Thursday 22 February 2018

Arts: McDonagh's forgotten middle child

Grave issues: Jarlath Tivnan in ‘A Skull in Connemara’.
Grave issues: Jarlath Tivnan in ‘A Skull in Connemara’.

Sophie Gorman

It's a funny thing, think of Martin McDonagh's internationally acclaimed Leenane Trilogy of plays and chances are you'll think first of The Beauty Queen of Leenane and, if pushed, remember The Lonesome West. Chances are, though, the play that will linger just outside your memory is the rarely performed middle child, A Skull in Connemara.

This is the story of Mick Dowd, a gravedigger charged each autumn with the task of disinterring bones in certain sections of the cemetery to make space for new arrivals. When he has to dig up the grave of his own dead wife Oona, he also unearths morbid rumours about his part in her very sudden death.

Presented by Galway's award-winning Decadent Theatre Company, A Skull in Connemara is on tour and arrives in the Gaiety Theatre for a week from January 27.

"The Gaiety will be the biggest theatre I have ever acted in, I'm scared but a healthy scared rather than crippled by it, it keeps me on my toes." So says the youngest cast member Jarlath Tivnan (23), who plays the part of the inept but likeable Martin, assigned by the priest to help Mick out.

From Boyle in Roscommon, Jarlath only started acting when he was studying arts in NUI Galway.

"My first play was in the first semester in first year in 2008 when I joined Dramsoc in college. I somehow got the part of a ridiculously young Joxer in Juno and the Paycock, but I instantly knew there was something in it for me, the way I connected with acting, and the habit crept in on me very quickly. I ended up acting in 14 shows there and it was the best training. Dramsoc is a place where you can make mistakes and learn from them. And there are no stars, the leading man will be hanging the lights and selling tickets."

Acting in plays was not Jarlath's first time on stage, he has played traditional music since he was quite young.

"My grandmother Kathleen Dwyer-Morris was a renowned fiddle player in her time. She was a Sligo lady and made recordings for Radio Eireann in the 1950s, which was a big thing at the time. I never heard her play, but I saw the fiddle case under her bed and knew it was hugely important.

"She died in 2002 and, at her wake, I got into one of those ridiculous arguments with a cousin; we were about 11 years old, and both of us demanded we should get granny's fiddle. My auntie intervened and said that neither of us would get any fiddle until we knew how to play it. This became a challenge and we both started lessons and it became a very personal passion of mine."


There is an annual Irish festival that manages to be both a quiet festival and a very loud one. The Temple Bar Tradfest doesn't make a big song and dance about itself, it just does what it does incredibly well, attracting tens of thousands of foreign visitors.

Tradfest runs over five days in more than 40 venues in an area of Dublin city centre that, to be frank, can be dismissed out of hand for celebrating culture of a more stag and hen variety. But for these five days from next Wednesday, Temple Bar will be reclaimed as the cultural hub it was originally envisaged to be.

And this festival really does transform the district, it is not Temple Bar Tradfest just for the alliteration. It makes a point of involving buildings in the area and its perimeters such as City Hall, St Werbergh's Church, St Patrick's Cathedral and The Button Factory.

Crucially, this festival has been run by the Temple Bar traders themselves. They came together to establish it in 2005 and have nurtured it ever since. And perhaps it is this organic nature of coming out of the area itself that has meant the biggest and best names in Irish traditional music have shown their support and jumped at the chance to raise a bodhrán in support.

Highlights? There are many, but my personal picks would be We Banjo 3 in St Werburgh's Church next Friday with special guests Chessboxer, and Seth Lakeman in St Michan's Church next Saturday.


Sophie's Choice

1 The IFI is kicking off 2014 with three months of seasons dedicated to Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll. The first season is all about sex. Tonight's offering is Female Trouble.

2 Macbeth will be staged in Smock Alley's stone-walled Boy's School as Fast Intent theatre company converts this atmospheric space into a traditional playhouse that Shakey himself would be proud of.

3 The Dead is the last short story in James Joyce's (left) 1914 collection, Dubliners. To celebrate its centenary, there will be two very special promenade performances in the remarkable City Assembly House on South William Street, with all proceeds donated to Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children on January 24 and 25. Call 01 7030420 to join the Misses Morkans and their annual Feast of the Epiphany party.

Irish Independent

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