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Theatre: Fourteen voices speak from War of Independence graves

History is written by the victors but who writes the drama?

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Bloody Sunday: Deirdre Kinahan has written the story of the only woman killed, Jane Boyle, for 14 Voices from the Bloodied Field. Photo by Damien Eagers

Bloody Sunday: Deirdre Kinahan has written the story of the only woman killed, Jane Boyle, for 14 Voices from the Bloodied Field. Photo by Damien Eagers

Bloody Sunday: Deirdre Kinahan has written the story of the only woman killed, Jane Boyle, for 14 Voices from the Bloodied Field. Photo by Damien Eagers

The Decade of Centenaries, a series of artistic and civic events to commemorate the events that led to the establishment of the Irish state, got somewhat shunted into the sidelines in 2020 because of Covid-19. The Abbey Theatre, in partnership with the GAA, has mustered top theatre talent to create an online show, 14 Voices from the Bloodied Field. It features 14 writers, actors and directors and gives voice to the 14 civilians killed when British auxiliaries fired into the spectators at Croke Park on November 21, 1920 during a Tipperary v Dublin football match.

This incident was in reprisal for events earlier that morning when Michael Collins’ guerilla squad killed or fatally wounded 16 men, mostly members of British intelligence, in their beds. The two events together worked in Collins’ favour. The first disabled the British intelligence network in Dublin, the second created a huge boost for anti-British sentiment.

Senior playwright Deirdre Kinahan was assigned the job of representing the only woman killed, Jane Boyle, a 28-year-old who worked in Spiedel’s Butchers on Talbot Street. “She was engaged to a man called Daniel Byron, a motor mechanic. They ended up burying her in her wedding dress, five days later, on the day she was due to be married,” says Kinahan, conscious that the known facts of Boyle’s story have an in-built dramatic poignancy.

“The Boyle family were hugely intimidated by the fact that Jane was murdered, and by virtue of her murder, they were caught up in it all,” she says. “They never put a marker on her grave.”

A marker finally went up in 2016. The family had not been politically active, “they had the head down and were trying to get on with life.” But Boyle’s fiancée was involved in the GAA and also with the labour movement so she was clued into political events. “Drama is that beautiful place where you can walk around in the honest contradictions,” says Kinahan. Her play is directed by Jo Mangan.

Tipperary player Michael Hogan was one of the 14 people killed that day; the Hogan Stand in Croke Park is named in his honour. His story was given to Paul Howard, former sports journalist and Ross O’Carroll-Kelly playwright. Director Ben Barnes has the task of shaping this monologue. “What comes across really strongly in Paul’s piece,” says Barnes, “is Mick Hogan as Everyman. The fact that he was the only player killed that day has made him into a martyr and iconic, but the play repositions him as what he was, a country boy with a great heart. They were just ordinary country lads gifted with a leather ball.”

There hasn’t been much controversy about the centenary commemorations. The exception was the aborted RIC/DMP event proposed earlier this year at Dublin Castle, spearheaded by Charlie Flanagan in his then position as minister for justice, which raised plenty of hackles. The Civil War intensity and bitterness have faded with the generations and the tone of the commemorations has been generally inclusive.

History is written by the victors, so the saying goes, but who writes the drama? The story of Judas is as dramatically interesting as the story of Christ. The 16 agents of the crown who were killed that morning were doing their duty, by their own lights. But they are not featured in a play. Have they any place in the story?

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“The Mick Hogan play is set in Dublin on that fateful morning and we are made acutely aware that the Croke Park massacre was in response to the Michael Collins inspired assassinations earlier in the day,” says Barnes.

“Clearly Mick’s sympathies are with his own people, but he is wise enough to understand the cyclical nature of these terrible murders. At a pivotal moment he says: ‘Our turn. Yeer turn. Our turn again’.” According to Barnes, “Paul’s script shares O’Casey’s view that war produces not victors or vanquished — only victims.”

14 Voices from the Bloodied Field streams at abbeytheatre.ie from 7pm Nov 20 for 48 hours.


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