Top film festivals to tell of war on rhodo

Volunteers from the Killarney Mountain Meitheal out on location with their hatchets and spray cans

A short documentary film highlighting the great work being undertaken by volunteers involved with the Killarney Mountain Meitheal is to be beamed around the world.

The production, Hatchets & Hope, is featuring on cinema screens in several countries as it has been shortlisted for a number of high-profile film festivals.

The five-minute film introduces the inter-generational group of volunteers in Killarney who hike out each week to protect some of the last surviving woodland forests and rare ecosystems from the alarming spread of the invasive plant rhododendron ponticum.

Despite its beautiful purple flower, the infestation of this strain of rhododendron is lethal to the local biodiversity. As an evergreen it thrives year round in the moist climate and acidic soil of Ireland’s south west and has spread in dense thickets.

With the spectacular backdrop of the mountains of Kerry, the film shows the community working to eradicate the exotic plants and stop their advance and it’s a story of camaraderie, commitment and the astounding results a small group of passionate nature lovers have achieved.

Last October the film had its premiere at the 2021 Kerry International Film Festival and it is now screening at some well-regarded film festivals such as the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York, Sustainable Stories Film Fest in Texas and the Irish Film Festival London.

Maureen Hegarty from the Killarney Mountain Meitheal uses the stem treatment method

For the past eight years, with the support of the Trustees of Muckross House, the group of local volunteers started to meet weekly and, armed with hatchets, chainsaws and spray-cans of diluted herbicide, they got to work to tackle the spread of rhododendron ponticum and those involved are men and women who are business people, ex-rangers, fishermen, hikers, hoteliers, teachers and residents.

They cherish the local landscape and commit a few hours each week to try limit the spread of the devastatingly beautiful and extremely invasive plant.

Former park ranger Peter O’Toole uses the stem treatment method to erradicate rhododendron ponticum in Killarney

Filmmaker Aoibheann O’Sullivan, whose parents are from Killarney, was volunteering on the Killarney Mountain Meitheal while locked down in Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic. She is now working in Nairobi for the UN Environment Programme.

While hacking rhodos on location in the mountains of Killarney, she started sketching the idea for this film and local cinematographers Michael Kelly and George Doyle were crucial in capturing the spirit of the Meitheal.

The exquisite music of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett offers a fitting musical accompaniment.

Killarney’s premier online news and advertising service. Call 087-2229761 or email