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‘Over the Edge’ – New Writing in Galway

Over the Edge public reading

Over the Edge public reading

A quick croissant and a coffee is just about enough to keep Kevin Higgins seated long enough for what would be a really insightful account of not just teaching writing skills through the Galway based Over The Edge group but also of writing and publishing in Ireland. He dashes from one class to another with an hour to spare in between. As someone who has given just under two-hundred individual sessions to writers and students of all levels over the past year, he is in a prime place to know how emerging writing and writers are doing.

This Thursday (19th January) marks the ninth anniversary of the Over the Edge writing group based in Galway. Set up as an initial idea by his wife and fellow published author, Susan Millar DuMars, the group gave their first public reading in January 2003. It occurred as a response to the few platforms and lack of forums for emerging writers in Ireland. The idea was simple: three readers (one established and two emerging) a reading time of fifteen minutes each (no exceptions) and then an open-mic for others to throw their literary hat into the ring.

The system has served them well with a consistent and loyal audience that always attracted newcomers at each public reading who embraced the democratic nature of the whole thing: everyone had a voice and a story to tell. Higgins outlines, “Susan and I had no real end plan for this when we set it up. It was to give writers and audience alike a forum to challenge the hierarchy that can be evident in Irish writing circles. There were a lot of closet writers with potential and we wanted to make the development and public reading setting a lot less reverential, less like Sunday mass. There can be questions and challenges.”

For the rest of this interview with Kevin Higgins of Over The Edge click here to see it on Writing.ie

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in Books

 

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Mephisto’s Journey to “the Honey Spike”.

The Honey Spike

Here is a tale of Irish Roads, of a Tinker and his wife,

It’s a tale of trouble and wildness and a child that’s born to life,

There’s mating in it, birth and death and drink to flood a dyke,

So here’s how they raced the bloody road that lead to the Honey Spike

The review from the Evening Press of “Bryan MacMahon’s the Honey Spike, produced at the Abbey Theatre in 1961 reads: [The Play] has the essential quality of all good drama: vitality – life breathes through this play.” (23 May 1961)

While “The Honey Spike” is indeed a play singing the virtues of life and the fervent dedication of expecting young parents, it is also the fear of death and superstition which supersedes the anxious wait for new life.

A young Traveller couple, Martin and Breda Claffey have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, on their own journey and adventure as newly-weds. From the cliffs aside the Giants Causeway, on the tip of Ireland’s East Coast, the pregnant Breda is nearing her ‘time’. Her baby is but days away from life. Driven by tradition and superstition and indeed also fear, Breda longs to abide by her mother’s wish, to have her baby at the ‘lucky’ spike – the Honey Spike – back in her home of Dunkerron in South Kerry.

This trek  to the lucky spike also allows for much soul-searching amongst the couple themselves, with touching scenes of genuine warmth and love by a campfire in the wilds of Ireland.  When crossing the Border region, MacMahon characterises this ‘lost world’ of an area without a true attachment of a people. It is a purgatorial space, belonging to no country but yet fought viciously over by those living on either side – the wounded IRA man seeking help identifies with the cause of the Claffeys, depicted as yet another who is seeking to find a true home. As Breda declares to the English soldiers, “What do we Travellers care about the IRA or if the country is in two or two thousand bits – shur isn’t every hand North or South up against us.”

The arduous journey brings the couple on an expedition through the heart and soul of Ireland. They must encounter a Border region “full of smugglers and IRA”, a lifeless midlands and perhaps most troublesome of all – the Puck Fair Festival in Kilorglin.

The symbolism of Puck Fair, being a Festival that many believe to be Pagan in origin and which celebrates the goat as a symbol of fertility, is fantastically written by McMahon and driven with skill by director Caroline Lynch. The passion to return to the Honey Spike at which to birth her child consumes Breda, as does her Catholic fears such as losing her ‘blessed cord’.

Emmet Byrne and Emma O'Grady. Image (c) Mephisto Theatre Company

The mixing of Catholic and Pagan symbolism reminds much of Vincent Woods 1992 play “At the Black Pig’s Dyke” which was produced by Druid Theatre Company. The story tells of families in the Border counties of Leitrim and Fermanagh where local feuds are passed down through generations. This is evoked through using the local traditional customs of the’ mummers’, characters, who since Pagan times, celebrated life, death, growth and harvest.

The oral tradition of storytelling that surrounds the Irish Travelling people is never far from MacMahon’s mind. A volume of his own autobiography is called “the Storyman”, named after a child in the street who stopped him and asked was he the “Storyman”. Characters like Dicky Bird, excellently portrayed by Sèamus O’Donnell, represent the wandering bards synonymous with the story-telling tradition of MacMahon’s North Kerry as much as with the Travelling community.

The play is also so much an exploration of language. Turns of phrase local to those from the Kerry or Munster region differ from those we encounter from the character of Meg McCuteheon from the North of Ireland. These phrases are in turn different again from those purely native to the Travelling community. Dicky Bird, the Traveller, recounts prayers in the traditional Traveller Gammon dialect, which is joined in chorus by those other Travellers around him.

The closing scenes offer a reflection of supreme pathos. As Dicky Bird has confounded all who he encounters with his riddles and rhymes, so too is the confounding riddle of life and death played out at the Honey Spike – the end of a journey. Perhaps most fittings of all to sum up this is a riddle by Bird himself. It is introduced as being written on the gravestone of a poet in the north-west, Yeats himself: “Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horsemen, Pass by”.

Mephisto Theatre Company have produced a real classic here and in doing have staged an impeccable production. Emmet Byrne and Emma O’Grady (Star of earlier Mephisto production of Grenades) are outstanding as the young Traveller couple who must overcome religion, feuds, prejudice and often their own fears and customs so that their child might live. O’Grady relishes the rich character and language of Breda afforded to her character by MacMahon. Daniel Guinnane also gives a great turn as the drunken Mickle Sherlock. Mephisto are quickly establishing themselves as a company of considerable ability and imagination. It is a truly moving and powerful production, full of lyrical beauty, stories, humour and grief and is not to be missed.

The Honey Spike is at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, 9 – 13 August 2011.

www.mephistotheatre.org

www.tht.ie

 

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Review: Kevin Barry’s Debut Novel, ‘City of Bohane’.

City of Bohane

For those of you read “There Are Little Kingdoms”, the wonderful and Rooney Prize winning collection of short stories by Kevin Barry, his debut novel was perhaps the most eagerly awaited publication by any Irish writer for quite some time. Published in March of this year, the novel was launched to a sell out crowd at the Druid Theatre, Galway as part of the city’s renowned Cùirt International Festival of Literature. On that occasion, Barry himself was on hand to give a resounding reading of his latest creation, the City of Bohane and its many inhabitants.

Bohane is the throbbing epicentre of Big Nothin’. Its inhabitants are tribal, vicious, and territorial with a feral and possessive quality. The map accompanying the book to this area could be a province of Tolkien’s Middle Earth as much as this alternate western Irish seaboard of 2054. The river flows into the heart of Bohane and brings with it the smell and air the city folk breath as they go about their daily business of drinking, whoring, smoking, fighting and gambling. “Whatever is wrong with us is coming in off that river. No argument: the taint of badness on the city’s air is a taint off that river.” The city is kept in line, just back from the edge of total deprivation by Logan Hartnett and his gang The Fancy. With his heavy muscle, the exquisitely named Fucker Burke and Wolfie Stanners, things tick along as only they can in Bohane.

To read the rest of my review, which is published on Writing.ie, please click here and go to www.writiting.ie for more.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Books

 

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The Magic of Misterman

Misterman

Seen through the eyes of loner Thomas Magill, the imagined town of Inisfree is a heinous sin-ridden place where he is moral judge and eternal juror of his neighbours. The Black-Box Theatre becomes the broken-down remnant of the town of Inisfree and also of Thomas Magill’s mind and soul. The play is a frantic and sinister retelling of Magill’s life where all who he interacts with or has some sort of relationship with is retold and relived on loop through the recordings he has made with them. 

The play opens with a farcical scene where Murphy is driven to distraction by an incessant Doris Day song. For Thomas, this is an early indication that what he is not able to control and correct outs the darker recesses of his personality.

Thomas, in his purgatorial world, repeats verbatim the recorded conversations with his beloved mother and relives the encounters with those sinners he meets on his daily walk around Inisfree. He half-runs, half-stumbles his way from tape player to tape player where each plays a conversation from the past. These aural memories become all the more visible through Cillian Murphy truly astounding performance. In such a gruelling one-man performance Murphy is simply outstanding, skipping seamlessly through a host of characters, accents and personalities, none more visceral and provocative than Thomas Magill himself.

Thomas keeps a diary of sins of those he meets – a list that includes profanity, gluttony, debauchery and uncleanliness. As Magill considers himself as being next to godliness, he is also canonised as being saintly by his neighbours and simultaneously mocked and jeered for his devotion to his God and also to his mother. I would consider Magill one of the most sinister characters I have encountered on any stage. Enda Walsh has created a man who has visions of his own deism in the face of the spiritual and moral ineptitude on his compatriots. He is, as Thomas himself says, the only kitten in a town full of dogs, or indeed also a vision of Ireland, a broken nation sinking into the sea that supports it, a-la the image on Thomas’ father’s grave.

But what exactly is it about Thomas that startles so much. Are we afraid of his temper, his subdued anger and violence that simmers and bursts through to the surface? Are we afraid of his devotion to his religion? Or perhaps is it his religion itself we are afraid of? A combination of all these questions are gelled by Enda Walsh into this enigmatic character, a self-declared avenging angel that is so forcefully portrayed by Murphy.

Thomas is a powerless individual who strives to attain what it is exactly he cannot get: power, respect and recognition for his efforts to save those around him from drowning in their own sin. He is constantly told what to do and where to go, be it by his mother, by those around him and also crucially as he is ordered to do by the catechism he preaches and by the God he worships. Thomas is an unsettling individual: to those neighbours around him he is easily forgettable, little more than a passing nod or a wave in the morning. He is anonymous. He is nameless. He is Misterman.

The soundtrack is sublimely designed and expertly staged by Gregory Clarke and Donnacha Dennehy. The dialogue that eerily is only one-way: between Thomas and a tape-recorded voice, echoes around the industrial wasteland that is Magill’s own mind. The set design by Jamie Varton uses every available inch of the expansive Black-Box and is ably filled by Murphy.

With Enda Walsh himself directing the play seldom dips below a virtuoso piece of enthralling theatre, all leading to a striking and startling final scene. As powerful a scene so portrayed by Murphy you will not readily see on stage too often. It is a fitting tribute to the collaboration between Walsh and Murphy, whose personal touches and input into the play and its development from its earlier 1999 incarnation (then produced by Corcadorca Theatre Company in Cork) makes this a truly unique and special experience. If you want to see a summer blockbuster this year, then it has to be Misterman. It runs for the rest of the coming week (18 – 24 Jul) but is long sold out. Any return tickets are now recognised as legal currency, trading as gold-dust in Galway at the moment. If you have tickets, hold on to them tightly!

www.galwayartsfestival.com

http://www.landmarkproductions.ie/

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Theatre

 

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Exploring the Irish Short Story

As the arrival of the early summer sun continues to shine, it does so on the start of the Irish cultural festival season. Already this year the hugely successful Cuirt International Festival of Literature brought record numbers to Galway for the week-long festival. Coming up next you could look at a myriad selection of locations hosting literary festivals. Yesterday saw the announcement of the line-up of the Dublin Writers Festival, one of the standout events of the summer. Cuirt, Dublin, Listowel, Ennis, Waterford, West Cork, wherever, these literary festivals have one common trait, that is the frontline presence of the short story. 

One of the headline events at the Cuirt Festival in Galway was a panel discussion on reasons as to why and how the Irish short story has undergone such resurgence of late. The panel was chaired by Anne Enright, editor of the recently published Granta Book of the Irish Short Story. She was joined on the panel by three writers who are featured in the volume, Kevin Barry, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne and Phillip O’Ceallaigh. Those in attendance at Galway’s Town Hall Theatre were treated to readings from the Granta volume of Irish short stories by all on the panel. What really gripped the audience was the resulting discussion between the authors who seemed at such ease they may well have been seated at a kitchen table and not on a spot-lit stage.

The discussion raised some key questions that have been asked on more than one occasion of late when considering the current popularity of the short story in Ireland. Anne Enright teased at the ideas of tradition and of nationhood in Ireland. The panel discussed the idea of the novel being a form born out of and perfected by the society of the industrial revolution. It came later to Ireland for this very reason. The tradition in Ireland for telling stories was telling them in their oral form, their purest form: stories told for and to an audience. Eilis ni Dhuibhne really ignited this part of the discussion as she outlined her work as a folklorist and insights into the Irish oral tradition. Enright further added that as Ireland has had this tradition of oral communication, the short story has been an excellent medium to move this form from the oral to the written.

Discussion moved from short story writing to novel-writing and if the panel would consider working in this form in the future. O’Ceallaigh offered a considered but definite no. He outlined his affinity for the shorter form and how it offers a platform to write ‘the individual’, making more intimate a form than its longer cousin. Kevin Barry bucked this trend of course with the recent launch of his novel, City of Bohane. Barry’s Rooney prize-winning collection, There are Little Kingdoms has earmarked him as a truly original voice in the ever-growing stable of the Irish short story writers. Barry spoke of simply ‘knowing that feeling’ when embarking on a story whether it will stay within the short form or extend to a novel. Eilis Ni Dhuibhne mentioned the stress levels and self-doubting are considerably higher when writing a novel as it is just you and ‘this thing’ looking at each other for years at a time!

Barry also gave his ‘breaking news’ prediction on the return to popularity in the very near future of the novella. This form has lain lost between the short story and the novel in a literary limbo of late. The reason proffered by the panel as simply being publishers can’t sell novellas. Barry predicted that the arrival of the E-reader will make novellas a viable option again and will produce a new wave of great Irish works. Foster by Claire Keegan published in 2010 may add a lot of credence to Barry’s prediction.

Looking at Ireland’s neighbours, Enright moved on, there does not seem to be the same emphasise on short story writing in the U.K., she considered to the panel. Are these ‘small works for a small nation’? She offered further that short stories are symptomatic of a nation undergoing change and are more responsive to a people undergoing re-evaluation. While not fully getting to root of ‘the English question’ regarding the short story, the idea of tradition again arose, with the fact that Ireland is proud of its short story tradition and talks about its short story writers more so than any other nation. O’Ceallaigh was quick to add that the form is not a strictly Irish form and that he was hugely influenced by the Russian short story writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century American and Russian short story writers.

The discussion drew to a close with a consideration by all on the ‘long’ short story, such as which have been written by Colm Toibin, William Trevor and Frank O’Connor. Again the idea of the novella was raised as an answer but also the fact that Enright herself considered this point when editing the Granta volume of Irish Short Stories and considered the ‘long’ short story worthy of a volume of its own. That was enough to leave the audience perhaps considering more as they left the Town Hall Theatre as when they came in!

If the Irish short story is deemed a tradition owing to it being talked about as well as being read, it is sure to continue as a proud Irish tradition and a literary form that has something a little extra special to offer its readers.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Books, Culture, Uncategorized

 

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Cuirt Festival brings books, talks and grenades to Galway

The Cuirt International Festival of Literature got off to a strong start in its Galway home yesterday. Events are taking place city-wide and taking place until Sunday. The Festival, officially launched by playwright Thomas Kilroy is in its 25th year and is showing no signs of slowing up after its quarter century.

Cuirt Festival 2011

The Town Hall theatre is just one venue that will be a hub of activity for the week. Things kicked off with a talk with authors Paul Murray and Dermot Healy. Healy’s new novel Long Time No See has been getting a considerable deal of extra attention of late owing to a spat based in the letters page of the Irish Times on various opinions on opinions of Healy’s book. Healy has kept his council on this matter and last night’s talk along with the excellent Paul Murray got focus back on the writing.

In the Town Hall Theatre studio space Tara McEvitt’s play Grenades was playing to a sell out crowd. Winner of the P.J O’Connor award for the radio version of the play, McKevitt presents a stark yet touching portrayal of family, relationships and death in the North of Ireland still reeling in the grip of sectarian violence. The soundtrack is fantastic with true classics from Thin Lizzy and the Undertones, linking the innocence and care-free youth of Nuala and Oran Kelly, who proudly sport the badges of their favourite bands on their denim jackets. They do not so openly display their religion or political beliefs, Nuala, particularly is bewildered by the presence of a gun in her granddad’s shed. Her childhood is shattered suddenly as physical and metaphorical grenades are lobbed into her life and take with them those she loved most. Nuala is brilliantly played by Emma O’Grady is this solo performance piece presented by Mephisto Theatre Company and will definitely be a highlight of the Cuirt Festival week.

Grenades - Mephisto theatre company

For a radio version of the play click here and enjoy: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/drama/

Wednesday’s festivities sees what promises to be a great insight into two leading current female playwrights, Nancy Harris and Stacy Gregg. Both have staged new works (No Romance, Harris) or will stage new works (Perve, Gregg) at the Abbey Theatre. Both authors will discuss their new works with Dr. Patrick Lonergan who lectures in NUI Galway and author of many works such as Theatre and Globalisation: Theatre in the Celtic Tiger Era.

Gerbrand Bakker adds a prestigious international flavour to teh Cuirt Festival. Bakker was awarded the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in June 2010 for The Twin, his first novel published in English, beautifully translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer.

A personal highlight takes place this Friday, 5pm, at Charlie Byrne’s bookshop where Kevin Barry will launch his new novel, The City of Bohane. Barry’s debut novel, following on from his excellent debut collection of short stories, There are Little Kingdoms, has just been released and will be a test of the young writer’s jump from the short form to the novel. His style, themes and language make Barry stand out with huge excitement.   It promises to be an exceptional story and an interesting evening in conversation with the writer.

Barry features again on Saturday in a panel discussion on the short story in Irish writing entitled Granta: the Irish Story. The distinguished panel includes Booker prize winner Anne Enright who edited the recent Granta Book of Short Stories, Phillip O’Ceallaigh and Eilis Ni Dhuibhne. The short story has undergone a major renaissance and rejuvenation in recent years and when better to discuss how and exactly why this has happened is with a new generation of award-winning short story writers. The panel discussion takes place at Druid Theatre at 1 pm.

Of course these selections are just some highlights from an incredible week’s line-up. Tickets are still available from the Festival Box Office at the Town Hall Theatre. www.tht.ie For a full programme of events see http://www.cuirt.ie/

I will keep you posted on as many events as possible over the course of the week. Get your diary out and start filling! Galway is known as a city of festivals and there can’t be a better way to get things rolling that with Cuirt 2011!

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Books, Culture, Uncategorized

 

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Students head West for Theatre Festival

I.S.D.A. '11

A feast of theatre awaits those attending the Irish Student Drama Festival in Galway this week. Starting tomorrow Friday 4 March, the aspiring students of Ireland’s University’s will perform an exhausting run of 45 different shows over nine days.

The ISDA Festival featuring productions of headline works of classics of Irish theatre such as Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark, Frank McGuinness’s Factory Girls and also more recent works such as The Weir by Conor McPherson and the Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh.

The students hope to be inspired in the city of the Tribes and also the home city of the Druids. Venues include Nuns Island Theatre, Bank of Ireland Theatre on NUIG campus and also Druid’s own Theatre on Druid Lane. With tickets from as little as €3/5 and shows spread across times from 11am, lunchtime, 4pm and 8pm there are times and venues to suit all would be theatre-goers.

Kelly’s Bar will also play host to a series of lunchtime theatre events where new playwrights will stage their finished and developing works.

The judges with the onerous task of deciding on nominees and winners for the ISDA ’11 awards are Dolores Lyne, Sinead McKenna and Derbhle Crotty.

The ISDA promises to be a great festival so get out and support and enjoy the work of the up and coming actors, writers, directors and crews of Ireland’s student drama societies.

http://www.isdafestival.ie/

http://www.isda.ie/ISDA.html

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2011 in Culture, Theatre

 

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