Two years ago in the Little Theatre in Athlone I had the privilege of watching a debut performance of a play written by Neil Richardson and directed by Caroline Barry called From The Shannon To The Somme. A true story about an Athlone man, Sgt Michael Curley, a soldier before and during World War 1. Michael had done his seven years with the colours and was at home in Athlone, working and serving out his time in the Special Reserve. It was 1914 and he had helped found the first unit of Irish Volunteers when war broke out and he was immediately called up into the 2nd Battalion Connaught Rangers, where he witnessed the horrible slaughter of this battalion in the first few months of the war during which he did something that was to prey on his mind for the rest of its life.
The second act takes place at 3rd Ypres in 1917 on the front line, the soldiers in Michael’s platoon are tired of war and want an end to it but they realise how much Ireland has changed since 1914, its a different country from the one they left, there is not much left to go home to, a dilemma faced by thousands of enlisted Irish men. However Michael has one child with another about to be born. There is one final and tragic denouement.
I vowed that night that this would be a play for King House in Boyle, one of the historic homes of the Connaught Rangers throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The following November I had the distinct honour of being elected General Secretary of the Connaught Rangers Association, an organization set up to remember those brave soldiers, mainly from the West of Ireland, who fought with honour and courage for 130 years in the ranks of the British Army, under Wellington in the Iberian Peninsula, under Raglan at the Crimea, under French, Haig, Hamilton and Allenby in the Great War and at many a place in between including long stints in India and under the disastrous Buller in South Africa.
Sometime in late 2012 Roscommon County Council approached me and asked, with the forthcoming year of celebration in 2013 which was a government initiative called The Gathering aimed at bringing hosts of visitors to Ireland, would we has the Connaught Rangers Association put something on in King House to mark the Boyle 400. 400 years since Boyle received its charter as a town. I was nonplussed for a time my vow forgotten temporarily but William Beirne, a man for crisis and our stalwart Treasurer, reminded me of the play and immediately our minds were made up.
Over a series of meetings we explained our ideas to RosCoCo and even brought Neil, the writer and Caroline, the director, down to confirm our serious intent. The Council were mightily impressed and told us to get on with it. However between cup and lip as they say, it took three more months of negotiation before we had a final agreement.
So now the auditions have been held, the cast has been chosen and we are full steam ahead. Both Neil and Caroline are overjoyed that their play is being performed once again and are both putting their heart and soul into this new production. The cast of four are young talented actors based in Dublin, who have known each other for years, having graduated from University College Dublin together where they all played leading roles in DramSoc, the prestigious university dramatic society which spawned Ireland’s latest heart-throb, Chris O’Dowd and who is funnily enough a native of our fair town. The four are fully immersing themselves into what is expected of them and Caroline is a tyrant, upholding strict military discipline in the ranks during the long series of rehearsals.
For those interested the three soldiers in the play are Paul Fleming from Moate in Westmeath, Dave Fleming from Dublin and Paul Fox from manor Hamilton in Leitrim and Michael Curley’s wife Agnes is played by that wonderful actress from Boyle, Paddy Jo Malpas. You might think nepotism played a part in the auditions but no I had neither hand nor part in the selection process. She was picked out by that famously up and coming actor, Stephen Jones, who was casting director for the play and who played the original Michael Curley in the first production but whose diary is now full and can only lend his experience.
The play is fast moving and hum0urous, using all the colour that a soldiers vocabulary can sum up and showing bathos and pathos in equal measures until the final tragic finale, marvelously written by Neil Richardson, an author of two published military history books, who at 28 years old is destined for great things. It should be a fantastic nights entertainment for all who come to see it. It will be played in the Grand Salon at King House, a wonderful intimate space for such a dramatic production. It seats just 120 people on the nights of the 26th and 27th of May 2013, I know tickets at 15 euros will be scarce so book early at the Box Office on 071 96 63046 to ensure a seat and a privileged place in dramatic history.