Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Bold Brigid Cleary

The day after St. Brigid's day, a suitably rainy, dingy thursday in Listowel, the perfect time and place for the first showing of the "The Bold Brigid Cleary!" Time to take stock of the position of women in Ireland in the past, while looking forward with furrowed but resolute brows-things might not be perfect, but certainly we have progressed. 

The piece, performed in St. John's Theatre/Church in Listowel, was billed as "a post-modern theatre performance based on the murder of the supposed fairy woman/witch Brigid Cleary." Brigid Cleary (born in Tipperary around 1869) was murdered by her husband in 1895. This one woman play was written, directed, and acted in by Eve O' Mahony. Though she was quick not to call it a play, to my unwashed ears and eyes, it does seem to fit that bill. At any-rate, Eve's performance was brave and bold, and her heartfelt feelings for the plight of Brigid Cleary "the last witch to burn in Ireland" rang true-fitting for the heavy boots of the unfortunate woman Eve sought to portray. There was good use made of a projector to break up the various sections of the piece, most notably when a fiery sheet of flame appears behind Brigid towards the end of the performance. Brigid's husband Michael was played by Trevor Nagle, who is heard as a detached voice raining fire and judgment on Brigid. Trevor's husky and powerful voice from the wings added to the depth and otherworldly nature of the play. Besides, the church itself is a stunning venue and also suited the heavy timbre of the piece. 

By not using the term play, Eve might in part be toying with the notion of playing a part, whether that be the part she plays in the play or the part women play in society-what role they fill or have filled, now and in the past-the importance of not playing a part for the sake of it, the importance of questioning things in life, even down to the names of what are portrayed or played in the world of theatre. Everything about Brigid Cleary's story is highly charged, in it, old and new world's clash and the consequences are grave. "The Bold Brigid Cleary" brings forth a whole slew of issues-issues of inequality, tradition and superstition, progression and ignorance, group mentality and individual steadfastness, independence and interdependence. 

It is important to remember there was much ignorance and superstition in Ireland, but a-lot of it came from the centuries of oppression and subsequent stagnation of the native cultures of the Island. Through events like Brigid's death we were brought screaming and roaring into the modern world. The events in the performance take place only forty years after the famine, there was a-lot of darkness in the county to emerge from. For some at the time, the murder brought into question the ability of the Irish to govern themselves, as the coroner at her death said "amongst Hottenots one would not expect to hear of such an occurrence." A by no means written in stone Home Rule seemed at this stage around the corner....A strong virtue of the play is that no easy answers or judgements are given but it leaves many questions, and the story rings true as a cautionary tale. A grand way to while away the day after Lá Fhéile Bríde, food for thought!

St. Brigid by Harry Clark, St Mary's Church, Ballinrobe, Mayo

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