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Play about Ireland’s past throws light on shape of country today

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Date Published: {J}

“This is not a play about our current clerical scandals, but it’s a play behind the current clerical scandals,” says Thomas Kilroy about his play Christ Deliver Us!, which will receive its world premiere at the Abbey Theatre next week.

Christ Deliver Us!, by the former professor of English at UCG (now NUIG) and Kilmaine resident, was inspired by a controversial 19th century German play, Spring Awakening, which is “one of the famous plays about adolescence” explains the author, who is referred to by his full name, Thomas as a writer, but is more familiarly known as Tom.

That drama about youngsters growing up in a repressed society was written by Frank Wedekind in the 1890s and first performed in 1906 when it proved to be highly controversial.

More recently it was adapted into a successful Broadway musical, winning eight Tony awards in 2007.

Tom has transposed Spring Awakening into an Irish setting, which has allowed him to write a play about his own schooldays in Kilkenny in the 1950s.

“I’d wanted to do it for a long time, and it had been commissioned several years ago by the Abbey but it wasn’t produced at the time,” he says of the play.

He is stoic about its slow trip from page to stage – it is a large production with a cast of 25 – and he is just happy that it’s being produced by the national theatre

“It’s the kind of play I love but it’s very expensive [to produce] and I’m very lucky to have the Abbey. It’s the only theatre that could afford to do it with a full cast.”

Christ Deliver Us! is “about the Church and the control that the Church and State exercised. You would not have been aware of it at the time, because that was the world as it was”, Tom explains.

At the centre of the drama is a love relationship between a young boy and girl, but it’s a play with lots more going on.

“There are several different stories, with teenagers going through their romantic crises, there’s a teenage suicide, a hurling match – it being Kilkenny – a teenage pregnancy, a ghost . . . it doesn’t last long, but it’s a large scale play,” he explains.

“Essentially it’s about a young boy and how he has to find a way out of that life and into the future.

“It is much more character driven than the original play and the characters are created out of memories that I have,” he says of Christ Deliver Us!.

The action takes place in various locations, outside and inside, including a diocesan college and an industrial school, so it’s a big technical production.

It’s being directed by Wayne Jordan who is making his debut on the Abbey’s main stage – he has previously directed work for the smaller Peacock venue. There’s a cast of 25, many are young actors and, says Tom, Wayne is particularly good with them.

Despite the presence of the reform school, there is no sexual abuse in the play because Tom never experienced such abuse.

“But there is physical abuse, and that was endemic or systemic in Ireland. Young people were beaten regularly, not just at school but at home and that had a profound effect. It made violence more acceptable.”

Tom feels that the play “is saying something about Ireland in the past, but it also casts a light on Ireland in the present”.

That exploration runs through Tom Kilroy’s work in plays such as Double Cross, which was produced by the groundbreaking Field Day Theatre Company; and in his only novel, The Big Chapel, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1971 and which won the Guardian Fiction award among others.

Double Cross, first staged in 1986, explored the lives and careers of two very different Irishmen, Nazi propagandist William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) and Churchill’s wartime Minister for Information, Brendan Bracken. Set during World War II, it examined the issue of identity: “the influence of colonisation on a people and the confusion it creates in terms of identity”, something which still resonates today.

The Big Chapel is based on anti-clerical riots that occurred in Kilkenny in the 19th century, and addresses the tragedy that occurs when people blindly follow ideological dogma. Its story remains hugely relevant to contemporary society.

But it is for his plays that Tom Kilroy has earned his reputation. His drama The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, which had homosexuality as a central theme, caused a major stir when it was produced at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1968. It went on to become a festival hit.

For more, read page 27 of this week’s Galway City 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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