclusive access to friends and family, including frank interviews with Ross, the film will examine the human debris left behind when the 'Singing Priest' who had two best selling albums and topped the bill at the Sydney Opera House and the Stardust Club in Las Vegas, sang no more.
Well-known for his staunch Catholic views on sex, divorce and abortion it became clear after his death that he had lived a contradictory ‘secret life’ where his own housekeeper was his lover and mother of his children.
This film is an intimate examination of the human debris that the two sides
of Cleary left behind including a son Ross Hamilton. A moving and shocking
portrait of a man trapped by the conflict between his vocation and the
role the church gave him, his ego, and the impossible demands of celibacy.
The Holy Show is on Monday, April 21 on BBC One Northern Ireland at 9pm.
Alison Miller, producer of The Holy Show shares her experiences of making the film…
"This film is a ‘paradox’ of the life and death of Father Michael Cleary – who at one time was the most powerful and charismatic figure in Catholic Ireland. A man who was hand picked by the Church to host the Papal visit of Pope John Paul II.
"Authored by myself, the filmmaker, this film will take the form of
a journey. Using my own unique and unseen archive and exclusive access to
his children and close family this film will explore and shed light on a
complex performer. A man whose love of celebrity in the end overrode
his ability to tell the truth.
A man who, in death, left his congregation in turmoil his family in pieces.
"The film begins with my quest to find out what really happened when I was filming in that house back in 1991. If he was in the midst of keeping his lover and children a secret why on earth did he let me into his home to film? What really was going on behind closed doors? On camera I try to track down the contributors from my original film- and in particular Phyllis Hamilton the housekeeper and her son Ross.
"As we search we will meet people from the 1992 archive simultaneously building a picture of Cleary who was at that time a powerful player in the Catholic Church and a national ‘superstar’.
"Gradually it will be revealed to the audience as I search for the
Housekeeper/ Cleary’s lover that she died five years after the priest
died and that their son Ross. Kicked out of the family home by the church
we discover that he has had no fixed abode as well as no family . We discover
that on his father’s side the wealthy Cleary family to present day,
despite DNA testing, still refuse to accept Ross as their brother’s
"As the film progresses we will draw the audience deeper and deeper into the layers and revelations as to what happened after I left Dublin in 1992. Key witnesses talk for the first time - people who knew Michael Cleary well but who until now have remained silent.
"On camera for the first time in fifteen years I meet up with Ross. I will show him the footage I have of his family. Footage he never knew existed. Together Ross and I will try to understand what was going on in his father’s mind and why he chose to keep Ross and his mother a secret – even in death. But has time moved on enough for Ross to accept the denial by his father of his very existence? How has Ireland changed? We will take Ross back to places where he grew up and re-piece together his fragmented childhood.
"The Holy Show is not only an intimate examination of the human debris that the two sides of Cleary left behind but it also represents a progression of the old into the new Catholic Ireland. A moving and shocking portrait of a man trapped by the vows of celibacy as well as his own ego."