Tuesday 17 September 2019

New show celebrates forgotton heroines

Margaret Roddy

A spectacular new show celebrating the role Irish women played in the fight for freedom opens in An Táin Arts Centre tomorrow (Wednesday) night.

Mná na hÉireann is the brainchild of Carol Leavy Joyce, who worked with musician Aine McGeeney to bring the story of these women to life through music, song and dance.

Carol, a world champion Irish dancer who worked for ten years with Riverdance, has been working on the project for many years, getting the inspiration for the show when she returned to college to do a Masters Degree.

As she worked on her thesis, which addressed the issue of cultural identity, she began to reflect on the huge contribution which so many women had made to the fight for Irish freedom but how, apart from a few exceptions, most had been forgotten about or were written out of history.

'Mná na hÉireann' traces the role these women played in the years leading up to the Easter Rising as well as the War of Independence. It looks at the contribution of Maud Gonne MacBride and Countess Markievicz, but also those of women who never attained such a public profile, like Nurse Elizabeth Farrell, who delivered the surrender with Padraig Pearse after the 1916 Rising, as well as Willie Carney, Julia Grennan, Dr Kathleen Lynn and the Gifford sisters.

Bringing the show to stage has been a huge undertaking, admits Blackrock resident Carol, who works as a dance teacher with Francis Curley.

The cast of 25 dancers and musicians have been busy rehearsing for the production which features a score composed by Dundalk musician Aine McGeeney of Goitse.

They took a break from rehearsals to travel to Drogheda for the Fleadh last month and were featured on Fleadh TV, dancing to the 'March to Richmond' for a segment which recounts how 77 women were interned in Richmond Barracks after the Easter Rising.

"We got a great reception for our performance and the costumes made a big impression," says Carol, praising the work of Blackrock woman Eileen Johnston who created the 50 costumes required for the production.

Naturally, the music is a key element of the production, and Carol asked Aine if she would be willing to collaborate on the show after hearing a jig she had composed being played at a dance competition.

Aine says that she was delighted to get involved in the production as she loved the concept of the show, having toured with Lord of the Dance.

She had just finished writing a suite of music for the 1916 centenary for the Laois Folk Orchestra so she had some suitable material available but ended up writing several new tunes for the show.

"It's got everything - marches, hornpipes, jigs,slip jigs, reels, waltzes, and slow airs," she says.

As well as composing the music, Aine will be playing the fiddle for the show, along with fellow Dundalk musician Conal Duffy on double bass, Colm Phelan on bodhran, Naoise Kettle on fiddle and Michael Biggins on piano.

'Mna na hEireann' opens in An Tain tomorrow for four nights, with performances at 8pm, and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2.30pm.

Tickets, which are €20 for Wednesday's preview and matinees, and €25 for the other shows, are on sale from the box office at An Tain Arts Centre, phone 042 9332332 or online

The Argus