From the moment I Am Of Ireland begins and a rousing chorus of Ireland’s Call sounds out in the Old Red Lion Theatre, you know you’re in for a treat, a performance to stir the emotions.
The latest joint venture between writer Seamus Finnegan and director Ken Mclymont, I Am of Ireland explores multiple storylines concerning contemporary issues in Ireland. Over the course of two and a half hours a number of characters are introduced during a number of short, sharp scenes as the play explores what has happened since the ‘troubles’ ended in Ireland.
First up there’s Mary (Saria Steel), a young woman wishing to become a nun, to the disappointment of her mother, Theresa (Shenagh Govan), who believes the church is a “decaying, dying institution.” Dominic (Euan Macnaughton) is a Republican who charms the audience through a series of engaging monologues exploring his own history and what led him to become a volunteer for the IRA and subsequently a killer for the cause. Derek (Angus Castle-Doughty) is a young, outspoken and racist Loyalist willing to do anything for the British Crown, delighted to find he’s in the same prison cell as “Loyalist Legend” Sammy Nelson (Richard Fish), a dangerous, horrid man.
In contrast the gentle Father Flannagan (Jerome Ngonadi) is of Irish descent and from the Caribbean, about to take up residence in County Clare when he’s stabbed by Barry (Castle-Doughty) in a racist attack. Father Adams (Sean Stewart) meanwhile is a country priest, summoned by the Bishop (Fish) and confronted over his past misdemeanours. The Bishop’s housekeeper (Govan) is a refreshing, progressive character, a champion of women priests and marriage equality. Finally Harry (Fish) is reunited with estranged friend Sean (Stewart), still bitter that he chose to leave Ireland for London many years ago.
Finnegan’s script is strong and powerful, and explores many issues, including loss of faith, religion, racism, violence and remorse (or lack of). The play is surprisingly comedic at times, with both Dominic’s recollection of a sermon from his childhood and Mrs Fitzpatrick’s sass and insistence that women priests are the way forward in particular providing some of the lighter moments. But at other times it’s in no way an easy watch, with a lot of uncomfortable plot lines explored. The racist slurs, a stabbing and suicide are all incredibly shocking, yet sadly relevant with recent happenings. “There seems to be a lot of hate in Ireland,” the priest said to the nurse, who replies poignantly: It’s not just Ireland, it’s everywhere.”
The characters are all varied and interesting, an impressive feat considering the numerous storylines explored, however at times the play does feel as though there’s too much packed in and one or two scenes were a little too brief. It would have been better to explore some of those stories in more detail rather than be left wanting more in some cases. That being said, I Am Of Ireland features a strong, talented cast, all able to perform multiple roles effortlessly; a great, often relevant soundtrack sandwiched between scenes; and it certainly left the packed-out crowd at the Old Red Lion Theatre with a lot to think about.
This review was originally written for Love London Love Culture. To read the original, click here.