Another star of the film is Conor, who started elementary school with anger issues and little control over his behavior. “We went through a seven-year odyssey with him and he tried every strategy I taught him,” McArevey says. “They worked brilliantly – his mum is over the moon with the turnaround – she couldn’t have him home before and now it’s a bit of a philosopher.”
The walls of Ardoyne play a crucial role in Young Plato. Brick and barbed wire “interfaces” mark the border between unionist and nationalist areas, and are daubed with drug gang tags and graffiti calling for new recruits for the far-left Saoradh party. Its murals, many of which commemorate those killed in the Troubles, are therefore a sacred source of pride.
As Conor enters high school, Holy Cross Boys commission a team of mural painters to portray him as Rodin’s The Thinker., right outside the school gates. Above his head is the motto: “To find yourself, think for yourself”. Her mother is delighted. Watching Conor return to Holy Cross on the first day of September term, hair gelled and neatly pressed new uniform, makes the tragedy of youth suicide in the community all the more heartbreaking.
A few months into filming and just after Christmas 2019, ex-student Declan took his own life. “There were five suicides during the break, of people between the ages of 11 and 22 – the community was totally shaken by this,” recalls Ní Chianáin. “Declan was one of the shining lights at school, a high achiever and in his sports, but that fell apart for him over time.”
We see the procession head towards Declan’s memorial, and McArevey laments that a parent should ever bury a child. Current students light candles for the ghosts of former students – a painfully familiar routine for McArevey. Although he estimates he has lost more than 20 former students to suicide, the number is likely much higher.
“I’ve known so many personally and I still see them as 10 or 11 year olds,” he says. “Whenever I hear about someone who has committed suicide, I am completely disgusted that I was not able to help them and let them know that the conversation is essential, that anger and emotions are a natural part of us. .”
This feeling of helplessness is particularly raw. Just a few weeks ago, the son of mural painter Mickey committed suicide. He was 19 and featured in a local mural like Conor’s. It’s about mental health and wellness and he has his arm around another boy. “Again, I wonder what could have made a difference, but I want to make a difference for the students I have now,” McArevey says.