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Contemporary Theatre in the Irish Language

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Abstract

This chapter discusses contemporary theatre in the Irish language as both a form of applied theatre and a sociolinguistic community of practice. The argument is that Irish-language theatre can be usefully understood as a composite of two overlapping but distinct traditions: that of the Gaeltacht (areas in which a significant portion of the population are native speakers) and that of the urban centres. The main difference between the two, as it applies to theatre, is that of language competence: it is argued here that the scripts, staging and reception of Irish plays are all fundamentally shaped by the assumed linguistic ability of their intended audiences. Drawing on plays representative of both traditions—Joe Steve Ó Neachtain’s Níor Mhaith Linn do Thrioblóid and Máiréad Ní Ghráda’s An Triail—the chapter teases out how the aesthetic strategies of Irish theatre are reflective of the language’s problematic sociolinguistic state.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In this chapter I use the terms “theatre in the Irish language” and “Irish-language theatre” to denote scripted and staged plays performed in Irish. Some recent scholarship on the Irish dramatic tradition has broadened the terms of the debate, including traditional forms of performance such as lúibíní and agallaimh beirte. These are popular forms of dramatic dialogue long practiced in the Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking areas in Ireland) and, although much of the following discussion could be applied to them as well, they fall outside the scope of this chapter. For a study of traditional Irish modes of performance as drama, see Éadaoin Ní Mhuircheartaigh, “Drámaíocht ó Dhúchas? Stáitsiú na nEalaíon Béil san Fhichiú hAois” [Native Drama? Staging of the Oral Arts in the Twentieth Century] (PhD diss., National University of Ireland, Galway, 2013).

  2. 2.

    Alan Titley, “Neither the Boghole nor Berlin: Drama in the Irish Language from Then until Now”, in Players and the Painted Stage, ed. Christopher Fitz-Simon (Dublin: New Island, 2004), 111–112.

  3. 3.

    See Titley’s overview mentioned in the previous note.

  4. 4.

    Philip O’Leary, Prose Literature of the Gaelic Revival (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 84–88.

  5. 5.

    Máiréad Ní Chinnéide gives an account of The Damer theatre’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt at founding and sustaining a professional troupe in An Damer: Stair Amharclainne [The Damer: A Theatre’s History] (Baile Átha Cliath: Gael Linn, 2008).

  6. 6.

    Máirín Nic Eoin, “Contemporary Prose and Drama in Irish 1940–2000”, in The Cambridge History of Irish Literature, eds. Margaret Kelleher and Philip O’Leary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 299.

  7. 7.

    This figure is based on the comprehensive catalogue of Playography na Gaeilge [The Irish-Language Playography], http://gaeilge.irishplayography.com, accessed 12 April 2016. The highest numbers were in the 1960s (69) and the Celtic Tiger 2000s (98), with the lowest in the 1980s (41). The 1970s (50), 1990s (50) and, it seems, 2010s (28 as at April 2016) straddle the middle ground.

  8. 8.

    For an overview of the various approaches and theorists that can be gathered under the banner of applied theatre, see Tim Prentki and Shiela Preston, eds., The Applied Theatre Reader (London: Routledge, 2009); Monica Prendergast and Juliana Saxton, eds., Applied Theatre: International Case Studies and Challenges for Practice (Bristol: Intellect, 2009).

  9. 9.

    Helen Nicholson, Applied Drama: The Gift of Theatre (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 60.

  10. 10.

    Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet, “New Generalizations and Explanations in Language and Gender Research”, Language in Society 28: 2 (1999), 186.

  11. 11.

    Penelope Eckert, “Communities of Practice”, in Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics, ed. Keith Brown (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2006), 683.

  12. 12.

    As evidence of this, see Máirín Breatnach Uí Choileáin’s account of the dialogue changes made by native speakers from Conamara when staging a script written in Munster Irish: Aisteoirí an Spidéil [The Actors of Spiddal] (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 2015), 69–70. Dialect issues are also mentioned passim in Ní Chinnéide, An Damer.

  13. 13.

    Joe Steve Ó Neachtain, In Ainm an Athar & Níor Mhaith Linn do Thrioblóid [In The Name of the Father & We’re Sorry for your Trouble] (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 2006). It was first staged in An Taibhdhearc theatre in Galway in 2000. It is not common for Irish-language plays to tour in the United States.

  14. 14.

    Ó Neachtain, Níor Mhaith Linn do Thrioblóid, 101.

  15. 15.

    All translations here are my own except where otherwise indicated.

  16. 16.

    Ó Neachtain, Níor Mhaith Linn do Thrioblóid, 150. The italics are not in the original.

  17. 17.

    The alarming disappearance of traditional Irish speech in the Gaeltacht is charted by Conchúr Ó Giollagáin and Martin Charlton, Nua-Shonrú ar an Staidéar Cuimsitheach Teangeolaíoch ar Úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht: 2006–2011 [An Update on the Comprehensive Linguistic Study on the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht: 2006–2011] (2015), http://www.udaras.ie/media/pdf/002910_Udaras_Nuashonr%C3%BA_FULL_report_A4_FA.pdf, accessed 12 April 2016. See also Feargal Ó Béarra, “Late Modern Irish and the Dynamics of Language Change and Language Death”, in The Celtic Languages in Contact: Papers from the Workshop Within the Framework of the XIII International Congress of Celtic Studies (2008), ed. Hildegard L.C. Tristram (Potsdam: Potsdam University Press), 260–269. For a representative overview of the linguistic abilities of non-Gaeltacht Irish speakers, see John Walsh, Bernadette O’Rourke and Hugh Rowland, eds., Research Report on New Speakers of Irish (2015), http://www.gaeilge.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/New-speakers-of-Irish-report.pdf, accessed 12 April 2016.

  18. 18.

    In the Nua-Shonrú referenced above, which is the most recent and comprehensive study done to date, Ó Giollagáin and Charlton estimate that in ten years’ time Irish will no longer be a sustainable community language in the majority of Gaeltacht areas. Anecdotally, it is also worth alluding here to the stage (1996) and film (2007) adaptations of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s novel, Cré na Cille (1949). The two productions featured many of the same actors, most of whom were between 45 and 80, and both media commentators and cast remarked that they were the last generations who could do justice to the Irish dialogue in Ó Cadhain’s original.

  19. 19.

    See Breathnach Uí Choileáin, Aisteoirí an Spidéil for a comprehensive account of plays performed by a long-standing amateur theatre group from Conamara.

  20. 20.

    Máiréad Ní Ghráda, An Triail (Baile Átha Cliath: An Gúm, 1978).

  21. 21.

    A succinct account of the play’s initial run and reception is in Ní Chinnéide, An Damer, 48–49.

  22. 22.

    For an overview of Ní Ghráda’s work, see Siobhán Ní Bhrádaigh, Máiréad Ní Ghráda: Ceannródaí Drámaíochta (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 1996).

  23. 23.

    Ní Ghráda, An Triail, 23.

  24. 24.

    See Nic Eoin, “Contemporary Prose and Drama”, 300–302 and Ní Chinnéide, An Damer, 40–54.

  25. 25.

    Seán Ó Tuama, Ar Aghaidh Linn a Longadáin [Off We Go, Longadán] (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 1991). It was first staged by the Cork group Compántas Chorcaí in the Damer theatre in 1959.

  26. 26.

    Alan Titley, Tagann Godot [Godot Arrives] (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 1991). It was first staged in the Peacock in 1990.

  27. 27.

    See Ní Chinnéide, An Damer.

  28. 28.

    This effects even the most independent of the Gaeltacht theatre companies such as Aisteoirí an Spidéil. In her catalogue of their work Breathnach Uí Choileáin counts seventeen translations in forty-six productions between 1910 and 2015.

  29. 29.

    Between 1926 and 1960 most of these translations were commissioned by the state publishing house called An Gúm; some of these were then staged during our period—see Antain Mag Shamhráin, Foilseacháin an Ghúim: liosta de na leabhair a d’fhoilsigh an Gúm ó 1926 i leith [An Gúm’s Publications: a list of the books published by an Gúm from 1926 onwards] (Baile Átha Cliath: An Gúm, 1997). For an account of some of the early cultural debates surrounding the translation of plays, see Philip O’Leary, Gaelic Prose in the Irish Free State 1922–1939 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press), 391–395 and 458–503. For a catalogue of all professional and semi-professional productions (but not necessarily publications) of plays translated into Irish, see http://gaeilge.irishplayography.com.

  30. 30.

    Playography na Gaeilge, http://gaeilge.irishplayography.com, accessed 12 April 2016.

  31. 31.

    Perhaps Ó Flatharta’s most well-known plays are Gaeilgeoirí [Irish Speakers] (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 1981) and An Solas Dearg [The Red Light] (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 2002). They were both staged in the Peacock, Gaeilgeoirí in 1981 and An Solas Dearg in 1995.

  32. 32.

    Nic Eoin, “Contemporary Prose and Drama”, 305.

  33. 33.

    Micheál Ó Conghaile, Breandán Ó hEaghra and Caitríona Ní Chonaola, Jude, Gaeilgeoir Deireanach Charna, Incubus [Jude, The Last Irish Speaker of Carna, Incubus] (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 2007). Ó hEaghra’s play was first staged in the Taibhdhearc in 2005.

  34. 34.

    This point was made by Brian Ó Conchubhair at a conference on Irish-language drama held in Boston College House, Dublin, in February 2016. The author was present and confirmed it; the proceedings of the conference are expected to be published in 2018.

  35. 35.

    The play was first staged in Galway’s An Taibhdhearc in 2013 but the translation has not yet been published.

  36. 36.

    Philip Auslander, “Liveness, Mediatization, and Intermedial Performance”, Degrés: Revue de synthèse à orientation sémiologique 101 (2000): 1–12.

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Coilféir, M. (2018). Contemporary Theatre in the Irish Language. In: Jordan, E., Weitz, E. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Irish Theatre and Performance. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-58588-2_9

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