2017 Press Releases

Revolutionary Years’ Play Uncovered!

7 Mar 2017
The author Una Birch

UCC academic Hiram Morgan has discovered a neglected play about Ireland’s revolutionary era.  

‘I was working in the Getty Research Institute in California and came across this play by Una Birch, wife of Major-General Pope Hennessy, a prominent Cork Catholic.  She was an upper-class English social campaigner and a writer of popular historical biographies.

With this Decade of Centenaries in mind, I thought it should be made better known.  The manuscript, photographed by my colleague Dr John Borgonovo, was recently keyed in by my daughter Lydia Morgan.  Being director of CELT (Corpus of Electronic Texts of Ireland), the world’s largest Irish Studies web resource, I’ve been able to publish it online quickly for everyone to see.

The play – it was probably written in London - covers the ‘Troubles’ period very well.  It is a great representation of the issues and people Roy Foster explored in his Vivid Faces book.  Naturally it is from the Big House perspective. So there’s a Chekhovian quality about it.  Lydia says it reminded her of Jennifer Johnson’s Leaving Cert text How many miles to Babylon? Most interestingly and most importantly in the light of current controversies, it’s by a woman!’

Other experts have been giving their opinions, both general and particular:

Nicholas Allen, Franklin Professor of English at the University of Georgia and author of Modernism, Ireland and Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2009) is impressed with its content:

'As theatre, The Crazy Circle is not dramatic.  As a performance of ideas it is revolutionary, giving full voice to the anxious murmurs that troubled the parlours of the well-to-do in the period of the rebellion and after.  In this centenary of commemorations it is provocative to remember a play that shows how close the violence of the First World War cut to Irish families of all persuasions and how seriously the idea of justice troubled the ideal of freedom.  The Crazy Circle is witty, intelligent and merciless in its attention to farce and tragedy alike, and a welcome addition to the repertoire of little dramas from which independence was made.'

Margaret O’Callaghan from the Department of Politics at Queen’s University, Belfast, whose publications range widely over Irish political thought and literature, British high politics, the issues of commemoration and memory and modern Irish cultural and political history, is also taken by the discovery:

'This play is a fascinating discovery. I’m not sure that it is a good play but it is certainly an interesting one. It opens up a whole series of questions about its female author and her positioning in relation to the Pope Hennessy family in Cork during the revolution.

The author explores all of the issues that have been rehearsed repeatedly on the revolution in Cork both at the time and since the publication of Peter Hart’s work in the late 1990’s. The authorial point of view seems unable to cohere at a point of agreed or even probable interpretation. The ‘Big House’ family is riven, the patriarch abandons his British imperial loyalties and becomes almost a partisan of the revolution. His wife is presented as conveying information to Auxiliaries and stabbing a local - one of the ‘lads’ - in the neck. The local nationalist’s son, a veteran of the trenches, loses an arm and gains an Ascendancy wife. She too becomes, like him a ‘peaceable Sinn Feiner’. Death, family disintegration, tragedy and a shifting cast of putative culprits for Anglo-Irish crisis collapse into an apolitical conclusion that Ireland, Ireland itself, is the problem. You could have a long discussion about this play; it could become very fraught. Thanks to Hiram Morgan for retrieving it’

Dr Finola Doyle-O’Neill, leading light in the UCC Players, says the staff drama troupe hopes to perform the play later this year.  In the meantime the text of The Crazy Circle can be consulted at http://www.ucc.ie/celt/Crazycircle.pdf


For more on this story contact:

Ruth Mc Donnell, Head Of Media and PR, Office of Marketing and Communications, UCC  Mob: 086-0468950

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