Monday 25 September 2017

Abbey tribute for Jimmy 80 years after deportation

REMEMBERING: Richard Clements (Jimmy) and Lisa Lambe (Oonagh, Jimmy’s childhood sweetheart) dance outside Jimmy Gralton’s former home in Effrinagh
REMEMBERING: Richard Clements (Jimmy) and Lisa Lambe (Oonagh, Jimmy’s childhood sweetheart) dance outside Jimmy Gralton’s former home in Effrinagh

Marese McDonagh

Leitrim man Jimmy Gralton was deported by the State more than 80 years ago but his spirit returned to his home county last night as Ireland's national theatre helped right a wrong which stained the political landscape of the 1930s.

The Abbey Theatre's adaptation of Jimmy's Hall had its world premiere at the community college in Carrick-on-Shannon, just a few miles from Effrinagh where Gralton was born.

Gralton was the only Irish person deported from the State, after the dance hall he built became the hub for a potent mix of political agitation and music and revelry, making him the scourge of the Catholic Church and political forces.

Last week, the Abbey actors visited the site of the dance hall where less than a year ago President Michael D Higgins described Gralton's deportation as "an abuse of law".

Jimmy on his way to being deported from Cobh in 1933
Jimmy on his way to being deported from Cobh in 1933

Bosco Hogan admitted that he knew nothing about Gralton until recently, something he regards as telling. "He had been airbrushed out of history," said the veteran actor who plays Gralton's nemesis, the priest Fr Sheridan, in the production which moves to the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, this Friday.

He was stunned by the "utter callousness" shown to Gralton who was deported to the US as an "undesirable alien".

"Every year he applied to come back to visit his mother and was refused each time," said Hogan.

Throughout last week the Abbey entourage travelled to Effrinagh to pay homage in Gralton country.

Jimmy's cousin, Paul Gralton, said it was "quite staggering" to watch actors from the national theatre dancing to an impromptu session in a field at the family home.

Music had returned to the site of the infamous dance hall, a stone's thrown from the cottage with the red corrugated iron roof through which Gralton escaped when he was forced to go on the run early in 1933.

The Abbey play is adapted from the 2014 Ken Loach film Jimmy's Hall. One of the cast is writer and actor Donal O'Kelly who told Gralton's story to Loach's collaborator and scriptwriter Paul Laverty, planting the seed for the film.

Before that, O'Kelly had written his own version, Jimmy Gralton's dance hall, which he staged in Leitrim with a cast from Globe House, a Direct Provision centre in Sligo. "I thought it was apt that people facing deportation today would help tell the story of an Irishman deported in the 1930s," said O'Kelly.

Glaswegian Graham McLaren, recently appointed co-director of the Abbey, said it was a story about someone being deported "for their thoughts" something which was "unacceptable, illegal and against all human rights". He admitted to being "absolutely terrified" ahead of last night's performance.

"If the people here like it, I am happy," he said. "It's good if the people in Dublin like it too but if people here like it, I am happy."

Sunday Independent

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