ON JUNE 17 1917, Loughaunbeg beach, near Spiddal, was the scene of a dreadful disaster when a mine explosion killed nine local men. Windows in houses nearby were shattered and the sound of the blast was heard in Galway city, 16 miles away.
Fishermen from the village spotted a metallic, barrel-shaped object floating in the sea and brought it ashore to investigate. As they examined their find the mine exploded and the nine men standing around it were blown to pieces.
Fíbín Theatre Company is producing a new play, Pléasc, which recreates that day’s events. It will be performed on Trá Mhór, Indreabháin, on Friday June 16 at 8pm. It is part of a weekend of commemorative events, Cuimneachán an ‘Mine’ 1917-2017, organised under the auspices of the local development association, Cumann Forbartha Chois Fharraige, from June 15 to 18.
Pléasc is scripted by Ros na Rún writer, Eoin MacDiarmada, whose great-grandfather was one of the men killed in the tragedy. “My grandfather was only three when it happened so he didn’t have many memories of the event and never spoke about it much,” MacDiarmada tells me. “My grand-uncle spoke about it when we were growing up and showed us where it happened.
"He said my great grandfather and another man saw the mine in the water and they brought it ashore and proceeded to roll it up the beach. Then one of the spikes on the mine bent and a tube suddenly emerged and smoke started coming out of it. Once they saw the smoke they tried to run but it was too late and it exploded.
“They didn’t know what it was when they found it. At that time lots of things used to wash up on the beach so they’d often be down ‘speccing’ on the shore because they knew ships were being sunk regularly because of the war. Many more men would have died that day save for the fact that there was a fair on in Spiddal and lots of the locals had gone to that.”
The disaster profoundly affected the locality; “It had a terrible impact on the community, especially as most of the men who died were young – my great grandfather was the eldest at 53,” Mac Diarmada says. “No-one could answer the questions it raised - how did this come upon them and who had placed the mine. Initially it was said to be a German mine and the British authorities claimed they had no mines around Ireland but we know now they had. After the inquest no compensation was given to the families so all they got was whatever was raised in church collections and whatever kindness and support they got from neighbours and community.”
Mac Diarmada outlines how he is dramatising the story; “Pléasc is my interpretation of what happened that day. We don’t know what actually happened – even the sole survivor had difficulty explaining it afterwards. So my piece is an interpretation, it doesn’t claim to be an exact account of what happened. The play is about how these people gathered on the beach and the events leading to the disaster. One of the survivors, who brought the mine in with my great grand-dad, only lived because he had to leave the beach because he had a mare due to foal. The only other survivor dived behind a rock when he saw the tube emerging from the mine and smoke issuing from the device.”
Directed by Brendan Murray, Pléasc is a community project and the Cois Fharraige community is involved in almost every aspect of its creation. Members of Spiddal Drama Group, Cois Fharraige Drama Group, and Cumann Drámaíochta an Chara Bhig have roles in the play, as do students from the local secondary schools, Coláiste Cholmcille, Indreabháin, and Coláiste Chroí Mhuire. Cór Chois Fharraige provide musical accompaniment and set verses of a poem, ‘An Mianach’, written by local man Brian Ó Baoill, to music.
MacDiarmada agrees the play can be seen as an act of communal remembrance; “Yes, exactly. A few of the actors, like myself, have family links to the victims. My cousin is playing his great-uncle for example. We’re doing it on the beach about two miles from where the tragedy actually happened because it is an area that can accommodate a few hundred people of an audience. People need to ring early or book online because numbers are limited. It’s a once only show because it includes expensive pyrotechnics and an explosion.”
This is a free performance but tickets must be booked in advance by calling Fíbín on 091 505855 or by e-mailing [email protected]. A park and ride facility will operate from arranged parking facilities to transport the audience to the beach as there will be no parking on the beach.