Playwright shines new light on true Galway hero

Playwright Christian O'Reilly. 'I wanted to go back and write that original story as a stage play, and specifically focus on Martin, starting with his childhood in Spiddal.' PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.
Playwright Christian O'Reilly. 'I wanted to go back and write that original story as a stage play, and specifically focus on Martin, starting with his childhood in Spiddal.' PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Lifestyle – Dramatist Christian O’Reilly tells Dearbhla Geraghty about the man who inspired the hit film, Inside I’m Dancing and how Martin’s amazing, true story will now be told onstage

There is certainly some merit in the cliché – when life gives you lemons, make lemonade – particularly when a ‘stop-gap’ job led to a major breakthrough for an aspiring writer. Claddagh-based, Christian O’Reilly, was the brains and talent behind the movie, Inside I’m Dancing, based on his own experience working with the Centre for Independent Living (CIL) in Dublin.

In fact, it was that organisation’s leader, Martin Naughton from Spiddal, who proved to be the real inspiration.

“In the early 1990s I was trying to be a writer, but I was getting nowhere and I applied for a job in a DCU newsletter to work for the CIL, an organisation run by and for people with significant physical disabilities,” the Anglo-Kerryman recalls.

“I walked into this office in Bolton Street having an impression of disabled people as passive, easy-going, not doing much with their lives, but I was confronted by this gang of people on the phone barking orders, full of anger, and determined to change the world – my perception was turned on its head.”

Christian’s work with the CIL as a lobbyist seemed far removed from his dreams of becoming a writer, and it was only when he left after two years that it dawned on him that he had, to use another cliché, been sitting on a goldmine all that time.

“I realised that this would make a great world for a feature film – Martin and a group of other wheelchair users had been involved in campaigning for personal assistance funding in the early 1990s.

“They had received EU funding as part of the Horizon Programme for a two-year pilot programme that would enable them for the first time to have personal assistants – to leave their family homes or institutions, go out and about, find work, go to college, go for a pint with friends when they wanted to, to go to the cinema, to have relationships without being dependent on a family member – to be independent.

“The lives of 29 people, who took part in that programme, were transformed for the better. But then the programme was due to end and they were going to be thrust back into lives of dependency. They just said; ‘No way, we are not going back, after tasting freedom, we want to keep it’.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.