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“It appears certain that Nationalism has gained a great deal and lost a little by its union with Labour in the Insurrection of Easter Week, and that Labour has lost much and achieved something by its avowal of the National aspirations of the Irish Nation”

-Sean O’ Casey.

Joe Hanley as Fluther Good, in rehearsal for The Plough and the Stars.

There is no night quite as exciting to see a play as on its first night before the general public. Lines have been practiced, outfits adjusted, props moved slightly this way or that way, feedback taken on board. The stage is set by now, and nothing is as telling as the reaction of a sold-out house to a performance.

Based on the reaction tonight, The Plough and the Stars should enjoy a fine run now it is back home where it belongs.

Undoubtedly one of the most controversial plays to emerge from The Abbey, it is no doubt the one that first comes to mind for many when discussing the iconic Theatre. The riots that emerged during its 1926 run at The Abbey are well documented. These disturbances were, among other things, reactions to the sight of a prostitute on stage, the appearance of the Irish flag in a public house and the use of the words of P.H Pearse. For some, the play was seen as dismissive of the ideals of the men of 1916, and the leading Irish progressive figure Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was among those who disrupted the first performance of the play. A great irony was the fact O’ Casey had previously wrote so highly of her husband Francis, the pacifist who was murdered in very suspicious circumstances during the Rising.

In Sheehy-Skeffington, and not in Connolly, fell the first martyr to Irish Socialism, for he linked Ireland not only with the little nations struggling for self-expression, but with the world’s Humanity struggling for a higher life.

When The Abbey later refused The Silver Tassie, in 1927, O’ Casey left it behind him. The Abbey has never been able to leave O’ Casey behind it however, and The Plough and the Stars has returned to its stage on numerous occasions. This latest performance, directed by Wayne Jordan, is one I’ve been eagerly awaiting for months.

The characters in the play are not easy to carry. I have seen this play performed in the past in a way that did not quite do justice to the weight of characters like The Covey and Fluther. They’re supposed to be passionate, and nothing if not loud. Joe Hanley could not have got Fluther better, and over a ‘post-play pint’ I heard this view shared by many. Fluther is a loveable character despite all his faults, and produces many wonderful lines in the work. Best to hear them read right. His physical manner on stage also matches the character, and he completely makes the character his own, whether pacing a room or returning from an ‘Easter week shopping raid’.

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Whilst very tempted to write a review of Colm McPhersons “The Seafarer” that just gave it five stars and said “go see it and you’ll understand why,” I do understand reviews don’t work like that so I‘ve bulked it up a little. But I mean it; before I even start the review, that’s exactly what I feel like saying; go see it and you‘ll understand.

Under the advice of a good friend, and having just written an article on the history of the Hellfire Club, one slow Saturday afternoon in January, six of us headed along to a matinee showing of a play said to be inspired by the tale of the Bucks on Montpellier Hill, when Beelzebub himself showed up during a late night game of cards, and upon losing, stamped his hoof on the floor and took off. (That mark, according to local superstitious types, can still be seen today.)

The Seafarer

The Seafarer, from last years run at An Grianán.

Captivating from the start, the story, the characters and the actors that portray them are so… familiar. Bleak, but uproariously funny, there’s a comedy in the dark, unfolding drama and maybe it’s comedy that only the Irish can understand. For while I found it hard to retain my laughter at times, as did most of the audience, half of our company were not from this Island and thought we were sick, or mad, or both, to be laughing at the despair portrayed on stage. McPherson even admitted this himself, saying Irish audiences would understand the play better than those in London or New York.

Set in Baldoyle, but namedropping an expanse of Dublin streets and pubs, the plot centres around the return of Sharkey (Liam Carney) to Dublin at Christmas time to the house his newly-visually-impaired brother Richard (Maelíosa Stafford) inherited from their parents.  Chaotic from the start, Richard and pal Ivan (Don Wycherly) test Sharkey’s patience to the limit as he tries to stay off the drink for a third consecutive day, as they nurse the mother of all hangovers, sneakily tucking into a bottle Gold Label for breakfast. I can’t compliment Don Wycherly’s performance enough; I spent most of the play watching him rather than what was going on on-stage as he stayed in character for the full three hours. Ivan is the epitomy of the lovable Irish scally- Disheveled, simple, nervous, good natured and an out-and-out alcoholic. I’d do him an injustice to describe him as any more than that; what he does on stage is just… madcap, hilarious and truly brilliant. 

The story unfolds as Sharkey’s past unravels, and it’s with the arrival of Nicky (Played by Phelim Drew, son of a hero of ours here at CHTM, Ronnie,) and Mr. Lockhart (Nick Dunning) that we get the real story about Sharkey, an alcoholic, a “Useless Eegit” whose life has been “nothing more than a series of fuck-ups” but who has “Potential” according to his loving brother Richard. As they start into their annual game of poker, and the ante’s get higher and higher, Mr. Lockhart reveals himself to Sharkey as the devil, come to claim his soul, having been beaten by Sharkey before, he doesn’t intend to get beaten again. 

The play takes a sidelong glance at the Irish relationship with alcohol, our begrudgery and our inability to share problems. And though the overriding mood of the play is bleak, dark and disparaging, the wit and feelings of hope and redemption win through, and as they say, hope springs, and you do walk out of the play with a smile on your face.

I’ll finish as I started and say go see this play, it runs until January 30th in the Abbey and tickets start at €25.

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“When things go wrong and will not come right, though you do the best you can, when life looks black as the hour of night, a pint of plain is your only man”

It could barely have been foreseen that something that started as an excuse for a pub crawl on a slow Sunday afternoon could turn into a day of good banter and storytelling, traversing the spots that thousands and millions of weary travelers have trod before and ultimately in the conception of this Blog. Five pubs in one day, it’s not a hard thing in Dublin City, it‘s near impossible to get from A to B without passing at least one watering hole. It’s not exactly a cultural experiment either; it’s the sort of thing you do every weekend anyways without thinking about it. It’s only when you plot the five pubs beforehand, the nature and character of those five pubs and go there with the idea of having the craic while critiquing the place at the same time, drinking decent pints whilst judging them, and singing a few songs and telling a few tales in between. Then it becomes cultural.

So that’s what we did on the first Sunday in September. Five pubs were chosen and five brave warriors met in The Long Hall on Georges Street for the first pint of the day. For those of you who have never been in the Long Hall, it’s an unusual pub, decorated with early 20th Century trappings, rich shag carpets and wood panelling. The pint is bloody gorgeous too, if a little on the soft side.

The Long Hall: photo by Flickr user inaki_naiz. Used under a Creative Commons License.

It’s the kind of pub that is full of shirt bedecked office workers on a Friday evening but on a Sunday afternoon, the crowd was sparse. Not that we were giving out. And in a welcome development, though most pubs we had walked past to get here had ‘de football’ (English of course) blaring at full volume, the telly wasn’t even switched on here and the music was down low. A grand spot for a bit of natter; and during the natter we find out it’s a pub with a bit of history too – Ever seen the video for Thin Lizzy’s “Old Town?” Well the bar the lads are propping up is none other than the one in The Long Hall! So a quick toast to Phil and the boys and we were out the door, the barman giving us a shout of Slán as we left. Not too many places you get that either.

So next up was McDaids, just off Grafton Street. We didn’t stay long, as the barman gruffly demanded ID off each of us (I haven’t been asked for ID in five years or so… I didn’t know whether to be happy or angry) and then only begrudgingly asked what we wanted. The Chelsea Vs. Liverpool game was blaring and we decided it wasn’t worth it. Maybe the barman was a Liverpool fan (they were losing 2-0) or we just caught the place on a bad day because I genuinely like this pub; just definitely not that Sunday. As a change of plan, we headed for Kehoes, just the far side of Grafton Street. We found a nice quiet spot upstairs in the side room adjoining the Upstairs bar.

Kehoes: photo by Flickr user boggerthelogger. Used under a Creative Commons License.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of scooping in Kehoes, the upstairs bar is basically the living quarters of John Kehoe (long since passed away ) transformed by sticking a counter and some taps in it. It’s like drinking in your grannies sitting room. The old pictures adorning the wall were the source of many anecdotes as Pearse, Connolly and Heuston were debated and dissected. They say you should never talk politics or religion in a pub. It was a bit difficult in this place… With pictures of the 50th anniversary of the rising on one wall and Bono on the other! The pint was nice and cold, the head stayed white and the glass was left with the magic seven rings; always a good sign in my book. So with a few pints on us we headed on towards The Dawson Lounge.

The Dawson Lounge’s claim to fame is that it’s Dublin’s smallest pub. With two other groups of five or so in the place, there was not a stool to be had. We were disappointed to find out we couldn’t collect a Guinness 250 beermat commemorating this place but then again, it’d be hard to paint a picture of the place, what with there just being a door and a tiny hanging sign above it!

Dawson Lounge: photo from dublin-in-pictures.blogspot.com

Not much you can say about this place, great pint, nice and snug, the kind of place you’d love to step into on a cold and wet day to read the paper or watch the news over a pint of plain. And don’t be dissuaded by the shortness of the review for this place; sure don’t they say it’s not the size that counts.

The next pub was to be Toners on Baggot Street, a great little boozer this, one of my secret hideaways- the kind of place where you can happily sit in the corner with a pint and a book and not be disturbed by anyone except the barman asking if you want another pint! We were greeted cheerily as we entered and we were glad to get in out of the cold and get a much-anticipated pint. I can’t recommend this pub enough; nice and snug, a great pint and a pub with a great history, frequented by Behan and O’Brien as it was.

Toners: photo by Flickr user Mr Pauly D. Used under a Creative Commons License.

I was sad to leave but we were nearing the summit of our challenge, and the cream of the crop. I think we peaked too early by deciding to include Mulligans of Poolbeg Street in our first five pubs for it truly is one of the best pints in the city. There is nothing polished about this pub, it’s old Dublin, (very old Dublin, the place was established in 1732;) rough and ready. Bare wood floors and nicotine scarred walls, but genuine and welcoming at the same time, far from the super pubs Dublin has come to know and despise. A great place for a bit of banter, the pub was well populated with young and old, bent over pints,  chatting, laughing and slagging. A smashing pint aswell, and that makes all the difference.

Mulligans: photo by Flickr user Diego

We forgot ourselves here and indulged in a few more than we originally meant, but it was hard not to and besides, this was to be the end of our road for this week, and the end of the first chapter in a story I hope we endeavour to keep going. Pints, mates and the craic, what more could you ask for?

September’s five pubs were:
1. The Long Hall, Georges Street, Dublin 2.
2. John Kehoe’s, 9 South Anne’s Street, Dublin 2.
3. The Dawson Lounge, 25 Dawson Street, Dublin 2.
4. Toner’s, 139 Baggot Street Lower, Dublin 2.
5. Mulligan’s, 8 Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2.

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