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‘Aftermath’ shines light on human impact of Iraq war

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Date Published: {J}

Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen of New York Theatre Workshop made their names as writers for the powerful play, The Exonerated, which told the true story of six people sentenced to Death Row in America for crimes they didn’t commit.

The play toured all over the world, and was translated into many languages while a film version was also made, starring Susan Sarandon, Brian Dennehy and Aidan Quinn.

Among those whose stories featured in The Exonerated was Sunny Jacobs, who spent 16 years on Death Row in Florida, wrongly convicted of murdering two policemen. She now lives in Galway and Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen hope to visit her when their new show, Aftermath receives its Irish premiere at this year’s Galway Arts Festival.

Aftermath, again based on real people’s experiences, is a dramatic retelling of the stories of ordinary Iraqi people who, in the chaos and lawlessness following the invasion of their country, fled to the relative safety of Jordan.

Erik and Jessica travelled to Jordan’s refugee camps in 2008 where they met, among others, a pharmacist, a taxi driver, an artist husband and wife. These were, variously, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Christians. It is very middle class, says Erik from his New York base, explaining that they couldn’t gather the experience of less well off people because those people couldn’t afford to leave Iraq.

But the men and women they did meet told gripping stories, which husband and wife Erik and Jessica subsequently crafted into Aftermath.

“It was a wringing out your emotions,” says Erik of the interview experience.

Some people they interviewed had hope, others had humour, others had suffered serious damage to their bodies and spirits; still more were the only surviving members of their families.

“The whole gamut of human emotions was in these four-hour interviews,” he says. But although it was harrowing, it “was very satisfying work because the plays were there already, we were just freeing what already existed”.

Among those who shared their story were two artists, a husband and wife forced to leave Iraq because a mullah threatened them after they staged a festival with music. He decided that music was forbidden and they had to flee or face arbitrary punishment.

Erik and Jessica selected the best 10 interviews on the basis of what worked best together dramatically. The resulting piece was directed by Jessica, premiering to rave reviews in New York last year.

Like The Exonerated, Aftermath is a political play, but then Jessica believes all of life is political, with a small ‘p’, her husband explains.

“We take on these issues not to take on ‘hot topics’ but because certain topics are eternal. Power and the abuse of it and people’s relationship with it is eternal.”

For more, read this wek’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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