Hearing a story on the Gay Byrne radio show some years ago about an adopted woman meeting her birth mother for the first time after 40 years prompted two actors, Bairbre Ní Chaoimh and Yvonne Quinn, into writing a play about separation, loss, and family secrets. They called the play Stolen Child.
During that radio interview the woman referred to her own upbringing as a child in an industrial school and when the authors researched the story, they found it was only one of thousands that had never been told. This led them to talk to women who had been sent to industrial schools as young children, women who had been adopted, nuns, and social workers.
Interviewed at that time, Quinn said “What the play is really about is how we have treated our children. If you’re small and vulnerable and you don’t have anyone to stand up for you, you really have no value. That’s not just true of Ireland - you see it in China and Romania, too. But despite the Inquiries and the Redress Commission and the compensation which is now, belatedly, being paid out to people, you can never repay someone for a lost childhood. You can’t ever make it right.”
However, distressing stories don’t always make good theatre so the authors have introduced a contemporary slant to the story whereby a young woman seeks to find her natural mother with the help of a private detective, whose irreverent humour masks a deep understanding of human frailty. Parallel to her quest is the heartbreaking story of her mother’s upbringing in an orphanage in Cavan in the 1940s and the enforced adoption of her newborn baby.
Stolen Child was one of the first plays to explore the secret history of Ireland’s industrial schools, the plight of unmarried mothers, and the adoption process. Humorous yet moving, what begins as a personal journey for Angela Tiernan to discover her family history soon becomes a fascinating exploration into one of the darkest chapters in the history of modern Ireland.
The cast of four are all experienced and highly watchable actors - Ann Hoey, Dermot McManus, Pat Canty, and Paula Eagney. As you might expect, they succeed in rising to the challenging subject matter with absolute integrity.
Stolen Child is directed by Paddy Martin and runs in Athlone Little Theatre from Friday, February 26 to Friday, March 4 nightly at 8pm. (Rights by kind permission of Drama League of Ireland )