TDFF: RISK

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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risk_thenewtheatre_cjassfoley

TIGER DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Risk – The New Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Diane Crotty

“Risk is risk and consequences are consequences …”

RISK is a two handed drama thriller set in 1966 London. A crime family from Dublin have been forced to move and are making their new home in London. Join them as they prepare to set out their stall and take over.

However their plans are thrown into disarray when shortly after they arrive in London the father dies leaving his two daughters unprotected. Frances and Agnes are unwilling to be pushed aside or taken advantage of. It is time to come out fighting and the organised and powerful Frances will be the one taking control. However Agnes’ innocent look and soft words are misleading. She is a puzzler; she sees patterns and understands people in a way that both her father and now her sister rely on.

At first they take turns speaking before breaking into conversation. The language and action are fast paced in this enjoyable journey into the city’s underworld. It is perhaps unusual to see two women leading a crime empire however they pull it off with aplomb. With words alone and few props they succeed in creating a vivid picture of the life they are living and their personalities burst through. The use of two sisters as the main characters keeps things fresh and surprising. It is a well written and tight play from writer and director Diane Crotty who has managed to tap into an underused narrative vein.

Particular attention has been paid to the costumes. Agnes, the younger sister played by Susan Barrett, is dressed in a soft pink dress with plain silver heels. Her hair loose around her face. The effect is almost girlish and innocent. In comparison France, her older sister played by Lisa Tyrell, is far more pulled together. In sparkly silver heels, a fitted dress and her hair pinned up she looks professional and in control. Further although the set design is simple it is effective. One silver chair with black and pink upholstery next to one wooden stool. The pink and silver matching the actresses outfits. Their personalities and actions are reflected in their clothes.

This is a strong festival debut from Dublin based Whisky Tango Foxtrot theatre company and hopefully marks the beginning of a long relationship between the company and the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival.

Runs until 24 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: Jass Foley

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4*

Thriller

TDFF: To Hell in a Handbag

First Written for The Reviews Hub

ToHellinaHandbag_Bewleys_TDFF

Writers: Helen Norton and Jonathan White

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from lack of imagination.” – Oscar Wilde

To Hell in a Handbag explores the, until now, secret lives of Canon Chasuble (Jonathan White) and Miss Prism (Helen Norton), two fringe characters from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Miss Prism is best known as the woman who accidentally left a baby behind in a railway cloakroom and left with a handwritten manuscript in a handbag. On the face of it Miss Prism is the image of a perfect governess and Canon Chasuble a respectable middle aged rector. Behind the image though they are living tempestuous lives full of negotiation, deception, false identity and black mail. And most importantly money. Both characters have fascinating and surprising back stories. The play is deeply funny. The one liners are excellent and well played; both Norton and White having a knack for timing and comedy.

The stage is small but well utilised. A desk covered with correspondence, a seat and small table hiding something medicinal! To Hell in a Handbag is set during and around the events of The Importance of Being Earnest. Lines from the play are heard over loudspeaker from time to time to move the action on and introduce the less well known characters to the audience. Both Norton and White are experienced actors having undertaken a wide variety of celebrated work on both stage and screen. This can be seen throughout as both actors show skill and nuance, playing each line to full effect.

The play does a good job of going behind the public face to the confusion and absurdity of the private life of this seemingly staid, proper Victorian pair. This is To Hell in a Handbag’s premiere so it will be interesting to see if it goes on to develop a life of its own as many previous shows developed in association with the popular ‘Show in a Bag’ initiative have. This year’s Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival has brought many new plays to the Dublin stage, giving both theatre makers and audiences the chance to experience something new and fresh. Good humoured and more than a little farcical To Hell in a Handbag follows in Wilde’s footsteps and creating an entertaining and comedic spectacle for all to enjoy.

Runs until 24 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: contributed.

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4*

Key Word: Funny

TDFF: Eggsistentialism – Smock Alley, Dublin

First Written For The Reviews Hub September 2016

Eggsistentialism_SmockAlley_(c)KenColeman

Writer: Joanne Ryan

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

Meet Joanne. It is the morning after her 35th birthday and she is hungover. Deflecting calls from her mother she has started to question the life she is living. Spurred on by her fathers’ recent death and her milestone birthday she realises that her fertility has an expiry date that is fast approaching but so far she doesn’t even know if she wants children, let alone when and with whom.

As she tries to decide what she wants she is helped by her mother, a fertility clinic, online quizzes, radio counsellors, fortune tellers and her unwitting side kick, her new boyfriend Rob. This is a one woman show performed by writer Joanne Ryan. The show strikes a particular resonance, as this reviewer observed that this generation of Irish women have more control over when they become pregnant than previous generations. Her mothers’ story also features heavily, having also shaped both of their lives. After becoming pregnant with Joanne, aged 32, she was single and unsure what to do. Ireland in the 1970s was not such a friendly place for a single mother so she found herself moving to bedsits and hostels in London so that she could have control of her own body and raise her daughter as her own. Although the subject matter is quite serious it is told in a very funny way and her mothers’ ‘Irish Mammy’ one liners make the audience laugh out loud.

Using a two seater sofa and movable table as props there is also a large screen set behind her which she occasionally interacts with. When rattling though the history of the women in her family and the way in which they were shaped by the Irish state’s interventions into their lives, the screen comes alive with facts, images and humorous ideas.

This is a well written and honest performance that will make you stop and think, as well as laugh with joy. Ryan gives a strong, powerful, comedic performance that lasts in one’s memory and opens the audience’s mind with her honesty. Interrupted with poignancy and delicacy Eggsistentialism is a surprising watch. This is one woman’s deeply funny and brave journey to decide if making a life for herself should involve making another. One of the Fringe Festival’s must see performances.

Runs until 17 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: Ken Coleman.

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4.5*

Eggscellent!

TDFF: Age of Transition

First Written for The Reviews Hub September 2016

AgeofTransition_Peacock_CáitFahy

TIGER DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Age of Transition – The Peacock Stage, Dublin

Creator: Aoife McAtamney

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

Age of Transition is a dance concert featuring Aoife McAtamney as star and singer, three dancers, and three musicians. The production hopes to explore different phases of love through the means of sound and movement. McAtamney sings seven self-penned songs that take the audience into a story of love and wondering. One highlight is a particularly beautiful song about wanting to be married and waiting for that moment to occur, waiting for the diamond to be offered. McAtamney has an endearing voice and these compositions allow her to show this. She is accompanied by three dancers who use slow gentle movements that change and accelerate with the feeling of the music. The dancers work well together and their movements flow with a natural feel. In a semi-circle around McAtamney are three musicians, a cellist, pianist and electronic musician who work in sync with the other performers while never overpowering the vocals. Each musician is particularly talented however the cellist Mary Barnecutt deserves particular praise.

McAtamney, stands out from the seven person production, wearing a gentle pink dress, with the others dressed in more muted, earthy tones. This productions and others like it help to show what can be done with such a simple staging. Having previously performed in sell out show at the festival this is a welcome and successful return for McAtamney. However Age of Transition is also a collaborative performance including work by composer Michael Gallen, Berlin dance troupe Sweetie Sit Down, and design by visual artist Kelly Tivnan.

For those familiar with this interdisciplinary form – the joining of music, dance and visual arts –will find much to delight in with Age of Transition. Those less familiar will still be entertained, however the musical interludes appeal most, with some of the dance breaks feeling slower and perhaps less meaningful. Running at an hour long Age of Transition holds the audience’s attention throughout and shows off McAtamney’s beautiful voice and song writing skills. Overall Age of Transition is an enchanting exploration of love and self – actualisation.

Runs until 16 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: Cáit Fahy.

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 3.5*

Enchanting

 

Ned Kelly and the Jerilderie Letter

First Written for Headstuff September 2016

https://www.google.co.jp/search?q=ned+kelly&client=ms-android-samsung&prmd=ivn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiIpcjl1YnPAhVn5oMKHRmJD-kQ_AUIBygB&biw=360&bih=560#imgrc=Nvs5h0fAlEvd9M%3A

“Dear Sir, I wish to acquaint you with some of the occurrences of the present past and future.” This is how infamous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly began what has become known as the Jerilderie letter, or his confessions. Coming in at nearly 8,000 words this letter, dictated by Kelly to fellow member of his gang Joe Byrne offers a rare glimpse into the life one of Australia’s most famous sons. Alongside his statement made to the police after his arrest, this is the only other document in which we hear his own words.

Jerilderie was a pivotal place in the lives of the Kelly gang. This is where, in January of 1879 the gang undertook two large armed robberies, the second being in Jerilderie, New South Wales. At this point in time the public were largely supportive of the gang despite the fact that they were responsible for the deaths of three police officers from a confrontation in Stringybark Creek, October 1878. Shortly before the robbery in Jerilderie twenty three suspected Kelly sympathisers were rounded up and arrested leading to public anger and the quick release of the prisoners. At this time, the gang had evaded the police and the letter suggests that Kelly wanted to explain and justify the murders. He seemed at pains to be understood. This was not new: Kelly had a history of writing to the authorities explaining his side of things when he felt let down or misjudged by the legal system.

After the events of Stringybark Creek the ransom for the gang had risen significantly from £2000 to £8000, dead or alive. It is possible that as a result of this, the gang started to become more fearful of being betrayed to the police in return for such a life changing sum of money. This may in part explain Kelly’s words on those who would betray him or his associates. He argued that he had never “interfered with any person unless they deserved it”, though if provoked he would not hold back:

“But by the light that shines pegged on an ant bed with their bellies opened their fat taken out rendered and poured down their throat boiling hot, will be fool to what pleasure I will give some of them and any person aiding or harbouring or assisting the police in any way whatever or employing any person whom they know to be a detective or cad or those who would be so depraved as to take blood money will be outlawed and declared unfit to be allowed human burial their property either consumed or confiscated and them and theirs and all belonging to them exterminated of the face of the earth”.

These strong words make his case clear and would prevent many a have – a – go – hero from trying to take him on, however they also foreshadow future events. On the 25th June 1880 the gang executed a former friend and ally turned police informer Aaron Sherritt. Sherritt was shot dead by the gang even though he had four well-armed police men in his home for protection.

https://www.google.co.jp/search?q=ned+kelly+jerilderie&client=ms-android-samsung&prmd=imvn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjKs7zA2InPAhVi9IMKHa7uAyAQ_AUIBygB&biw=360&bih=560#imgrc=j0Q5BR-U4yBL9M%3A

Kelly details how his life, and that of his family, had been affected by disputes with the law for many years. His father was an Irishman, John ‘Red’ Kelly who, at the age of twenty-two, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing two pigs from his native County Tipperary in 1841. After his release in 1848, he married Ellen Quinn, the daughter herself of Irish immigrants. They went on to have eight children with Kelly being the third. His father died in his mid-forties shortly after being released from another stint of hard labour. This time the six months captivity seems to have wrought damage on his health, leading to his death.

It was not long before Kelly, now joint head of the household with his mother, would attract the attention of the police. When he was around 14 Kelly was arrested after a disagreement over a horse. The Jerilderie letter proclaims his innocence of this and future crimes that marked his teenage years. Aged 15 Kelly found himself in disagreement with, a Mr McCormack who referred to how he could have Kelly “or any of my breed” punished as he saw fit. Although said in a tense heightened atmosphere this still shows the prejudice and stratification of society in existence in the colony. McCormack accused Kelly and an associate, Gould, of using his horse without permission. As the altercation escalated Kelly punched McCormack. This resulted in his first prison sentence. As early as this he suggests that there was a certain amount of prejudice against him from the police authorities. Importantly whilst maintaining his innocence he does make it clear that “I hit him and I would do the same to him if he challenged me”.

Animosity towards the police pervades his Jerilderie letter. This is largely the result of his personal experiences; however it does give one an insight into policing of rural towns in the second half of the nineteenth century. For those from small, poverty stricken communities, often made up of emigrants and those who were transported for acts of criminality, there was long running resentment towards authority. This often manifested itself in the actions of the bushranger, members of the rural poor who eschewed the life prescribed for them and bucked from the yoke of the British legal system for a life of crime in the bush. Immigrants and their descendants often held on to their ethnicity and culture. This is particularly important when one considers that by this point resentment had built up in the general population regarding the amount of manpower and expense funding the attempts to capture or kill the Kelly gang. The police were being paid double time and were working increased hours. Although it would not be surprising that the police would want to hunt down the men responsible for the murder of several of their own, the resultant cost of this actually encouraged sympathy for the gang with many disagreeing with the police focus on them.

This runs alongside the undercurrent of anti-British sentiment that was nourished in the colony. The language and imagery of the Irish man living under British colonialism finds expression in the letter. In a continuation of his anger towards the police Kelly ponders the action he may one day be compelled to take against them.

“I will be compelled to show some colonial stratagem which will open the eyes of not only the Victorian Police and inhabitants but also the whole British army and no doubt they will acknowledge their hounds were barking at the wrong stump and that Fitzpatrick will be the cause of greater slaughter to the Union Jack than Saint Patrick was to the snakes and toads in Ireland, The Queen of England was as guilty as Baumgarten and Kennedy, Williamson and Skillion of what they were convicted for”.

The Kelly gang were active between 1878 and 1880. As the son of an Irish criminal, sent thousands of miles away from his homeland, it is not very surprising that feelings of dissatisfaction and blame towards the British establishment flourished in the new, harsh environment that many found themselves in. It is also important to note that at the time many Irish in Australia would have been living with their own and cultural memories of the Great Famine still raw and exposed. The famine resulted in the deaths of approximately two million from starvation and disease, with another two million estimated to have emigrated. ‘Red’ Kelly and his family arguably fit into the theme of the Irish diaspora; banished from ones homeland for a relatively small matter. How many, after their period of imprisonment was completed, would be able to make the journey home? And even if they could what would they have found there in the years after the famine wrought devastation on Ireland.

For many such as ‘Red’ a seven year sentence meant he would never see his homeland again. In this light it is hardly surprising that Irish (and Irish Catholic) patriotism, often established in opposition to British rule was common in the colony. Kelly questions in his letter,

“What would England do if America declared war and hoisted a green flag as it is all Irishmen that has got command army forts of her batterys even her very life guards and beef tasters are Irish would they not slew round and fight her with their own arms for the sake of the color they dare not wear for years and to reinstate it and rise old Erins isle once more from the pressure and tyrannism of the English yoke and which has kept in poverty and starvation and caused them to wear the enemys coat. What else can England expect is there not big fat necked unicorns enough paid to torment and drive me to do things which I don’t wish to do”.

The Kelly families long history with the police continued when Kelly was a young adult. He was first arrested and tried for theft and assault aged fourteen. He was acquitted but went on to associate with well-known bushranger Harry Power who had been taken to the bush after escaping from Pentridge Gaol. It is likely that Kelly would have been bought up hearing stories of bushrangers and their exploits, which were often highly romanticised, and would have been well acquainted with the lifestyle that came with it. Kelly was given his first prison sentence aged only fifteen.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/Ned_Kelly_aged_15.jpg

In 1870 he was sentenced to three years hard labour for horse theft. By this time he had become a familiar face to his local police force, having faced and defeated charges multiple times already. One of the few photographs of him from this time show a well-built, heavy set man. His exact date of birth is unsure and many suspected that he was actually several years older by his imposing stature.

This conflict intensified. From the letter it is clear that Kelly felt he and his family had been the target of anti – Irish bigotry and were the focus of continual police persecution; an act by which the wealthier agriculturalists and members of the burgeoning Victorian establishment trod on the poor. However by the time Kelly fled his home for the bush the situation had escalated. On April 15 1878 what has become known as ‘The Fitzpatrick Incident’ occurred in the Kelly family home.

Constable Fitzpatrick visited the Kelly home that night. The reasons for this are disputed but Fitzpatrick stated he was there to issue an arrest warrant to Kelly’s younger brother Dan for horse stealing. What happened afterwards is touched upon in the letter. A fracas ensued and Kelly’s mother Ellen, along with two other associates Bricky Williamson and Bill Skillion were arrested and charged with the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick, who had been shot twice. There is an often repeated myth that this incident occurred because the family were trying to protect one of the younger sisters from Fitzpatrick’s unwanted sexual advances. However this is denied by both Fitzpatrick and Kelly. The constable stated that when he was guarding Dan when two horsemen came up to the property. Kelly then burst through the door and shot the policeman. In the ensuing scuffle he was overpowered by the family; including Ellen. Kelly gives a different version of events in the letter.

He continues with the theme of police brutality and argues that Fitzpatrick pointed a gun at his mother when he came to apprehend Dan. Kelly himself was not on the scene. “The trooper pulled out his revolver and said he would blow her brains out if she interfered in the arrest she told him it was a good job for him Ned was not there or he would ram the revolver down his throat”. As a result of this Williamson and Skillion were sentenced to six years hard labour apiece. Ellen, who was taken into custody along with her baby Alice, was sentenced to three years hard labour. This deepened Kelly’s sense of injustice; he maintained that Fitzpatrick had falsified evidence to ensure that members of his family would be punished.

Even at the time Ellen’s sentence was popularly viewed as being very harsh and unfair. Kelly, who seems to have felt that had he been there the police would not have been so quick to threaten his family had this to say:

“but they knew well I was not there or I would have scattered their blood and brains like rain I would manure the Eleven mile with their bloated carcases and yet remember there is not one drop of murderous blood in my veins … my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who was has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splawfooted sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some calls honest gentlemen but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police”.

It was after this incident that Dan joined Kelly in the bush and he officially became an outlaw.

The letter also exposes the difficulty many former convicts faced in trying to reintegrate back into society. Once he had been labelled a criminal, whether guilty, convicted, or not, it seems almost impossible for Kelly to hold down a legal job. With inevitability, whenever something went missing or wrong, he was the first person to be blamed. This is something he explored in the letter and is an issue that is still pertinent today. Kelly said that he “ran in a wild bull which I gave to Lydicher a farmer he sold him to Carr a Publican and Butcher who killed him for beef some time afterwards I was blamed for stealing this bull from James Whitty Boggy Creek”.

Further to this one line in the letter, an aside to the wider argument against the police feels chilling when read today. In detailing the injustices of certain members of the police receiving high salaries to protect the population that they steal from and brutalise, Kelly had this to say:

“if so why not send the men that gets big pay and reckoned superior to the common police after me and you shall soon save the country of high salaries to men that is fit for nothing else but getting better men than himself shot and sending orphan children to the industrial school to make Prostitutes for the Detectives and other evil disposed persons send the high paid men that receive big salaries for years in a gang by themselves”.

Kelly grew up with his family and did not attend an industrial school, but this one line suggests that there was a general knowledge of the abuses going on against children in institutions at the time. In light of what we now know, this is a deeply troubling line to read. This feeling is heightened by the fact that it is buried in the confession and is only mentioned in order to reinforce the belief in police brutality.

For many Kelly has become a kind of Robin Hood figure; a poor working man fighting against the system. The gang were well known for their good treatment of civilians and hostages. During the final Glenrowan siege it is recorded that no civilian hostages were hurt by the gang and those that did sustain injuries were shot by the police. Near the close of the Jerilderie letter one can see where this idea came from: “all those that have reason to fear me had better sell out and give £10 out of every hundred to the widow and orphan fund and do not attempt to reside in Victoria”.

Ned Kelly’s place in Australian history and culture is undisputed. The worlds very first full length narrative film was about Kelly and the history of his gang. So often in popular culture, despite the dead and prison sentences behind him, he is viewed as one of the last free, wild men; he represents the end of the bushranger era. As Australian society moved inevitably towards a more urban way of life Kelly is often hailed as a reminder of a different, heavily mythologised time. The letter ends on one final message, words underlined for emphasis: “I do not wish to give the order full force without giving timely warning but I am a Widow’s Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed”.

Saint Valentine: How Love’s Martyr Came to Dublin

Originally Written for Headstuff.ie July 2016

Dublin’s Whitefriar Street Church is home to one of the most popular modern Saint’s: Saint Valentine. A shrine dedicated to the Saint has pride of place in the church and his remains are put on display every February 14th, but how though did this Roman Saint make his way to Dublin?

Religious relics have long been an important part of the Christian tradition. The word “relic” is derived from the Latin word “Reliquus” which means “left behind”. A relic is a physical or personal memorial of a Saint or religious figure. In Catholic doctrine first class relics are those which are directly associated with Jesus’ life and the physical remains of a saint, with a body part being particularly highly prized. A second class relic is an item that was worn or frequently used by the saint and a third class relic is any object that has been touched by a first or second class relic. Therefore in these terms the relic of Saint Valentine held in Whitefriar Street Church is a prized first class relic as Dublin is home to some of the saints’ blood.

Source

During the Middle Ages there was a boom in the popularity of religious relics as churches and religious institutions vied to be associated with the most holy items they could find. Relics were thought to act not just as a reminder of the life of the martyred but also to help guide worshippers to God. As a result of this competition, churches began to create their own relics. At one point the ardent traveller on pilgrimage could seek out the head of John the Baptist, Jesus’ foreskin and doubting Thomas’ finger. Even though the sale of relics was forbidden under Canon Law the industry continued to thrive until the effects of the Reformation rippled across Europe. A side effect of this is that it became harder to authenticate relics. When there are seven different churches claiming to have the head of John the Baptist it becomes increasingly difficult to decide which was genuine.

The origin of Saint Valentine is still debated as few facts have survived the centuries. In the third century AD a priest called Valentine was executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14th 269. Other sources suggest the date could have been 270, 273 or 280. He was then buried on the Via Flaminia to the north of Rome. Valentine was martyred for his Christian faith. The Emperor had decreed that his soldiers would be better warriors if they remained single and unmarried. However Valentine courted danger by secretly marrying couples in Christian ceremonies. At one point the ardent traveller on pilgrimage could seek out the head of John the Baptist, Jesus’ foreskin and doubting Thomas’ finger. The Catholic Church also argue that at the same time Valentine developed a relationship with the Emperor in order to encourage an interest in Christianity. It is also important to note that polyamory was relatively common in Rome at this time and Valentine’s actions were going against the norm. Claudius eventually became enraged at the flouting of his rules and gave Valentine a choice: renounce his faith or be beaten with clubs and beheaded. He refused to renounce his faith and was executed. Like most saints he is venerated for his dedication to his Christian beliefs, even though it resulted in his death.

Source

Archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine which some argue proves his existence as an early pioneer of Christianity. In recognition of his martyrdom in 496 AD Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a day to celebrate the now Saint Valentine. This came at a time when Rome was still trying to establish itself as the centre of Christianity and it is likely that part of the reason for this was to overpower the pagan, and decidedly non – Christian, celebration of Lupercalia which had been celebrated on the 13th – 15th of February.

Over the centuries his bones have been scattered across Europe. While the flower – crowned skull has long been a resident of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, his relics were exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina. They were identified as belonging to Saint Valentine. Originally the Saint’s relics were housed in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome before being transferred to the church of Santa Prassede.

In 1835-6 Father John Spratt, a renowned preacher and Irish Carmelite visited Rome where he was well received by the Roman elite. He was gifted a small vessel tinged with Saint Valentine’s blood, presented to him by Pope Gregory XVI. The vial was transported for a special Mass dedicated to those young and in love, eventually arriving in Dublin on November 10th 1836. The reliquary (shrine) was received by Archbishop Murray of Dublin. It was decided they would remain in Whitefriar Street Church; a popular church in the centre of Dublin. After the death of Father Spratt in 1871 interest in the relics diminished and they were placed into storage.

 

Saint Valentine, the body of Christ and four weary souls. Source

Major renovation works to the church in the 1950 – 60s led to the rediscovery of the relics. They were then placed in a specially built altar and shrine. The Catholic Church was still in its zenith in Ireland at the time and it is likely that the relics would have been considered a bonus attraction for the popular city centre church. Due to the limited information available about the life of Valentine the Roman Catholic Church removed him from the General Roman Calendar in 1969. However he is still recognised as a Saint and remains very popular. At present the remains are kept under lock and key but lovebirds can pay them a visit each year on February 14th when they are placed before the church’s high altar and venerated at the Masses. This is one of the few religious connections to Saint Valentine that remains.

However Dublin doesn’t have the only claim to Valentine. In 2003 other alleged relics were found in Prague at the Church of Saint Peter and Paul at Vysehrad. Fragments of his skull are to be found in a silver reliquary in the parish church of Saint Mary’s Assumption in Chelmno, Poland. Alleged relics of Saint Valentine also lie at the reliquary of Roquemaure, Gard, France; in the Stephansdom Cathedral, Vienna, in Balzan in Malta, in Blessed John Duns Scotus’ church in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, Scotland and also in Saint Anton’s Church in Madrid. They (allegedly) arrived in Madrid as a present to King Carlos IV from Pope Pious VI. The relics have been on display since 1984.

Many of the remains have been placed on more prominent display in the twentieth century. Arguably this has little to do with their religious connections and more to do with attracting tourists. However it is possible that in this increasingly secular age people value the physical manifestation of their faith more and more. And of course the fact that there is an interesting story behind it cannot hurt. As Valentine’s Day becomes both increasingly commercial and derided it is possible that many seek a more ‘authentic’, physical experience of devotion and love. For some these remains symbolise the importance of marriage and of sanctifying your relationship in front of God.

consumerism

In an interesting twist at the same time that visiting the remains of Valentine has grown in popularity, so has the desire to rebel against the view of love and profit that has come to define February 14th. This is perhaps best typified by the fact that divorce filings arise by around 40% this time each year with The Webb Law Centre in Charleston, USA, offering one lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view) couple a free Valentine’s Day divorce. Running for eight consecutive years the person who presents “the most compelling story” and has the fewest complications wins.

The spread of the remains across Europe highlights the continuing popularity of the Saint but also the desire individual churches have to be associated with something so holy, a direct physical link to the early years of the church. Further it shows a continuing appetite among the public to be able to see and visit the dead saints that over time have become a part of their cultural and religious narrative. In some cases there are also more nefarious attractions to the relics. One of the reasons that the Valentine reliquary is kept under lock and key is because of the fear of theft. Several religious items have been stolen in Ireland over the past few years. In October 2011 decorative crosses, made from bronze, silver and gold were stolen from Holy Cross Abbey in County Tipperary. They were said to contain fragments of the cross on which Jesus was sacrificed. In March 2012 the preserved heart of Saint Laurence O’Toole, the patron Saint of Dublin, was stolen at night from Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. It seems that for one reason or another relics have, and are likely to, retain their popularity and importance in modern Ireland.

1916 and Cultural Separation

This is my ‘soap box’ talk from The Souvenir Shop 1916 art exhibition in May 1016

Recently I have been involved in a wonderful art exhibition called The Souvenir Shop, situated on North Great Georges Street, Dublin 1. The Souvenir Shop is a part of the 1916 commemorations and took a unique view on the Rising and the way in which it is remembered. As a part of my work there my colleagues and I each presented a one off ‘soap box’ talk loosely inspired by the exhibition. Here is mine:

 

For anyone living in or even visiting Dublin this year it would be virtually impossible to not notice the centenary celebrations of the 1916 Uprising. It was incredible to watch the silence that fell on O’Connell Street during the main commemorations as the proclamation was read out. How often is today’s society will you see up to half a million people gathered together in silence, without mobile phones photographing every moment, as so many people connect with their history. But whose history is it?

 

The 50th anniversary of the rising in 1966 came as Taoiseach Sean Lemass was hoping to both secure Ireland’s place and future within the European Economic Community, whilst also improving relations with Britain and Northern Ireland. At one point he wrote that “the Rising of 1916 belongs to nobody if it does not belong to the people of Ireland. Some of them are proud of the Rising, others would disown it if they could, and there are quite a number . . . who are so indifferent that talk about it bores them. Nevertheless the 1916 Rising is theirs”. Aware of the need to clarify the meaning and relevance of the Rising to an Ireland of the 1960s whilst also honouring the men and women of 1916, was a difficult task.

 

Even when the government gathered in 1965 to discuss the direction for the golden jubilee they faced criticisms that they had not fully embraced a cross party opinion. Who owned the Rising? Who had the right to decide how it should be remembered and what it should mean when they could never escape the fact that since the momentous events of that Easter week, the six northern provinces had not been included in the new Irish Republic? A form of partition existed on the island of Ireland.

 

In the event images of a ‘modern’ Ireland that looked forward just as much as back dominated the commemorations. Lemass pushed for peace and harmony to be the defining ideas of the commemorations. However this was easier said than done. Being only 50 years after the event it lived on in memory and family history for many. Remember that it was only a few months before that Nelson’s column had been blown up by the IRA. Republicans were frequently vocal about their feelings of betrayal. This came most from the female relatives of the signatories. The Souvenir Shop is inspired in part by Thomas Clarke, the first of the signatories, newsagents and tobacconist. In 1966 his widow, angered by the description of Pearse as “the first President of the Provisional Government” argued that “surely Pearse should have been satisfied with the honour of commander-in-chief when he knew as much about commanding as my dog”. This feeling was felt by others. On the day of the official commemorations an alternative parade, coordinated by the National Graves Association, was held. It included a much larger crowd which included the sisters of signatory Sean MacDiarmada. As we can see the idea of who is a hero, a martyr, worthy of remembrance is an issue that remains to this day and is perhaps best shown by the candles that are a part of this exhibition, that place Patrick Pearse, De Valera and Bobby Sands, among others on the same shelf. In contrast to this no state sponsored events took place in Northern Ireland. In the end only the nationalist community celebrated the anniversary, who largely saw it in terms of (re)unification.

 

Although many of the issues that plagued the run up to the 50th anniversary are still present today there were many similarities between the commemorations of 1966 and 2016. In both cases a military parade marched along O’Connell Street, being sure to pass by the centrepiece of the rising, the GPO. Pageants, religious services and art exhibitions were held. Also RTE dedicated much of its schedule to programmes related to, however tenuously, the Rising. Art has always been one of the ways in which people remember, celebrate, interpret and understand their history and its place in their current society. Rita Duffy has approached the Rising from a northern nationalist perspective. Whereas most of the documentaries, books, articles in the Republic have been cautiously celebratory – careful not to upset the delicate peace that currently exists. This exhibition, with its Big Boot of Empire Black and Tan boot polish, Carson’s Marmalade and pink balaclavas takes a different approach.

 

2016 did see some change of emphasis, most notably in its treatment of women. This year has seen the reintegration of women into the history of the Rising and its aftermath. There is a very famous photograph which shows Pearse officially surrendering to the British. He is viewed from the side, tall in his military uniform and coat. In the original image one can just about make out the legs and feet of a woman stood by his side at this momentous moment. By the time the photograph made it into the papers, the little that could be seen of the nameless woman had been airbrushed out. Almost as though from the start there was a conscious effort to airbrush women out of the story and memory of the Rising. This is something that also marks this art exhibition. In the same year that a woman in Northern Ireland has been prosecuted for illegally purchasing and taking abortion pills the Republic is trying to actively return women to the Rising narrative; though books, documentaries and of course their soap opera drama Rebellion. Here we have another take. The large images of the nurse, barefoot with her hands covered in blood, Kathleen Ni Hooligan bath products and of course Widow Walsh’s sugar coated chocolate pills. This helps to show one thing. That even if you airbrush history, do not teach it in schools or are simply very selective in the information and ideas you use when trying to control and influence the narrative history doesn’t disappear. Ultimately it cannot be avoided. It will always reassert itself.

 

I came to this with a different perspective again. As you have probably noticed by my accent and ignorance of Catholic saints I am British, or more precisely English. I have studied history throughout school, A Levels and then at degree level. Throughout all of these years of study and research I don’t think the word Ireland was ever mentioned. This is especially strange when you consider the number of times I have had to study Elizabeth I, but at all times the national curriculum was careful to avoid any mention of Ireland, empire or colonialism. Having looked into the subject more closely over recent years history teaching in English and Welsh schools seems to remain as politically correct and almost celebratory as possible. The dark, dangerous and dirty side to the creation of modern Britain is studiously avoided.

 

When I tell people at home that I am involved in this exhibition I have to explain what it is and why, for example, there is something called “Laundered Diesel” in an art exhibition. Before I came to Ireland I do not think I had ever heard of the Rising, of Patrick Pearse or knew anything of the 16 Men executed at Kilmainham. It was through art first, films in particular, that I started to learn about this history and it is one of the reasons that I believe exhibitions are so important.

 

Just as the women involved did not simply disappear when they were relegated to the footnotes or history, and the issues surrounding partition did not disappear after the 1921-1922 Treaty was signed. Art is one vital way in which people access and delve into their history. Re-evaluating the things they thought they knew, or perhaps knew nothing of, and reinterpreting their own take on the events that have formed their own society. In general more people are likely to attend and be influenced by an art exhibition than an academic text book and as we continue here in The Souvenir Shop we will continue to see visitors be entertained, challenged and take something away with them.

 

The Souvenir Shop was created by artist Rita Duffy and Curator Helen Carey.