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‘The Mancunian Way’ and ‘The Wicklow Way’

June 18, 2013

Last Wednesday, I was doing things ‘The Mancunian Way’, when Manchester’s impressive new Irish World Heritage Centre kindly hosted an author event for me. It was quite a nostalgic experience being back in my old neighbourhood, albeit that it has changed out of all recognition, and there was a grand turnout of lovely people (some of whom remembered me and my family) to hear me speak about executed Constable William Mitchell, the subject of my latest novel: ‘Running with Crows – The Life and Death of a Black and Tan’. It is a little known fact that 30% of the notorious Black & Tans were Irish or of Irish descent and that, uncontrolled and badly behaved as they were, they were not the ‘sweepings of the English gaols’ as popular myth would have it.

This past weekend, I had the further pleasurable privilege of holding my official Irish book launch at the Dunlavin Arts Festival in County Wicklow. This lovely Georgian town, set in the stunningly beautiful Wicklow countryside, was fizzing with art, music, literature and theatre. Beautiful works of painting and sculpture were displayed in various locations, including the magnificent Georgian market hall which graces the town centre. Much of the action centred on the Meitheal Coffee Shop, formerly the Railway Inn (the pub frequented by the ‘Tans’ back in 1921).

There was a children’s parade through the town, which procession included two tenders of the local fire brigade – doubtless as a precaution, lest any over-enthusiastic child should spontaneously combust, and this was followed by a charmingly professional dance display by the young children from the local school of Irish Dancing (watch out Riverdance!).

On the Saturday evening, we were treated to a performance by GLAD Productions of two one-act plays, under the banner ‘The Wicklow Way’.

The first piece, ‘The Shadow of the Glen’ by JM Synge, was an comical pastiche of rural Irish life in bygone times, with all the parts taken by local residents. Arthur Craigie played a very credible tramp who takes advantage of the situation when finding himself the only guest at a wake. The part of the opportunist local who also tries to take advantage of the grieving widow was played to perfection by John Mulhare whilst Paul O’Toole was hilarious in the role of the dead man who unexpectedly comes back to life. Orla Colleton was outstanding in the part of the old man’s practical, brusque and unsentimental’widow’ and all the players treated us to Synge’s rich, warm and rapid-fire country dialogue which had us chuckling out loud.

The second play ‘Kit and Mitch’ was an adaptation, by talented playwright Andrew Deering, of my own novel ‘Running with Crows’. That his play was written from the perspective of one of the collateral victims of the real-life ‘Miltown murder’, exploring the effects of the incident upon the murdered magistrate’s daughter Kit, via a conversation between the young Kit and her older self, was nothing short of genius.

In contrast to the hilarity caused by the first play, during the second spellbinding piece one could have heard a pin drop. We were introduced to a vanished, genteel world of tennis parties, croquet matches and picnics and we learned how the tragedy had brought to a sudden end the carefree, privileged existence of Kit and her wealthy family. The images of the violence of that night in 1921 were presented vividly and we glimpsed the possible reasons why neither Kit nor her brother ever married. There were tantalising hints at Kit’s friendship with a somewhat mannish aristocratic lady friend and her macabre personal interest in the killer himself.

The older Kit, the lonely spinster and last of her family line, was played so movingly and with deeply sad eyes by the talented Aoife Moloney, whose echoey and haunting rendition of ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ raised goose pimples. By contrast, Anne Doyle’s youthful coquettishness and joie de vivre as the younger Kit gave a sharp vision of what had been lost as a result of this family tragedy. Both actresses looked uncannily alike and their synchronisation of dialogue was absolute perfection. All in all, this was a most moving performance and one I shall not forget.

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One Comment
  1. WHat a thoughtful review. Thank you Deirdre.

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