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Irish Protestant Playwright Conference. Galway. Day 2

June 3, 2016


When a breakfast is included with your hotel you feel you have to eat it.  But if you’re delivering a paper at 9.30 and breakfast isn’t served till 9.00 then you’ve serious eating to do.  The key thing is to focus on the absolutely essential elements of the breakfast and ignore the toast and the baked beans.  With the essential elements inside me, I skipped across to the conference venue wondering if I couldn’t perhaps belch my conference paper.

The session we were in involved discussion of Sheridans, of Boucicault and of a particular production of The Good Natured Man by Oliver Goldsmith, staged at the Gate in 1974.  There was discussion of otiose and clumsy attempts to re-hiberinicise plays written by Irish dramatists in London and also dewy eyed recollections of the elderly Mac Liammóir sweeping his cape of the Gate stage for the very last time. We also learned much about the role of splendiferous impressario Dion Boucicault in presenting a vision of Irish Catholicism on the New York stage that appeared somehow “authentic” and yet non threatening.

Thank you David Clare, Feargal Whelan and Des Lally.

Following a coffee break we started to get serious about Wilde and Shaw.  To begin with we grappled with Wilde and Hegel and an important application of a dialectics of contraries to an essential vitalism, an organic self division, which informed the trivial of Wildean paradoxes.  We then considered an important scene from The Devil’s Disciple, a trial scene (wonderful to see Ian Richardson on screen incidentally) and considered Shaw’s American Revolutionary play in terms of its relevance to a longer yet very proximate Irish context.  And for those of us who didn’t know enough about Shaw’s journalism we considered his complex and “against the grain” responses to events like the Ripper murders, the sinking of the Titanic, and the conduct of World War One.

Thank you Graham Price, Audrey McNamara and Nelson O’Ceallaigh.

All of whom were, after lunch, reconfigured into a round table discussion of Shaw in an Irish context.  As usual, the neat categories I’d carried in my head keeping Shaw and Yeats-Gregory at arms length were properly and systematically violated.  Shaw’s involvement with the Abbey Theatre was far more important than I’d imagined.  Furthermore, I discovered that Shaw had shared a platform with James Connolly at a London rally in support of the Dublin lock-out workers and that at that meeting he may well have given Connolly the idea for the Irish Citizen Army.

In the final panel session we found ourselves thinking about Lady Gregory and Jacobitism – what kinds of sentimental and wrong-headed eighteenth-century nationalism are recuperable?  And how?  We also learned about Synge in Paris, and the Protestant club that was intended to keep him at least within sight of the rails if not exactly on them.  Finally, a proper discussion of Yeats’ dramatic use of the ballad – and of ballad forms which are not quite singable in a conventional sense but which echo traditions of theatre (Noh?) in which they are.

Thank you Anna Pilz, Catherine Wilsdon and Adrian Paterson

The final treat of the day was a rehearsed reading of W.B. Yeats’ Purgatory with Ian Walsh and Dylan McCormack.  A short play about memory and ghosts.  And murder and contaminated blood.  And wide eyed insanity.  the discussion that followed was partly about troubling context (cults of purity that are cognate with Fascism) and partly about the technicalities of ghosts on stage and the need for a proper staged performance of such work.  If the cast believe in a ghost – then the ghost is real – but belief in such ghosts requires faces – requires the ability to look at whoever isn’t speaking as well as whoever is.

And then a few of us wandered into Galway town, which remained hot and bustling and full of strolling relaxations.  The Latin Quarter actually seemed pretty Latin.



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One Comment
  1. “Purgatory” is one depressing play. I felt sorry for old William B. when I read it.

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