Moving statues and the rural vernacular
THE MOMENTOUS Irish summer of 1985, with its spate of religious apparitions, is revisited in Gerry Conneely’s new comedy, The Year of Moving Statues, which comes to Druid Theatre next week.
The play has already enjoyed a sell-out run in Conneely’s hometown of Kinvara, and over a weekend chat, he filled me in on its details, beginning with his recollections of 1985.
“We were in the middle of both the 1980s recession and the Northern Trouble so it was a grim time,” he recalls. “It had rained since March and farmers couldn’t save their hay. When the hay failed in July, around south Galway you had these old single farmers hanging themselves. There was this pervasive depressive aura.
“Then suddenly these moving statues started happening. The thing that was surprising about Ballinspittle was the name, we’d never heard about it before. And then the whole statue phenomenon spread like wildfire, every parish in the country seemed to have one. There was even one in Gort - we were very annoyed in Kinvara when we heard they had one, we kept watching out for one of our own but it never happened,” he concludes with a wry laugh.
Conneely continues: “By mid-August, the whole country was in a state of hysteria about all this. A couple of weeks later, there was a reported vision of Our Lady and Saint Bernadette in the sky above Sligo. Thousands of people went to see it.
“And there was no scepticism or mockery in the media coverage of it. The Late Late Show even covered the Sligo apparitions. But strangely the next day there was nothing at all about it in the papers, and the moving statues were never mentioned again until three years ago when the 25th anniversary of it all came around.
“It seemed like everyone had forgotten about it and the country had just had some kind of collective episode. I always wondered what might have happened and this led into the writing of the play.”
Gerry expands on the play itself: “We view the whole thing as a psychotic episode in the history of the nation. It’s written and performed in the rural vernacular. The best comedians –cum-storytellers I ever heard in my life were from around Kinvara and I never saw anything to match them.
“I often wondered how this idiom and type of humour never seemed to make its way into literature or comedy. So what I attempted to do was to write a show in this idiom with all its peculiarities and rhythms. We did it in Cruinniu na mBád and it sold out for two nights and got a great reaction.”
‘Rural vernacular’ is not only the stylistic idiom of the play but the name adopted for the presenting company. The Year of Moving Statues is set in a rural pub inhabited by the barman, Tom (played by Conneely) and two regular customers Joe (Colmcille Donnelly) and Dan (Iggy Bownes). Into this archetypal Irish setting arrive two visitors.
“This elderly American couple, George and Martha come and build a relationship with the guy who runs the pub,” Conneely reveals. “Martha is a psychic and has picked up some strange vibrations about the place. The first part of the show they’re speculating about what precisely might be happening in the country. And what’s about to happen is that Ireland is about to have a collective nervous breakdown.
“I actually had the idea for the play a couple of years ago but it didn’t happen because I wanted to have actual American actors in the cast and I couldn’t find them at the time. Then recently - via Google - I found two really good American actors, Gary Hetzler and Anna O’Donnell, who are both living near Kinvara and so I could go ahead with the show.”
Hetzler may be familiar to TV viewers with roles in Killinaskully, Fair City, Jack Taylor, and the film The Summer of the Flying Saucer, while O’Donnell has had extensive stage experience in the US. The cast is completed by Hannah O’Donnell (Anna’s daughter) who has a memorable turn as the Virgin Mary.
The Year of the Moving Statues is part of a trilogy Conneely has penned about Irish life and recent history, the other two plays being Road To Clare, about the Germans’ discovery of Irish trad, and Days Of Darkness about the Northern conflict.
Conneely winds up our chat by noting that Statues has more of a comic emphasis than the other two; “It revisits this event from the nation’s collective memory and it looks specifically at the rural Irish psyche. And it’s funny.”
The Year of the Moving Statues runs at Druid Lane Theatre from Tuesday September 24 to Saturday 28. Tickets are available from 091 - 568660.