1916 a dream unrealised

Writer and performer Eoghan MacGiolla Bhríde.
Writer and performer Eoghan MacGiolla Bhríde.

Lifestyle – A multi-media show celebrating the role played by Gaeltacht regions in inspiring the Rising opens in Galway’s Town Hall Theatre next week. Judy Murphy delves into its background.

Altan’s Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Connemara musician Johnny Óg Connolly have joined forces with award-winning director Darach Mac Con Iomaire, artist Seán Ó Flaithearta and a host of other performers for a multi-media show celebrating the role played by Gaeltacht regions in inspiring the 1916 Rising.

Aisling? also explores how these peripheral regions were largely neglected by the State in the years since independence.

First staged in the former Arramara Seaweed Factory in Rosmuc in November 2016 as part of the centenary celebrations of the Easter Rising, Aisling? is now being revived, with funding from the Arts Council and Creative Ireland.

The piece which translates as Dream? will be staged at Galway’s Town Hall Theatre next Friday and Saturday, August 31 and September 1, before transferring to Dublin’s Olympia Theatre and from there to Waterford, Belfast, Derry and Ráth Chairn in Meath.

Musicians, poets, writers, visual artists and composers from Ireland’s Gaeltacht regions have collaborated to create Aisling?, where original music and song feature alongside poetry and theatrical elements, with design by Aran artist Seán Ó Flaithearta.

“Music links the piece,” Darach explains, adding that the main ‘character’ is a currach created by Seán, “that is a metaphor for us (Ireland and the Gaeltacht) in its many different manifestations”.

The idea for Aisling? was first mooted in early 2016 as part of the Easter Rising commemorations, when Mícheál Ó Fearraigh of Ealaín na Gaeltachta approached Darach. He wanted the writer, director and actor to create a show featuring the work of artists who were born or who lived in Gaeltacht regions; a piece that would have 1916 as its starting point.

“We agreed that different artists would be commissioned to create new work; music poetry, dance, design,” says Darach.

Given that broad brief, the director contacted some of Ireland’s finest musicians, poets, dancers and visual artists, all from Gaeltacht regions, and they began the creative process by exploring what the 1916 centenary meant to them.

Realising that this was a unique, if scary opportunity for all involved, “the first thing was the process of elimination, discussing what we didn’t want to do”.

They didn’t want a straightforward narrative, partly because their show was being staged in November of 2016, “when a lot of people would have had their fill of 1916 events. We wanted to challenge ourselves and our audience”, says Darach,

Having shared their thoughts on 1916, the writers, musicians, dancers and designers went away and formulated their individual responses to the Rising.

“And it was my job to shape it so that everything would fit together,” Darach explains.

The idea was to create a “metaphorical, subtle production that worked and would engage the audience at several levels, where the audience would have to work with us”.

The resulting piece was a narrative in four movements, with Seán Ó Flaithearta currach creations being central to all four.

Aisling? opens by exploring the influence of Ireland’s Gaeltacht regions on the leaders of 1916. Those behind the Rising felt that these peripheral places, where the Irish language and culture remained so strong, could offer a vision for the country’s future once independence from England had been achieved.

But these people knew that taking on the might of the British Empire was an impossible task, Darach states, so their vision also included the notion of a glorious failure, which they’d accepted as being necessary for independence.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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