Letterkenny Music and Drama Group present ‘Beneath an Irish Sky’ by Kieran Kelly

Setting

Act 1:
Scene 1: A Church, 1921
Scene 2: The home of the McDevitts, 1914
Scene 3: The Front, 1914

Act 2:
The home of the McDevitts, 1919

Act 3:
The home of the McDevitts, 1924

Synopsis

Inspired by archive reports and eyewitness testimonies, ‘Beneath An Irish Sky’ is a new play by Kieran Kelly that looks at the events of the ‘decade of change’ from a Donegal perspective. Set in the town of Letterkenny between the years 1914-1924, it tells the fictionalised account of one man’s journey through those turbulent times, questioning what made him pick up a gun to fight for his country. The play depicts how the central character of Brendan McDevitt was affected by the seismic events unfolding around him – from World War 1, through the War of Independence and up to the Civil War – and shows how these events convinced him to move from the peaceful Nationalism of the Ancient Order of Hibernians into the more militant Republicanism of Sinn Féin. This life altering decision will have far reaching implications for both himself and his family.

Cast

Fr. Crawford, local priest Michael Leddy
Brendan McDevitt Eoin Callaghan
Cassie McDevitt, his mother Elaine Gillespie
Michael McDevitt, his brother Loic Cech
Mary Doherty, a neighbour Laura Doherty
Barney McDevitt, his father Kieran Kelly
Dr. McBride, local doctor Martin Hasson

Crew

Producer/Director Pluincéad Ó Fearraigh
Stage Manager/Props Fiona McDaid
Lighting/Sound Niall Cranney
Set Design Pluincéad Ó Fearraigh
Stage Crew Anne Flannery, Aoife Flanagan, Tanya McLaughlin, Diarmuid Ó Gallchóír
Set Builders Tommy Kerr, James Kenny
Set Painting John Harkin

About The Group

The LMDG  was formed in  Letterkenny in 1991 and has produced 24 three act plays and 24 musicals/ concerts since then. They also staged musicals in Festivals in Derry and Bangor and were runners –up in the AIMS All Ireland finals in 2007 with newly composed musical ‘Children of the Dead End’. The Group took part in the Drama Festival Circuit from 1995 until 2000 and again from 2011. They enjoyed great success in 2012 winning The All Ireland Confined Finals and Ulster Finals with ‘The 39 Steps’. They also reached the All Ireland Confined Finals in 1999 and 2000. They qualified for The All Ireland Finals in Athlone in 2015 with ‘The 39 Steps’.

Summary of Adjudicator’s Comments

Adjudicator, Anna Walker ADA revealed to the audience at the Dean Crowe Theatre that she
went for a long walk that day, and on the following day she would go for some retail therapy,
so asked to be pointed in the direction of some good shops in Athlone.
She then congratulated Letterkenny for reaching the All-Ireland, which she called a
wonderful achievement.
She also told the audience that the actor, Kieran Kelly who played the part of Barney in
‘Beneath an Irish Sky’ was also the writer of the play.
“He must be so proud tonight,” said Ms Walker to a round of applause. “It’s very obviously
a labour of love – what an achievement for this man.”
The adjudicator also said that it is a privilege to see a new Irish play at the Drama Festival.
She talked about ‘Beneath an Irish Sky’ first having a rehearsed reading in An Grianan
Theatre in Letterkenny in March 2016 as part of the 1916 celebrations. She told that the
playwright had also written a book on the history of Letterkenny and did walking tours
around the Donegal town.
“The germ of the story came when he was shown a Hibernian sash which belonged to his
grandfather, and also a book of his grandfather’s which was inscribed by Michael Collins,”
said Ms. Walker. “The grandfather’s house was a safe house, and they had republicans
hiding from the War of Independence under the roof. He wondered why his grandfather had
switched allegiances and it intrigued him, and so he started researching.”
He had discovered a long-forgotten event which took place on 18th May 1921, where
Constable Albert Carter, a 19 year old from Kildare, was shot on the streets of Letterkenny,
and the shooter was never identified. It got the writer thinking about what if………
“It led to the play, and the question in the play is, is it right to kill someone for your country,”
said the adjudicator. “It also shows the horror of that time, (i.e.) when war rages and young
men’s blood is up, and they listen to the architects of war, and end up as foot-soldiers to those
figures of authority who ruled Ireland for so long. The doctor and the priest are telling people
what to do in those times, and I wonder if they were ever involved in a killing. I think there
is a quiet majesty to this play, and it had quite a dark theme, but as Emily Dickinson said,
‘hope is a thing with feathers,’.”
Ms Walker said that the play draws us into a hopeful light, and this is one family’s
relationship with war, and the effect of outsider influences and the chronological history of
rebel forces.
“Letterkenny presented the play with full commitment and excellent teamwork and some
strong characterisations, and the play opened with a strong oration by Fr. Crawford,” she
said. “Scenes were well paced with lively interaction between Barney and Fr. Crawford.”
However she said she had issues with the positions on the stage, and said the table needed to
be downstage right, and movement could have been more fluid in the play.
“A lot of action took place behind the furniture, and that is a weak space, so try not to have as
much action behind the furniture, and there were scenes in the play where one actor was
talking to another, and they were staring into the middle distance,” said the adjudicator. “In
general, it’s better to have full eye engagement with the other actors.”
She said the political tensions and stories within the play were well executed, and there was
much humour in the play, and the entrances and exits were well-timed.
“There was excellent orchestration of the voices in the memory scenes, and Cassie’s final
speech released the hope in the play,” said Ms. Walker.
She reiterated about the table working against a lot of the movement in the play, and said a
more claustrophobic set would have given more of a feel of family, and would have
underscored the tension in the play.
She liked the lighting (although found some issues with shadow) and sound, and loved the
reverberation sound in the opening act.
“Fr. Crawford pinned us to our seats with the opening monologue, and had excellent oration
skills and this actor (Michael Leddy) captured the manipulative nature of this man, and
played it with gravitas and power,” said Ms Walker. “I can understand why the flock would
understand this priest, and he is a template for a priest of that generation.”
She said Dr. McBride played by Martin Hasson delivered with confidence and had a nice
urbane sense about him. However, she would have liked this character to be more imposing.
“Laura Doherty (Mary) had a most attractive stage presence, and she was light and lovely and
young and vibrant in Act 1 with Michael and good and feisty in Act 2,” said Ms. Walker.
“She had a lovely sense of disbelief when she found out what Brendan had done, and we felt
her sadness and despair.”
The adjudicator said that playing out of age range poses problems, as she could see with
Brendan, played by Eoin Callaghan, but as the older Brendan he grew with confidence. In
her summary, she spoke directly to the actor.
“You located at times the heat of his anger, which was played with a sense of despair, but just
be careful not to force the characterisation, and just try to locate it with truth and honesty, and
unleash it,” she said. “In the final scene you smiled, and he was not a man who smiled so it
was lovely to see that.”
The adjudicator said she caught the young man’s (Michael, played by Loic Cech) sense of
delusion, so he should relax a little more so the movement can be more organic, when acting.
“It’s important not to be looking down at the floor, because you lose the beautiful eye and
facial expressions. In the scene where you read the letter home, you looked ahead, and we
could see and sense your feeling of loss and longing, and I felt it was beautifully done,” said
the adjudicator.
Ms Walker said that Elaine Gillespie, who played Cassie, brought a loving, caring quality to
the role, and gave a gentle delivery.
“The mild dementia was well noted, and she brought hope in the play in the final section, and
created a beautiful mood and atmosphere – well done Elaine,” said the adjudicator.
She said that actor Kieran Kelly is very comfortable on stage and has natural energy and there
is great cut and thrust in his scenes with Fr. Crawford.
“He located the anger and the fear that a father has for his sons and society, and I never
doubted his love for his family, and he brought Act 1 to a very powerful end,” said Ms.
Walker.
The adjudicator ended by saying Letterkenny Music and Drama Group brought us to a time
and place of turbulence in Ireland and Europe.
“Young men’s idealistic nature was shaped and moulded by church and state, and if we look
at the world we could ask ourselves does anything change?” said Ms. Walker. “This is a
thought-provoking piece.”