Quiet, determined, fearless and with a mischevious sense of humour, Patricia Burke Brogan has long been a force for change in Irish society through her work as a writer, teacher and artist. The city resident is best known as the author of the 1992 groundbreaking play Eclipsed, which dealt with the shameful reality of Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries, but that is just one, albeit long, strand in a rich and varied life.
Patricia’s just-published book, Memoir with Grykes and Turloughs, captures her period as a novice in the Sisters of Mercy in Galway and the reasons why she wrote Eclipsed, which has been staged all over the world and won many awards since being premiered in Galway in 1992.
Her writing style in the memoir is immediate and visual and frequently infused with a wonderful wry humour and sense of mischief.
The book is written in a series of flashbacks and doesn’t have a conventional narrative structure, which felt like the right way for her to do it.
But all the important details are there, such as her birth in Kildysart, South West Clare, which her family left when she was a young child after her Garda sergeant father was transferred to Moylough in Galway.
“I didn’t want to leave there and still feel I belong there,” she says of Co Clare.
Bowing out after 31 years’ service
James C Harrold has played a key role in Galway’s artistic life for more than three decades. The retiring City Arts officer reflects on his years working in the county and city, and shares memories of artists, events and places, while also looking to the future.
Since 1990 I have been working with the artists, arts organisations, communities and neighbourhoods of Galway; for ten years as City and County Arts Officer, and subsequently specifically in the city. I had returned to Galway from Wexford Arts Centre where I had been Artistic Director, but before that I had spent a lot of time in the West. Every childhood summer was enjoyed in Barna, I went to college here, to UCG, and had worked with Galway Arts Festival, the Arts Centre and Macnas.
My romantic and adoring view of Galway originated in early-years visits to Kennys’ with my bibliophile father, or to Charles Lamb’s studio in Carraroe, or to my mother’s family in musical Belclare at the foot of Knockma.
‘Galway is a paradise,’ I stated firmly in a newspaper profile to mark my appointment.
I was one of the first of the new Local Authority Arts Officers, co-funded by the Arts Council with a brief to develop local arts.
Based in possibly Ireland’s oldest prefab at the back of the County Buildings in Prospect Hill, a handy base to explore from, create and curate projects, networks and funding opportunities, I was tasked to advise and assist the city and county in policy, programming and grant aid. My dear friend and college colleague Michael Diskin had returned to Galway on the same day, February 19th.
For the next 22 years, with Mike from 1994 ensconced in the Town Hall Theatre we met two or three times a week. Back in the ‘80s we had been inspired by Ollie Jennings and Páraic Breathnach, who had laid the foundations for so much of Galway’s creative reputation. We were following in their mighty footsteps and developing our own pathways too.
Early forays into the county involved bringing Little John Nee to the towns and villages every weekend that summer. His children’s shows, mainly open-air in the little market squares of east and north Galway opened conversations that are continuing still.
Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Eileen set to soar in Seagull
When Cork-born actress Eileen Walsh got a phone call from Druid’s Artistic Director Garry Hynes a few months ago, asking her to take part in the company’s next production – Thomas Kilroy’s version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull – Eileen didn’t hesitate.
“I knew it would be outdoors and Druid have a history of doing huge projects outdoors, successfully. So, I knew it would happen even if Covid went mad again,” she says. Eileen, who lives in London, had already seen a couple of projects fall by the wayside because of the pandemic, but this would be different, she knew.
She had another reason for accepting too – it would mean reuniting onstage with Marty Rea and Marie Mullen, performers for whom she has huge regard. Eileen previously worked with them on other Druid projects, including 2012’s acclaimed DruidMurphy, featuring three plays by Tuam writer, Tom Murphy. More recently, in 2019, she and Marty received rave reviews for their performances in Beginnings, a contemporary play about dating, at the Gate Theatre.
“Working with Marty is always a joy and working with Marie is also a draw,” Eileen says as she gets ready for the first ‘tech’ (technical rehearsal) in Coole Park outside Gort, where The Seagull is being staged, under strict adherence to Covid-19 guidelines.
“Yesterday, upstairs in the rehearsal space in Druid Theatre, we had a moment,” she adds with a laugh. “We were all in one room doing our lines together and the specialness of all – being double-vaxxed and working – wasn’t lost on us.”
Thomas Kilroy’s version of Chekhov’s tragicomedy premiered in London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1981. It’s set in a large country house in the West of Ireland at the time of the Irish literary Renaissance – which was when Chekhov had written the original. The Seagull is a play about family, love, theatricality and jealousy, set in a world where the Anglo-Irish ascendancy presided over the Irish peasantry. But, echoing the original, this was a world on the cusp of change.
Eileen plays Isobel Desmond, with Jack Gleeson (Game of Thrones) as her son Constantine, both of whom are back from London to spend summer at this house – their ancestral home.
Read the full interview in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Galway poet’s new chapter as debut novel hits the shops
“I hated school so much I thought if I could be a teacher, I could make it a bit better,” says novelist and poet Elaine Feeney about her day-job as an English and History teacher at St Jarlath’s College in Tuam.
The Athenry woman certainly has made it livelier and more relevant. Her students who were studying Hamlet for this year’s Leaving Cert departed from the text to give the troubled prince psychotherapy sessions, with different boys taking on the roles of Hamlet and the therapist as they explored the plot. Elaine laughs as she recalls how they got totally caught up in it. There’s always an entry point to good writing, she says, adding that she loves Shakespeare – in part because of the soap opera element to his drama.
“You can compare it to the latest episode of EastEnders”.
The Handmaid’s Tale by contemporary Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood is also on the curriculum. Her novel might seem more relevant to the boys, especially given its global success since being adapted for television. When Elaine learned that Atwood would be visiting Galway in early March this year for a Galway 2020 event, she asked the organisers if it would be possible for the class to meet her and discuss her work. That’s what happened and 25 young men in their school blazers spent three hours discussing the novel with Atwood.
Elaine lectures in Creative Writing at NUIG and has been involved in the university’s project archiving the stories of the survivors of Tuam’s Mother and Baby home. So, watching her students engage with a woman whose books deal with the misuse of power and oppression of women was a great moment.
It’s an example of how far she’ll go to give the students the best preparation for exams and for life. Elaine has a great relationship with them, something she’ll miss next year as she takes a career break to promote her own novel, As You Were, published by UK company Harvill Secker.
Read the full interview with Elaine Feeney in this week’s Connacht Tribune.