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"The Life & Times of James Connolly"

"The Life & Times of James Connolly" from "The Non-Stop Connolly Show" by Margaretta D'Arcy & John Arden.

A 2-hour version of our 14-hour 1975 epic drama "The Non-Stop Connolly Show (a cycle of continuous struggle)" was read to a crowded lounge bar on the island of Inis Meain, Aran, on Sunday afternoon, the 27th of August.

As the story of James Connolly's life and work unfolded, the intensity of the listeners, and their reaction to each nuance of the speeches, made us realize that this is a living history and that Connolly is even more relevant today than he was when the script was written. It struck us very forcibly for instance, as we read out parts of his Irish Socialist Republican Party manifesto (1896), that he was campaigning in those days for all sorts of things which we still have not got - or are already losing - for instance: "public ownership of the land and all instruments of production, distribution and exchange ... nationalization of both agriculture and industry ... a minimum wage and a 48-hour week, free education under the control of popularly-elected committees, pensions to be paid for out of a graduated income tax."
Early in the play we show Connolly as a young soldier in the British army (round about 1885) posted to the west of Ireland and staring round-eyed at a desolate prospect:
"In every field where good corn ought to sprout
The weeds and nettles grow so thick
Ye'd need an earthquake shock to root them out.
The only vigour and order that I can discover
Are the soldiers and the constables with their bright brass and polished
leather:
They glare out over the green, where at every crossroads they stand -
It is as though their cold blue eyes had poisoned the whole land."
 
A museum exhibits the old clichéd photographs of spinning wheels, curraghs and women in shawls - a dead and static culture, bound to the Irish language but without any gateway into the vibrancy of the modern world - J.M.Synge is recognized because he has been in a sense turned into a brand-name to give lineage to the Celtic Tiger - there is however no mention of the altar made for the parish church by Patrick Pearse's sculptor father (did young Pearse accompany him?) no mention of the glorious church window by Harry Clarke, one of Ireland's greatest and most controversial 20th-century artists (whose work was banned by the government because of its sexuality), no mention of how so many of the 1916 leaders came to the island to study not only the language but the possibility of national transformation. The museum of course is for the tourist, native as much as foreign, a magpie nest of glittering pickings from the past taken altogether out of context and presented as that strange commodity "heritage" which needs no sense of continuity and must lead to no significant action - "that was THEN, multi-nationals are NOW and are the only acceptable forms of progress" - what else is the message of our government's selling of Shell in County Mayo?
"The spread of global capitalism has not been balanced by a spread of democracy or values" - Joseph Stiglitz (ex-chief economist at the World Bank), who goes on to pose the question, can globalization be good if it does not rest on sound foundations? Connolly knew the answer, over a century ago.
To return to the play. The performance ended with a spontaneous rendering by Mary Coughlan of the ballad "Where O where is James Connolly?" - one of the most emotional theatrical experiences that we've ever had.


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1922 - Northern Ireland votes for nonalignment in Irish Free State.