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Play tells story of Shaws Gaeltacht

Nuala McCusker and Tony Devlin working on the Shaw's Road play Nuala McCusker and Tony Devlin working on the Shaw's Road play
By Michael Jackson

A new play that tells the incredible story of the establishment of the Shaws Road Gaeltacht is set for the stage later this month.

Written by Nuala Ní Neill, ‘Is Iomaí Rud a Tharla’ was specially commissioned by Irish language theatre company Aisling Ghéar to mark the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the urban Gaeltacht.

The Shaws Road Gaeltacht paved the way for the development of Irish language education in the North.
In 1970 the Gaeltacht community established Bunscoil Pobail Feirste as the North’s first Irish language school.

The eagerly-awaited new play tells the astonishing story through the courtship of a young boy (Tony Devlin) and girl (Nuala Ní Neill).

Ms Ní Neill explained how the multifaceted tale is encapsulated through the eyes of its two characters.
“The concept behind the story was quite hard to hook into at first, because there were so many people involved in the foundation of the Gaeltacht,” she said.

“There were the people who lived there, but there were a lot of other people who supported them by raising the initial funds.

“The script that we have developed is hung onto to two characters called Cailín (Girl) and Gasúr (Boy), but through that we are able to pull in lots of people’s stories and weave those all into the piece.

“It’s not a re-enactment of the building of the houses, it’s the spirit of the story.”

She continued: “If it wasn’t for the work of those families and the people around them, I probably wouldn’t speak Irish now and I wouldn’t be able to bring my children up through Irish.

“It’s because of the brave steps that they took and the work that they put in, not only by building the houses, but by normalising the language.”

Director, Brid Ó Gallchoir from Aisling Ghéar, added: “We’re trying to capture the spirit of the people who did it, and the time in which they did. It’s the spirit of people who do something so radical and revolutionary.

“These were ordinary working class people from West Belfast doing something that nobody would have imagined doing. The fact that they are creating a whole society and a world at a time when everything around them is being blown up.”

Co-lead actor, Tony Devlin, said it was “important” to acknowledge the crucial role of the Shaws Road families in the establishment of Belfast’s wider Gaeltacht area, which stretches the length of the Falls Road.

“Back then you had the burning of Bombay Street, but 50 years later we now live in the biggest urban Gaeltacht in the world,” he said.

“This is because of what five families were able to achieve on a small plot of land on the Shaws Road. It might be different had Gaeilge died off in the 80s and 90s, and hadn’t spread into what it is now, but the fact that it did is a testament to those families and the sheer determination that they had to keep the language alive.

“As artists, there is an onus on us to recognise and acknowledge that, especially when we have one of only two Irish language theatre companies in the country in this part of the city.”

‘Is Iomaí Rud a Tharla – The Story of the Irish Houses’ will include dialogue in both Irish and English. Surtitles will be displayed on stage and the play is suitable for speakers of both languages.

The play will be staged an the Cultúrlann between 27th-29th November.
For more info, call Aisling Ghéar on 028 9020 8040

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