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Grave humour in a quirky story from Martin McDonagh trilogy

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Date Published: 31-Jan-2013

Theatre director Andrew Flynn who has just been nominated for an Irish Times Theatre award for his most recent production, Port Authority, is currently preparing his next show, Martin McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara.

“He’s working us like slaves,” jokes actor John Olohan, who doesn’t look a bit stressed as the cast enter the final week of rehearsals with Andrew’s company, Decadent Theatre.

A Skull in Connemara is the central play in McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy which was premiered by Druid Theatre in the late 1990s. It’s set in a graveyard, and centres around a Connemara man Mick O’Dowd whose job it is to exhume skeletons in an overcrowded graveyard. His newest customer is the wife he was accused of killing years before.

“It’s a very quirky situation – and funny, we hope,” says John, who plays Mick. “Martin’s plays are so at the edge of reality – they keep within the bounds but with a mad streak. And so it’s easy to play because everything fits in.”

John, one of the country’s busiest theatre actors, is a regular visitor to Galway. He most recently worked with Druid on that company’s DruidMurphy trilogy, appearing in Famine, the final of the three plays featured. Rehearsals began in Galway in April for DruidMurphy and, apart from a brief time in England, the company was here until the Arts Festival, after which they went on tour to locations from Clifden to Washington.

He was back on stage at the Town Hall in November in Living Dred’s production of the play Ride On.

He has previously performed in the Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Lonesome West with Decadent Theatre.

“It’s got to the stage that every time I walk into the Town Hall Theatre the girls say ‘welcome back John’,” he laughs.

John, who is married to actor, Catherine Byrne who plays Judith in Fair City – the couple have two adult sons – is one of the busiest actors in the country and has been working almost non-stop for the past 18 months.

“I can’t say I haven’t been lucky,” he says. But there’s more to it than luck – talent also plays a part.

Last year he won the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance as Byrne Druid’s production of John B Keane’s Big Maggie.

The Meath born actor worked on the TV series Glenroe for 10 years, having spent the previous decade working with the Abbey Theatre; he is a graduate of the Abbey School of Acting from the 1960s, having taken up drama after a brief period in a band. After graduating, he worked with Young Abbey company, doing work for schools and then joined the Irish Theatre Company, a national company dedicated to touring. So in a profession renowned for its insecurity, he has been busy all his life.

And he has no plans to retire. “I’m having a great time. And actors don’t retire,” he laughs.

These days, he usually gets called upon to play Irish characters, generally from a rural background and says that’s partly because there aren’t too many actors around to take on these roles.

“A lot of them gave up the game a long time ago and some are dead.”

Working in a black comedy such as A Skull in Connemara might seem a million miles away from his most recent role in Famine, Tom Murphy’s play about the great hunger of the 1840s, set in Mayo. But that’s not strictly true, he feels.

“Martin McDonagh is a different kind of writer to Tom, but there’s a kind of savagery and grittiness and roughness to his plays too, that becomes more apparent the more you delve into it.”

And there’s a lot of delving, literally as well as metaphorically. Owen McCarthy’s set, which he says is magnificent, has several graves dug and some to be dug.

“The set is straight out of [director] Tim Burton, it’s so gothic”.

John is joined by Bríd Ni Neachtain, a regular with the Abbey Theatre, who was most recently seen with Decadent in its production of Doubt early last year. Patrick Ryan and Jarlath Tivnan also feature in A Skull in Connemara.

The production opens in Galway on Monday and then goes on an extensive tour of the country.

John came late to touring, but he loves it. You are well looked after, he says. The shows are on at night, so you get to sightsee by day, if the weather is fine, otherwise you spend time in the hotel’s leisure centre. He sees no reason to complain about that.

He wouldn’t mind having a few weeks off before the next job, although he hopes saying that isn’t tempting fate.

For him, acting is like any other job – there’s no mystery to it.

“If you work hard at the business, it pays off. It’s like anything else, if you keep trying things, it will work out for you.”

A Skull in Connemara previews at the Town Hall from this Thursday January 31 until Saturday, February 2. It opens on Monday, February 4 and runs until February 9 before going on the road.

For tickets telephone 09156977 or online at www.tht.ie

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

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

SLIGO 0-9

GALWAY 1-4

FRANK FARRAGHER IN ENNISCRONE

GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Mervue United advance to the quarter-finals of U-17 FAI Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

On a weekend when the vast majority of the action fell by the wayside due to the inclement weather, Mervue United U-17 struck late to snatch a winner in Donegal as they qualified for the last eight of the FAI U-17 Cup following a success over Swilly Rovers.

Local League action saw just three games survive as OLBC notched a second half winner to defeat Hibernians to move into third position in the Premier League.

In the lower Divisions, table toppers Mervue United B and Moyne Villa continued on their merry ways with away wins over Bohemians and Naomh Briocain.

Swilly Rovers 0

Mervue United 1

In a game that was switched to a playable pitch in Fanad, Mervue United took a long time to assert their authority before striking late to give the home side no chance to respond.

The 89th minute winner was created by an Andrew Connolly flick on following a Ryan Manning thrown in and Schoolboy International Conor Melody made space for himself in the box before firing past Caolan Bolton.

It was no less than the visitors deserved against a young home side, but they had to work extremely hard for their victory.

While Anthoine O’Laoi missed a good first half opportunity, just a long range Manning free kick tested Bolton otherwise. Substitute John Migel Soler almost made an instant impact on the resumption, but was denied by a smart save.

Connolly, O’Laoi and Paul Healy all threatened a break though for the visitors, before a fine-tuned Melody eventually saved the day and secured the Mervue passage.

Mervue United: P Healy, Barry, Bailey, P Healy, Carroll, Melody, Assagbo, Manning, Cunningham (Soler), Connolly, O’Laoi.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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