Play about amazing soldier explores issues of identity

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Current debates about issues concerning transgender people are shedding more heat than light on a subject that affects real people and one that isn’t new.     Proof of that can be seen in The Curious Case of Albert Cashier: Lincoln’s Lady Soldier, which visits Galway’s Town Hall Theatre on Monday, October 2. Humorous, sad and action-filled it’s based on the extraordinary true story of an Irish transgender soldier, born in 1843 in Clogherhead, County Louth and christened Jennie Hodgers.

The play is being staged by County Louth-based company Quintessence, which was established in 2015, and uses theatre to give a voice to people who aren’t always heard, as it explores the human condition.

“I’m a Louth man through and through and didn’t know about Jennie’s existence,” says the company’s Anthony Kinahan about this person who had been assigned female at birth.

Aged 16, Jennie stowed away on a boat to Liverpool and from there went to New York in 1859, arriving under a new name: Albert Cashier.

Three years later, Albert joined the 95th Illinois Infantry, having passed the requisite medical tests, and fought for three years in Lincoln’s Union army. He gained a reputation for bravery and resourcefulness, especially during the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg.

After the Civil War, Albert took various odd jobs and continued to live as a man, enjoying many of the benefits that were denied to women in those days.

In 1911, he was forced into sheltered accommodation following an accident and was granted a military pension. But in 1913, due to an indiscreet medic, the media learned of Albert’s previous identity and the army attempted to strip him of this pension. However, former comrades came forward to testify on his behalf and he retained it.

Pictured: The play, from Quintessence, is based on the true story of Jennie Hodgers from County Louth who forged a new life in America as Albert Cashier and fought on the Union side in the American Civil War.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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