RSS

Blackbird Sings Loudest at the Project

03 Mar

“The Army is no place for politics!” cries a battle-hardened and yet war-weary Private McLaren in David Duggan’s play about the last few years and months in the life of the war poet Francis Ledwidge. Born in county Meath, Ledwidge, often known as the ‘Poet of the Blackbirds’, was killed during World War I at the Battle of Passhendaele in July 1917, serving on the front as a member of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Still the Blackbird Sings was commissioned by and previously premiered at the Playhouse Theatre in Derry.

At its opening night at the Project Arts Centre,  Duggan’s portrayal of the Meath born and Nationalist Ledwidge presents a visceral and powerful insight into the confrontations and conflicts of the soul and heart experience by Irish men in the service of the British army at a time when Irish Nationalism by non-constitutional means had reached fever pitch.

The play is set at Ebrington barracks in Derry in 1916. Ledwidge, who had succeeded to the rank of Lance Corporal had returned to Ireland following several stints on the war front in Eastern Europe, including Serbia, Turkey and France. Now home, Ledwidge along with his regiment members are coming to terms with the heavy losses sustained at the Somme and also on the home front following the Easter Rising.

Noted as a staunch Nationalist, Ledwidge struggles with a bitter conflict of cause and conscience as his fellow poets have died for the cause of Irish freedom on the streets of Dublin at Easter 1916. He speaks of McDonagh, Plunkett and Pearse as friends and poets and dreamers. Indeed, the title of ‘poet’ seems more important to Ledwidge than does the title of ‘soldier’. When he is questioned about his loyalty to the English crown, its army and cause on the European battlefields, Ledwidge states that causes of freedom are fought on many fronts and not always in Europe, but here at home too.

 Ledwidge’s support of the ‘insurrectionists’ of the Easter 1916 leads to growing suspicion of Ledwidge himself from his company and regiment. Colm Gormley is excellent as Private Caddon as he squabbles and comes to blows with Mark Fitzgerald’s Ledwidge over politics and the commemoration of those Ulstermen that died at the Somme as greater patriots than those who died in Dublin at Easter. The tension between Unionist and Nationalist is palpable and explodes on more than one occasion within the confined and claustrophobic barracks designed by Sarah Bacon. 

This theme of the ‘right’ cause for Irishmen and Irish Nationalists is teased out and explored by Duggan and avoids becoming too polemic in its treatment of the case. In conversation with Irish Times, Duggan recounts: “Irish nationalists joined the British army during the first World War because a carrot was dangled in front of them in the form of the promise of Home Rule,” he says. “They wanted to prove themselves capable of looking after their own country in the face of German aggression. They joined fellow countrymen of a unionist persuasion in a tense resolve, aimed at achieving unity and justice in Europe and a future for Ireland. But at the same time as Home Rule was being offered, a pledge was made to the Ulster regiments that Ireland would always remain within the United Kingdom. For a deep thinker and a committed nationalist like Ledwidge, these mixed messages proved extremely problematic and he grappled with the difficulty of squaring the circles.”

The words of the poet Ledwidge are an escape from the constant threat of death by bomb, bullet or court martial and from the soul destroying wait to be called to the Front. Private Gamble, well characterised by Conan Sweeney typifies the soldier driven to the brink of madness from shell shock and hears the command whistle and guns even in his sleep. As Ledwidge forges a close relationship with the servant girl, Rosie, their romance is short lived and Ledwidge and his company again face the war front.

Still, the Blackbird Sings.Image courtesy of the Project Arts Centre

Ledwidge laments the death of the 1916 martyrs as much as Private Caddon laments the death of so many Ulstermen men at the Somme. The irony in Caddon’s desire to have died there too reflects the Blood Sacrifice espoused especially by Peasre before the 1916 Rising. Mark Fitzgerald more than capably handles the difficult role of portraying the struggles within Ledwidge as he fights for realisation of his true self, be that soldier, Nationalist or poet. Ledwidge’s feeling towards the dead of 1916 and indeed the dead of war in general is truly evident in his Lament for Thomas MacDonagh:

He shall not hear the bittern cry
in the wild sky, where he is lain,
Nor voices of the sweeter birds
Above the wailing of the rain
 
Nor shall he know when the loud March blows
Thro’ slanting snows her fanfare shrill,
Blowing to flame the golden cup
Of many an upset daffodil.

The presence of sand seeping from hand to ground at random times during the play is a clever device in portraying the imagery of death and ashes returning to the earth as it also counts down an irreversible death clock for so many Irishmen in the British Army, including Ledwidge. The poetic imagery of the blackbird with its yellow beak, the strength of the river and beauty of the Irish landscape are expressed effortlessly by Fitzgerald while Packy Lee delivers a strong performance that is as humorous as it is heartfelt.

With North-South relations currently dominating Irish news headlines for once again tragic reasons, coupled with the extended recent talks at Hillborough regarding policing and justice in the North, Duggan’s play is right on queue in making a willing audience rethink the ethics of conflict and the assertion of when and whether it can be discerned that a war is justified. Can freedom be truly won through war? Does a uniform define an Irishman and make his cause worthwhile? Duggan wrestles with these questions at a vital time for the future of peace in Ireland and justifies the Project Arts Centre as one of the most relevant and important of Irish stages.

At the Project Arts Centre until 6 March and tours to Ballybofey, Co Donegal; Belfast; and Ebrington Barracks, Derry.

http://www.projectartscentre.ie/programme/whats-on/875-still-the-blackbird-sings

Visit the Fancis Ledwidge Museum in the cottage birthplace of the poet in County Meath. http://www.francisledwidge.com/

Rehearsals for 'Still, the Blackbird Sings'. Image courtesy of totallydublin.ie

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , ,

10 responses to “Blackbird Sings Loudest at the Project

  1. banlu.yst1.net

    March 15, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    If you would like to get a good deal from this post then you
    have to apply such techniques to your won web site.

     
  2. raspberry ketone reviews weight loss

    June 16, 2013 at 3:41 am

    Its like you learn my mind! You seem to know a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the
    e book in it or something. I think that you just can do
    with a few % to drive the message home a bit, however other than that, that is fantastic blog.

    A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

     
  3. pure raspberry ketone extract

    June 16, 2013 at 3:59 am

    Good post! We will be linking to this particularly great article on our website.

    Keep up the great writing.

     
  4. raspberry ketone diet

    June 16, 2013 at 5:10 am

    Thanks for any other informative website. The place else could I
    am getting that type of information written in such an ideal method?
    I have a mission that I’m just now running on, and I have been at the glance out for such information.

     
  5. http://www.metamorphablog.westernascentinc.com

    June 16, 2013 at 6:37 am

    My partner and I stumbled over here different website
    and thought I might check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you.

    Look forward to looking at your web page again.

     
  6. raspberry ketone capsules

    June 16, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Good post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Thanks!

     
  7. green coffee extract

    June 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Simply desire to say your article is as astounding.

    The clarity in your post is simply spectacular and i could assume you are an expert on this subject.
    Fine with your permission allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post.
    Thanks a million and please keep up the enjoyable work.

     
  8. go to sleep

    August 17, 2013 at 12:41 am

    Fantastic beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend your site, how can i subscribe for a
    blog website? The account aided me a applicable deal.
    I have been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast
    offered shiny transparent idea

     
  9. διαιτολογος

    March 8, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    For healthy diet use whole grain food and cereals e.
    It’s popularity was local until in 2011, it was speculated that Kate Middleton, bride of the famous Royal wedding
    used this diet to look amazing. Eat any foods they liked, as long as they were low
    on the glycemic index.

     
  10. υπνος

    March 19, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Article Source: the reason many are getting the best crib beds.
    For new moms and first-time parents, you can check out baby sleep secrets online for more parenting tips and guides you can benefit from.
    So my one tip to you, if you truly want to get six pack
    abdominals as fast as possible, is to get good sleep.

     

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: