Posts Tagged ‘Sean O’ Casey’

Go, fetch to me a pint o’ wine,
And fill it in a silver tassie,
That I may drink before I go.
A service to my bonie lassie

From that song came the footballer, Harry Heegan, who won the cup and went to war, and the entire narrative of The Silver Tassie….Sean had spoken with great excitement and urgency of his treatment of the second act in the war zone on The Western Front.
Eileen O’ Casey from ‘Sean’

The 1920s in Britain produced plenty of literature, plays and drama inspired by the ‘Great War’. The majority of this of course was almost nostalgic, reflecting the soldiers of the empire as a unified organisation of heroes. It was also for the most part the product of men who had been nowhere near the war, and C. Desmond Greaves remarked in his excellent study of the politics of Sean O’ Casey that in such works “..officers and gentlemen emitted the cosy sentiments of the cricket field”.

The cosy repackaging of the war was a long way removed from the view held by many in the labour movement of course. James Connolly had written in the midst of the war that “the carnival of murder on the continent will be remembered as a nightmare in the future”, a view no doubt shared by O’ Casey. In The Silver Tassie, O’ Casey’s excellent anti-war play, we see a rejection of the more comfortable version of events. Like Connolly before him, O’ Casey saw the war as nothing but the slaughter of working class men.

The Abbey rejection of The Silver Tassie is well documented. It was perhaps unsurprising, owing to the response to The Plough and the Stars in 1926, and the new direction of O’ Casey’s work. Yeats famously wrote to O’ Casey that “…you are not interested in the Great War; you never stood on its battlefields, never walked in its hospitals, and so write out of your opinions.” Yet O’ Casey had seen the horror of the war firsthand. While at St. Vincent’s Hospital he had been in the presence of men completely destroyed by the war. His own brothers had been in the British army, and like any working class Dubliner O’ Casey had seen men walking around the city as shadows of their former selves. The hurt caused to O’ Casey by the rejection of the play was perhaps clearest when he refused to meet Lady Gregory in London, despite her writing of her desires to see the play there.

Men of the 10th (Irish) Division.


Read Full Post »

From archaeological excavations to Northside soul bands, it’s a varied night to kick off the weekend. Here’s a few I think are worth a look.

This Friday ,September 24, is Culture Night in Dublin. What’s that? A chance for Dubliners to switch off the telly (Ryan Tubridy, no thanks.), hit the streets and enjoy what the capital has to offer. Here’s my pick of what to do. For the most part, this is my own plan of action, so you know it’s a good one.

First of all, for the early birds: The Abbey are giving away thirty free tickets to the Plough and the Stars. I’m excited about the arrival of The Silver Tassie in Dublin soon, by far my favourite O’ Casey play, but The Plough and the Stars is perhaps ‘the’ play of what is often labelled O’ Casey’s Dublin trilogy. First come, first served Friday morning from 10.30am. You have to be there yourself at the box office, so set the alarm all you unemployed Come Here To Me readers.

Fans of O’ Casey should note that this isn’t the only chance you’ll have to take in some of his work on the night. Up on the Sean O’ Casey Bridge, at 5.30, 6.30 and 7.30, pieces from Shadow Of A Gunman and The Plough and the Stars will be performed. At the same times, the James Joyce and Samuel Beckett bridges will come to life with similar tributes to their namesakes, though you won’t catch me at either.

That great Dublin historian, Pat Liddy, is also lending his services to the night. Merrion Square and its Writers promises to be an excellent walking tour, kicking off from the Georgian House Museum, 29 Fitzwilliam Street Lower. Bring an umbrella, you never know.

Smithfield has plenty on offer on the night. The Jameson Distillery for example are offering free guided tours of the Distillery, which includes a free drink(!!!!!). First come first served over there. I imagine many will come, and many will be served. A fine start to the night perhaps. Space 54 and the Light House Cinema are both involved too on the night. The Complex play host to DIG, an exhibition of drawings and photographs from the Smithfield archaeological excavations.

In several cases the drawings record what was found under the actual gallery where the exhibition is displayed.

DIG opens tomorrow night, with Dr Ruth Johnson, Dublin City Archaeologist on hand to do the honours, but on Friday it remains open until 10pm, with the night that is in it.

A short walk away, at St. Mary’s Abbey, an exhibition titled ‘Vintage Irish Bookcovers’ is taking place from 6 to 9 pm. I’ve been known to lose lunch time to Niall McCormack’s Vintage Irish Bookcovers Blog, where everyone from Peadar O’ Donnell to Pádraic Ó Conaire features.

Free tours of Christ Church are on offer on the night, a must do for anyone who has been putting it off or writing it off as ‘too touristy’. Right next to it, by the site where Handel’s Messiah was first performed, The Contemporary Music Centre will host a night of music, “reflecting the very latest trends in contemporary music and sound art”. Handel’d love it.

In the belly of the beast, or Friday night Temple Bar, there are some more hidden gems. The Quakers Meeting House, where “Quakers have met in silence in Temple Bar for over 300 years”, opens its doors to the public and a one hour play titled ‘On Human Folly’ will be performed at 8pm. Filmbase are running a night of free activities for people like me who have no clue whatsoever how to edit or film. Exchange Dublin, The Gutter Bookshop and others down in the sometimes overlooked ‘Old City’ part of Temple Bar are also participating.

By this stage, you’re exhausted. You’ve knocked out one or two of the events above and you want to relax. Well, in Meeting House Square will find Dublin classic The Commitments being screened at 10.15pm. A nice way to bring it all to an end, even if we’ve all seen it a dozen times and own the VHS. One more viewing might convince me to buy the DVD.

See you on the streets.

Read Full Post »

“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’.


Read Full Post »

F. J McCormick in The Plough and the Stars as Captain Brennan.

The above image is taken from page 184 of the Capuchin Annual 1948.

The Plough and the Stars returns to The Abbey this summer, hopefully for a far less dramatic run than that of 1926, when the play inspired people to riot. “The Ireland that remembers with tear-dimmed eyes all that Easter Week stands for, will not, and cannot, be silent in face of such a challenge”, said Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, the feminist and social activist.

Sean O’ Casey remarked in the preface to his work on the Irish Citizen Army, The Story Of The Irish Citizen Army, that “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.” This feeling is evident in this play, and the work is as tragic as it is funny.

The play is one that can spark debate in a way few others can. It’s run at the Abbey this summer is something I’ve been excited about for some time now. To coincide with the run, The Abbey are hosting a number of Talks and Workshops on the play.

Thursday 29 July, 6pm
Shivaun O’ Casey

Distinguished theatre director Shivaun O’ Casey discusses her father’s work.
Tickets: €3

Tuesday 7 September, 6pm
Keepers Of The Flame

Join us as we trace the political and performance history of The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre.
Tickets: €3

Saturday 4 September 10am
Talking Text

Voice Director Andrea Ainsworth leads a voice workshop using text from The Plough and the Stars
Tickets: €40 (Includes a light lunch and a ticket to the matinee showing)

Read Full Post »

“What was this Republic of which I now heard for the first time? Who were the leaders the British had executed after taking them prisoners, Tom Clarke, Padraic Pearse, James Connolly and all the others, none of whose names I had ever heard? What did it all mean?”

So wrote a young British soldier serving in Mesopotamia, or Iraq to you and me. Bemused by what had occured in Dublin, this one soldier had gone to war not lured by the recruitment posters featuring small nations (often personified in the form of female characters) but in his own words “..for no other reason than that I wanted to see what war was like, to get a gun, to see new countries and to feel like a grown man”. This young soldier would continue to serve that army afterwards, but in 1920 became a member of the 3rd Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army, rising through the ranks to become a flying column leader who inflicted terror on Auxiliary forces at Kilmichael and the Essex Regiment of the British Army and the Royal Irish Constabulary at Crossbarry. The young man, of course, was Tom Barry.

Tom Barry

Barry was not the only Republican leader who saw the Rising in an unusual manner. In Dublin,a young medical student named Ernie O’ Malley was taken aback by events, and vivdly described events on Sackville Street.

“Other shops had just been looted: Lawrence’s toy bazaar and some jewellers. Diamond rings and pocketsful of gold watches were selling for sixpence and a shilling, and one was cursed if one did not buy…. Ragged boys wearing old boots, brown and black, tramped up and down with air rifles on their shoulders or played cowboys and Indians, armed with black pistols supplied with long rows of paper caps. Little girls hugged teddy bears and dolls as if they could hardly believe their good fortune”

Ernie O' Malley

While literally seeing the outbreak of the rebellion, O’ Malley would also encounter a student he knew who told him they were arming themselves in case Trinity College would be attacked. O’ Malley informed the student that while he was off home, he would return later(The fact O’ Malley was a UCD Student would no doubt lead to cries of ‘Sacrilege!’ from some even today). Largely indifferent at first to what was occuring, O’ Malley would quickly turn towards the rebels, even making his way down Moore Street and towards Nelsons Pillar one night, where he discussed the rising so far with a uniformed officer of the Irish Citizen Army. Amazingly, O’ Malley and a schoolboy friend would take it upon themselves to assist the rebels, through taking potshots at soldiers with a rifle his friends father had been given “as a present by a soldier who brought it back from the Front”

In his memoir, On Another Man’s Wound he went on to note that after the rebellion he purchased a copy of James Connolly’s Labour In Irish History. History would see Ernie O’ Malley remembered as a leading republican anti-treatyite, and a key intellectual within the movement.

James Stephens

In Dublin, James Stephens was surprised by the outbreak of the insurrection, in fact to the extent that he did not notice at first and went about his business. A novelist and poet, his account of the week, The Insurrection in Dublin, is well written and oft-humourous.

“This has taken everyone by surprise. It is possible, that with the exception of their staff, it has taken the Volunteers themselves by surprise; but,today, our peaceful city is no longer peaceful; guns are sounding or rolling and cracking from different directions, and, although rarely, the rattle of machine guns can be heard also.

Two days ago war seemed very far away- so far, that I have convenated with myself to learn the alphabet of music”

Stephens would seek confirmation of the Risings continuation from his own window, and the Republican flag flying over the Jacob’s Garrison, under the command of Thomas MacDonagh, but including a diverse band of individuals like Peadar Kearney (author of The Soldiers Song), Major John MacBride and the actress Máire Ní Shiubhlaigh, a member of Cumann na mBán, the womens auxiliary force to the Irish Volunteers.

“It is half-past three o’clock, and from my window the Republican flag can still be seen flying over Jacob’s factory. There is occasional shooting, but the city as a whole is quiet. At a quarter to five o’clock
a heavy gun boomed once. Ten minutes later there was heavy machine gun firing and much rifle shooting. In another ten minutes the flag at Jacob’s was hauled down.

Many had believed that the country would rise after Dublin, and create a national uprising out of a regional one. This was not to be, with contradictory orders from national leadership leading to mass confusion. Liam Mellows mustered a force of several hundred in Galway who were involved in several attacks on police barracks’ yet did not have the capability to sustain any sort of campaign in the region. Men of the ‘Fingal Batallion’ of the Irish Volunteers would find themselves active in Ashbourne, County Meath with Thomas Ashe, where they inflicted real damage on local Royal Irish Constabulary forces. Still, the significant forces available to the Volunteers nationwide were not used, as many had obeyed the order of Eoin MacNeill and word did not travel from Dublin at a speed to allow for a nationwide insurrection.

Dan Breen, front row.

The frustration of some Volunteers outside Dublin can be clearly felt in Dan Breen’s account of news reaching him in Tipperary, and his attempts to establish contact with Sean Treacy, a leading figure of the Third Tipperary Brigade and a close friend.

“Sean had left his home on the first news of the Rebellion and cycled from one centre to another, urging the Tipperary Volunteers to take action….

…We were bitterly dissapointed that the fighting had not extended to the country. We swore that, should the fighting ever be resumed, we would be in the thick of it, no matter where it took place”

Perhaps fittingly, on the 21st of January, 1919, Sean and Dan would play no small part in resuming the fighting with the Soloheadbeg Ambush, an action that has found a place in Irish history as the event which essentially kick-started the War of Independence. Anyone new to the period should seek out the ‘Wanted’ poster for Dan Breen, which is sure to raise a chuckle, highlighting his “sulky bulldog appearance” among other things.

Events in Dublin would have a ricochet effect far beyond the city or even Irish countryside. In Wales, Captain Jack White would find himself arrested too.

Captain Jack White

White had drilled, and in fact dressed (disagreeing with Sean O’ Casey on the matter of uniforming such a workers militia), the Citizen Army long before the insurrection.

In his memoir, Misfit, White noted that “In short, I am arrested in the South Wales coalfield for trying to get the Welsh miners out on strike. Why? To save Jim Connolly being shot for his share in the Easter Rising in command of the Citizen Army. Had I succeeded I would have crippled the coal supply for the British Fleet”

Years after the insurrection, White would find himself an anarchist in Spain,and in an article published on November 11th 1936 titled “A Rebel In Barcelona: Jack White’s First Spanish Impressions” White would once again speak of the Easter Rising.

“You will have heard no doubt about the Dublin Rising of 1916. That rising is now thought of as purely a national one, of which the aims went no further than the national independence of Ireland. It is conveniently forgotten that not only was the manifesto published by the “bourgeois” leaders concieved in a spirit of extreme liberal democracy, but, associated with the “bourgeois” leaders was James Connolly, the international socialist, who some regarded as the great revolutionary fighter and organiser of his day. In command of the Irish Citizen Army, which I had drilled, he made common cause with the Republican separatists against the common Imperial enemy.”

The article was printed in the CNT-AIT Boletin de Informacion, and White concluded by stating he greeted the working class revolution with “..the voice of revolutionary Ireland”

Not all former comrades of James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army were as kind. Sean O’Casey had walked from the Citizen Army (where he held the situation of Honorary Secretary) with maintained a belief that the Citizen Army had aligned itself too closely with what he saw as reactionary nationalist forces.

Sean O' Casey

In his ‘Story of the Irish Citizen Army’ (available to read free online over at Libcom) O’Casey wrote of the raising of the green flag over Liberty Hall, stating that in his opinion “Labour had laid its precious gift of Independence on the altar of Irish Nationalism…”

Concluding Book 3 of his own autobiography, Drums under the Windows, published in 1945, it becomes clear he did not change his views with regards the new and secondary role the Irish labour movement had taken to Irish nationalism:

“But Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan, walks firm now, a flush on her haughty cheek. She hears the murmur in the people’s hearts. Her lovers are gathered around her, for things are changed, changed utterly.

A terrible beauty is born.

Poor, dear, dead men. Poor W.B. Yeats”

Lastly, it is worth taking a brief look at a story that is personal and not political. In Portrait of a Rebel Father , Nora Connolly O’ Brien, daughter of James Connolly, describes the initial reaction of the family to their fathers execution.

Nora Connolly O' Brien

“Mama, we must go back to the Castle and ask for daddy’s body”
“They won’t give it to us”
“We must ask”
It was refused.
“Mrs. Connolly”- a nurse came to them as they stood in the hall not knowing what to do- “before Mr. Connolly left us I cut this off for you” On her hand was a lock of daddy’s hair. Mama took it and held to her cheek all that was left of him.

Of course, the above opinions and reactions are just a small sample of what is out there. This Easter Week, we should look at the event not just as a week long insurrection, but as an event that would ricochet on through the troubles that followed and continue to spark debate long after the last bullets whizzed through the Dublin sky.

A fantastic snap from life.com from one of the the 2006 commemorations at the GPO,Dublin.

Read Full Post »

the Plough And The Stars

“The only censorship that is justified is the free censorship of popular opinion. The Ireland that remembers with tear-dimmed eyes all that Easter Week stands for, will not, and cannot, be silent in face of such a challenge.”

The above words, amazingly, come from none other than Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. A feminist, suffragete and left-wing nationalist. The subject of her comments is Sean O’ Caseys play, The Plough And The Stars. When we think of the riots the play kicked off, often its easy to imagine a ‘mob’ of religious and conservative nationalists. Sheehy-Skeffingtons opposition shows things were a little more complex.

If anyone has read O’ Caseys book on his time in the Citizen Army, The Story Of The Irish Citizen Army, they’ll know he never held back with his criticism of what he seen as the failures of the movement (Normally, of course, with biting satire and wit)

Sean O’ Casey famously put a motion forward within the movement calling on the Countess Markievicz to “sever her connection” with the nationalist movement if she was to remain active in the labour movement, which fell. After this, O’ Casey resigned his position was Honorary General Secretary.

The motion read:

“Seeing that Madame Markievicz was, through Cumann na mBan, attached to the Volunteers, and on intimate terms with many of the Volunteer leaders, and as the Volunteers’ Association was, in its methods and aims, inimical to the first interests of Labour, it could not be expected that Madame could retain the confidence of the Council; and that she be now asked to sever her connection with either the Volunteers or the Irish Citizen Army”

While many of you have likely seen the play before, its return to the Abbey is most welcome and this promises to be a fantastic production.

For me, the prize moment is always Jack singing Nora to his wife. Nobody has ever come near to the late Ronnie Drews fantastic rendition.

Look here, comrade, there’s no such thing as an Irishman, or an Englishman, or a German or a Turk; we’re all only human bein’s. Scientifically speakin’, it’s all a question of the accidental gatherin’ together of mollycewels an’ atoms

I’ll see you there!

The Plough And The Stars Opens At The Abbey On July 27th,2010
Sean O’ Caseys ‘The Story of the Irish Citizen Army’ can be read free online at Libcom.org

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: