Category Archives: Irish in London Theatre

Martin McNamara explains the relevance of his play for the Armistice weekend.

Set in  Wandsworth Prison London  in 1916. Traitors, Cads and Cowards -tells the story of Liam, an Irish rebel arrested after the Easter Rising in Dublin,  who has been brought to London for questioning. He is bunked in with Alfred, a shell-shocked veteran of the trenches up on desertion charges. Their other cell mate is Henry, a conscientious objector,  court martialled for refusing his call up papers. Through the action, which takes place over one day we find out whether these three very different ‘Traitors to the King’ find common ground.

In December last year Anne Curtis, artistic director of London Irish theatre company Green Curtain, told me how hundreds of Irish rebels arrested after the Easter Rising were brought to Wandsworth Prison for questioning.

This was not a part of the 1916 rebellion I’d ever heard about before. And I readily agreed with Anne when she suggested it might make the basis of a play.

I’d just finished work on another drama about an Irishman held in Wandsworth Prison. “Your Ever Loving” tells the story of Paul Hill, one of the Guildford Four, who spent 15 years behind bars for terrorist murders he did not commit.

Letters Paul sent his family during those years were donated to the Irish Archive Library at the London Metropolitan University. With the support of Tony Murray, who runs the archive, I was able to use those poignant, angry, funny missives to tell what I believe is an important story. And I found that I liked the discipline that comes with using real life narratives and events and voices to craft a dramatic tale.

When I started researching Traitors, the first thing I realised was how most histories about the men arrested after the Rising concern themselves with the leaders executed in Kilmainham Gaol. Or else they relate to De Valera and the handful of fighters who would go on to create the early governments of the Irish Free State.

There seemed very little about the foot soldiers, the nameless hundreds who left their homes and families in a wild attempt to uproot what was then the most powerful Empire on earth.

I think history is more interesting, and possibly more revealing, if told from the perspective of the people who don’t get their faces on the postage stamps or currency notes.

I was aided no end in my work by Doctor Geoff Bell, Irish writer and historian, who was researching his latest book related to the Irish rebellion. Geoff found a cache of testimonies from volunteers in the archives of the Irish Bureau of Military History.

He generously shared these with me. Scores of these men had been brought to Wandsworth for questioning by the Sankey Committee and their words helped craft this story.

During the course of the Great War, several wings of Wandsworth Prison were given over to military prisoners. In 1916 the wings were kept busy; there were soldiers charged with desertion or criminal activities. That year also saw the introduction of conscription and the Gaol had to find space for conscientious objectors who refused their call up and were court martialled.

I hope our play has something to say about the savagery of conflict and its effects on the often forgotten foot soldiers. But also hopefully about the nature of patriotism and about how the ones labelled cowards or traitors can sometimes be the bravest and noblest because they fight only for what they truly believe.

Special performances on Armistice Day (Fri 11th Nov 2016) and
Remembrance Saturday (12th Nov 2016), both at 8:00pm.
Buy tickets on the door £10/8 concessions.
Venue is: West London Trade Union Club
33-35 High St, Acton, London W3 6ND.

(Unfortunately this venue has stairs and therefore no disabled access).

The venue is located in Acton High Street near the junction of Acton Lane and the Vale. It is  about a 12 minute walk from Acton Town tube station (District and Piccadilly) and a 7 minute walk from Acton Central on the London Overground. Buses from Shepherd’s Bush and Ealing Common stop outside.

Geoff Bell’s Hesitant Comrades, the Irish Revolution and the British Labour Movement, published by Pluto Press. For more information go to

For more on the London Metropolitan University’s ‘Archive of the Irish in Britain’ go to:

Writer Maureen explains how her dad’s experience in the RAF informed her play

The Play Jackals by Night Crows by Day 

1943 Kilburn, Donegal man Tommy couldn’t wait to join the British army fighting Nazi fascism. But can his high ideals survive service in the Far East? And how will his young Irish wife in London cope with separation?

By Maureen Alcorn

Like most men who survived the Second World War, my dad was unwilling to share many stories about his experiences. Firstly I guess because I was a child and he wouldn’t want to frighten me about the evil that war unleashes. Secondly, men are notoriously bad at talking about their emotions, especially my dad’s generation.

And I think the experience of serving in Burma and fighting tooth and claw against the Japanese was so traumatic, my dad  never fully processed it as witnessed by the terrible nightmares he suffered sporadically, waking up screaming, terrified by the dream images of soldiers plunging towards him, bayonets at the ready.

My dad grew up in Donegal, on a twenty acre farm near the banks of Mulroy Bay, in a tiny hamlet called Muneaugh. Home was a tiny thatched cottage, which he shared with two brothers and two sisters. Water was hauled from a nearby well.

All a million miles away from the humid jungles of Burma, facing a tough, relentless enemy determined to fight to the last man. But that’s where my dad went, signing up as soon as he reached eighteen. I think he was motivated by the glamour of the RAF, the moral rightness of the fight and the inevitability of leaving a rural Ireland that could not sustain him.

At least 165,000 men from Eire enlisted to fight in a war they were never compelled to join – and whilst it’s true that for many the imperative was economic, others wanted the excitement of action or were convinced it was a just war.

Ireland remained neutral during the war. De Valera remained ambivalent about the thousands of men flocking across the channel to join up. In essence, they were keeping a poor country afloat, sending money back to their families when unemployment was rampant.

When  Anne Curtis, creator of Green Theatre Company, brought a group of writers together to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising with a festival of plays on the theme of Irish lives in London since the Rising, I was immediately drawn to setting my play in the early forties and basing it loosely on my dad’s  experiences.

In contrast to ‘Jackals by Night, Crows by Day’ my dad headed for Birmingham, not the London of the play, as his brother Tommy had already established himself there and married my Great Aunt Alice – a formidable woman low on patience and high on passing judgement.

I decided to split the play into two parallel parts – showing what happens to a young wife in London while her husband is fighting against the Japanese Army in Burma.

I did a bit of research before I began writing – about life in Ireland during the war years.  There was a real tension in the perception of the British, who believed the Irish were living the high life.

There was also war torn London to research – bombings, rationing, petty criminality and the urge to survive at all costs.

I really enjoyed writing the play. It helped me to imagine what my dad and the hundreds of thousands of other men endured for the long years of the war in Burma.

The title, by the way, is taken from an account by one of the soldiers who had fought in Burma and warned against being taken prisoner. The Japanese would kill their prisoners slowly, by impaling them crucifix style against the branches of a tree, leaving the crows to pick out their eyes by day and jackals to devour their feet by night.

Jackals by Night, Crows by Day at the Colour House Theatre, Watermill Way, London SW19 2RD on Sunday 23rd October.

Martin McNamara explains the connection between two of his plays staged in London this year

My play, Traitors, Cads & Cowards, part of In the Shadow or In the Shadow Festival, centres around an Irishman held in Wandsworth Prison. By strangle coincidence my last play, Your Ever Loving also staged in London this year, was also about an Irishman held in Wandsworth Prison.

Both stories are based on real events. Both make liberal use of the testimony of real people. And both involve Irishmen who could quite easily have been executed by the Crown for perceived acts of treason and terrorism.

And although it was never my intention, these two very different plays – stories set sixty years apart – seem now to me like bookend pieces.

The name of this new London Irish festival is inspired by a quote from the Irish President and poet Michael D. Higgins. He was trying to grasp at the relationship between two small blocks of neighbouring land mass whose histories and people are meshed into each other’s DNA and yet remain stubbornly, defiantly, apart:

“Ireland and Britain live both in the shadow and in the shelter of one another, and so it has been since the dawn of history.

That complexity – that shadow and shelter thing – is no better exemplified than by Ireland’s greatest and longest running export to its near neighbour – its people.

The festival’s plays tell stories of people who came across a patch of sea to escape poverty, or destructive religious hypocrisy or arranged marriages, or fight fascists when DE Valera’s Ireland opted to remain neutral.

And then in Anna May Mangan’s Women’s Work, there’s Nora, a long time emigrant who’s forgotten she’s Irish.

These are all people whose relationship with the land they left is as complex and difficult for themselves to comprehend as their relationship with the place they landed up in.

In Traitors, Liam McEnroe, a volunteer in the 1916 Easter Rising, is brought to Wandsworth to face interrogation before the Sankey Committee.

This is an Irish rebel trying to violently overthrow British rule in Ireland whose brother was recently killed in Belgium wearing a British army uniform.

Liam is an invented character but his situation was not that rare. My script relies heavily on transcripts from interviews with Irish rebels interrogated by Sankay which were discovered and generously shared with me by the English academic Doctor Geoff Bell.

Liam is bunked in with an English deserter and a conscientious objector and together they struggle towards grasping at a humanity that is larger than nationalism or nationality.

In Your Ever Loving, the migrant is a young Belfast lad called Paul Hill who arrived in London in the 1970s looking to escape ‘The Troubles’ back home, pick up building work and feed his obsessions with rock music, Arsenal football club and soft recreational drugs.

 Paul was not an invented character. He was one of the Guildford Four who would be locked up in Wandsworth and scores of other British prisons for 15 years after being tortured into making confessions to murders they did not commit.

The play makes heavy use of Paul Hill’s letters home to his family from prison cells. Again I had to rely on the generous spirit of another writer Tony Murray, who is a lecturer at the London Metropolitan University and in charge of the university’s Irish in Britain archive which Paul donated the letters to after his release.

At that play’s end we meet the Paul of today, older, greyer, wiser, living in Washington DC and quietly despairing of smug, overbearing politicians who support the torture techniques used on him being brought to bear on suspects in a different, newer war on terror.

That, I think, is the thing I most want people to take away from this inaugural In The Shadow or In The Shelter Festival.

These are all stories of a specific people leaving their place of birth to go to another specific place. I believe it is important to tell these stories. As someone whose parents both made this journey I am a product of these stories. But there is also a universality to the plays, a search for greater, wider truth.

Perhaps it is that we are all, every one of us, in the shadow and in the shelter of each other.

 Traitors, Cads and Cowards is performed as part of a double bill at the Lion and The Unicorn on 10th, 12th (matinee) and 14th October. Then at the Colour House Theatre, Merton Abbey Mills, London SW19 on 21st October

Click here to book tickets for performances on
10th-16th October in Kentish Town, London NW5

Click here to book tickets for performances on
21st -23rd October in Colliers Wood, London SW19

 The play has already had performances at the Bread & Roses earlier this summer:
 “A stark, powerful performance that will linger with you long after you leave the theatre” ★★★★ carnstheatrepassion
“A moving exploration of the effects of war and oppression” ★★★★ pubtheatres1

Lorraine Mullaney writes about her play Body and Blood

This new play tackles women’s rebellion against arranged marriages in Ireland in the 1950s.

“I came to my marriage with a dowry and cows and you’ve come to yours with nothing.” My Irish grandmother delivered this barb to my mother when she got engaged to my father in 1960. My mother was also Irish but her marriage wasn’t an arranged one. My grandmother’s was and many more were in Ireland at that time. They continued to be well into the 1970s.

My mother never forgot her mother-in-law’s dig, and I never forgot her telling me about it.

So when the founder of Green Curtain Theatre, Anne Curtis, asked me to write a play about life in Ireland over the past 100 years, I was immediately drawn to the idea of writing a play about arranged marriages in Ireland. Not just because my grandmother had one, but because Anne’s festival of plays marked the centenary of the Easter Rising so the theme of rebellion runs through all the plays. I’d always wondered what would have happened if the women had refused to sacrifice themselves for these ‘matches’.

Marriages were arranged by matchmakers and the girls were often taken to the altar against their will. The girls were matched from the age of 15 onwards and their dowries were balanced against the land and livestock of the men they were matched with. Irish farmers often deferred marriage until they were well on in years so they needed much younger wives to bear them sons to inherit the land and keep the family name alive.

Once married, the girls often found themselves living on remote farms faced with animals to be fed, bread to be baked, bacon to be boiled, cattle to be milked, and turf to be carried. All amidst the driving rain and – if you’re living on the side of the mountain as the characters are in my play Body and Blood – the relentless rolling mist.

This cultural background formed the early lives of the characters in Body and Blood but the story begins when they come to London as part of a major wave of Irish immigration in 1956. Will the characters make the sacrifices required to stay true to their cultural roots or – infused with their new-found freedom in London – break free to control their individual destinies? Which of them will have their own Easter Risings and will they be rewarded for doing so?


Anna May Mangan writes about her play Women’s Work

It was over 12 months ago when Green Curtain Theatre Producer Anne Curtis and I met for coffee, and she kindly invited me aboard her festival of new plays that would explore issues around the 1916 centenary.

Back then, the whole idea was just a twinkle in her eye and now the exciting scripts are written, a comfy theatre booked, a brilliant cast assembled and all that is left to do is sell lots of tickets!

My play for the festival Women’s Work takes a frank and loving look at three generations of women in one family. Grandmother Nora has dementia and grinds on her recovering alcoholic and divorced daughter Moya. Grandaughter Eilis is educated, unemployed and spectacularly selfish. She floats around her mother and grandmother with a vivid confidence of youth.

Women’s Work is a play about diaspora and identity; Nora doesn’t remember where she is from, Moya doesn’t care where she is from and Hammersmith-born Eilis is fiercely Irish.

I wanted these women and their past, present and futures to engage an audience; to make them laugh and cry and consider how the most common of Irish experiences – leaving, and being left – are emotional wrecking balls.

It took a lot of re-writes, read-throughs and tea and cake to get to this point with Women’s Work. I hope you love what’s good about it, and forgive what isn’t.

Click here to book tickets for performances on
10th-16th October in Kentish Town, London NW5

Click here to book tickets for performances on
21st -23rd October in Colliers Wood, London SW19

Actor Lesley Molony talks about how her background as a nurse helps her develop her part in play Women’s Work

Watch this video of Lesley Molony talking about about how working as a nurse in the past now helps her understand and develop the character she plays in Women’s Work.

Click here to book tickets for performances on
10th-16th October in Kentish Town, London NW5

Click here to book tickets for performances on
21st -23rd October in Colliers Wood, London SW19