Wednesday 26 October 2016

'You see grown men in tears afterwards' - Tommy Fleming's show on Irish emigration

Sasha Brady

Published 20/09/2016 | 13:29

Tommy Fleming in Paddy the musical
Tommy Fleming in Paddy the musical
Paddy the musical
Paddy the musical

Tommy Fleming's musical is moving audiences to tears as it tells the story of the universal Irish experience of emigration.

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The two-hour production looks at emigration in the 1960s. It tells the story of a man called Paddy who made the journey across the Irish Sea, leaving his Mayo hometown behind in search of fame and fortune.

"What's most remarkable about the whole thing is that you see grown men in tears afterwards," he told

"They'll often come up to me afterwards and say 'That was my father' or 'That was me, my uncle, my brother'; it's a story so many people can relate to."

Paddy the musical
Paddy the musical

Tommy, who had never acted before, was convinced to sign on to the project as soon as he playwright Tommy Marren handed him the script.

"I started reading it on the plane Australia and it grabbed me straight away, the underlying theme of emigration, loneliness and isolation - everything that was emigration in the sixties and seventies."

While the award-winning singer notes emigration is still very much part of this generation's experience, he feels it was tougher the older generation.

"It's different now because the world is smaller. People can keep in touch no matter where they are through social media. It was a more isolating experience back then. The distance seemed greater too. Travelling from Mayo to London by bus, train and boat, could take as long as a flight from Dublin to Sydney. Most people didn't know what to expect once they arrived in England. I'd say it was a very traumatic experience for a lot of people back then," he said.

Paddy the musical
Paddy the musical

Like his audience, Tommy was attracted to the script because he saw so much of his father and his family in the story, that universal Irish experience of emigration.

The country singer explained that his father went to England in search of work in the 1960s and moved wherever he could find a job, "doing everything and anything" as he lived between London, Leeds and Lincolnshire.

"He never talked about it so you'd wonder just how tough it was for him. I always want to talk about my experiences whenever I'm away but for them... it must have been different."

Both his parents passed away within hours of each other in 2012, two weeks after the couple celebrated their golden wedding aniversary. The Sligo-born entertainer admits he feels sad that they didn't get the chance to witness this play.

"It's a tribute to my parents. I'm sorry that they never got to see the show but maybe in some way they do. You know, maybe they're looking down on it? They get me through the performance every night," he said.

Paddy the musical is in the Bord Gais Theatre from September 20 until 22, tickets are priced between €15 and €45,

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