2016: The year of our Heroes – For one night only, ‘Eirebrushed’ comes to the Cork Arts Theatre
Four heroes, Padraig Pearse, Roger Casement, Eva Gore-Booth, and Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, whom we now know was airbrushed out of the 1916 surrender photograph – “Airbrushed for Eire” – tell the hidden stories of the lives of some of the heroes, who would not ‘fit’ the new Republic of equals promised in the glorious revolution.
Starring Maria Blaney as Elizabeth O’Farrell, Lia Monahan as author, trade unionist and activist Eva Gore Booth, who advocated for her sister, Countess Markewicz, Sir Roger Casement, played by Johnny Doran, and John Kelly as poet-turned-revolutionary, Pádraig Pearse, all return to Ireland in the present day, to assess how their promised Ireland of equals turned out.
“The play’s premise is: ‘Can a flawed person be a hero?” Merriman said.
“They were not just fighting for freedom but to be free. Equality must be personal, and the play asks: Did their heroic efforts just replace a political oppressor with a conscience oppressor?”
This 75-minute play, full of humour, pathos, and actual testimony, challenges the conventional Irish and Republican stereotype, to set out the contribution of some lesbian and gay people at a time of struggle to overcome oppression in Ireland.
The play records their words used in inspirational poetry, speeches and politics as they struggled to create a society where, as the Proclamation promised “no minority would be subject to the will of the majority.”
Merriman founded the The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in 2004, and has presented a staged reading of this work in the Irish Arts Centre in New York City in 2015, and in the UK this month.
The play was even discussed in the Dáil: John Lyons TD spoke on the Gender recognition Bill in our national Parliament, and said this, after seeing the play:
“The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival is being held over two weeks …and one of the plays is called “Eirebrushed”. It was written by Mr. Brian Merriman … I went to see it on Monday night. It examines four heroes of the 1916 Rising. They return to a modern Ireland to see if modern society has achieved what our founding fathers and mothers set out to achieve. One of the people featured is Elizabeth O’Farrell, about whom I knew nothing, apart from every day driving by the park named after her, and the penny only dropped when I heard her story last Monday night. She was the nurse who risked her life to issue the surrender to the British outside the General Post Office, but she has been airbrushed out of many of the photographs depicting that act. That reminds me in some way of the issue we are debating. At the time we were oppressed by the British. It is safe to say, without offending anybody, that when we gained our independence, we allowed another group to oppress us, but the people who oppress us the most these days are ourselves as a society.
The play is about minority groups and three of the characters are confirmed as being gay or lesbian. The sexual orientation of the fourth is questionable, but through their writings, it is suggested they are possibly gay. I will leave it up to Members to identify the particular 1916 hero in question. My point is that they were four people from minority groups, two of whom were women and did not have a voice and were airbrushed out of society. Thankfully, they now have a voice. They were part of a minority in another way in that they were lesbian, and because they were not recognised at the time, they were able to move under the radar and continue to live their lives as lesbians in relationships with their partners. Elizabeth O’Farrell lived until 1957 with her partner in Bray.
The play tells a lovely story, but it is about minority groups. I know only too well what it is like to be part of a minority group and it is tiresome to have to continually fight for something when one is in a minority group because in most cases we are asking the majority to make amendments. I do not know what it is like for transgender people, but I do know what it is like to be in a minority from the point of view of being gay, and it is very tiring. We ask people who do not know first-hand what it is like to be someone like me to bring forward the best possible legislation to allow me to be included in society as a full citizen.”
Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary NUJ, had this to say:
“I was privileged to attend the premier of Eirebrushed and was struck by the way in which Brian had managed to put in sharp focus the shameful neglect of central figures in the history of our nation’s struggles. Moreover I was stuck by how the lives of LGBT patriots had been marginalised, not even earning a footnote in the pages of our official history”.
Tickets are priced at €15, available at corkartstheatre.com
Corks Arts Theatre Box Office, Carrolls Quay, Co. Cork