By Helen Riddell
WHEN Helena Murphy attended St Michael’s National School on Bere Island in the early 1900s, little did she know that over 100 years later, her granddaughter, playwright and theatre director Paddy Gillard-Bentley, would travel from her home in Canada to stage a play in that same school room.
Paddy first visited Bere Island two years ago to see the home her grandmother left when she married Englishman Thomas Metcalfe, who was stationed on the island with the Coastguard.
Delighted at connecting with her island roots, Paddy vowed to return to stage a play with her theatre company Flush Ink Theatre. She used a crowd-funding website, IndieGoGo, to help fund the trip from Canada, and has raised ,980 so far.
After a tour of Kilmainham jail on a trip to Ireland two years ago, the story of Grace and Joseph haunted Paddy. When she found out what happened in the last ten minutes of their lives together, she knew the story had to be told.
A Rose Upon the Blood tells the story of Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett who were married in the prison chapel of Kilmainham just hours before his execution following the Easter Rising of 1916.
The play is set in 1922 when Grace (Julia Krauss) is herself imprisoned in Kilmainham as a dissident. Playing to a packed house at the old island national school, now home to the Bere Island Heritage Centre, the cold stone walls of the old schoolroom easily pass for the walls of a cell in Kilmainham.
Sharing a cell with Rosie O’Leary (Rosemary Doyle), the two women, at first uneasy cellmates, soon reach a rapport when Grace recounts the last final moments she shared with Joseph.
Trying to explain the sheer cruelty of the final ten minutes the couple spent together was undoubtedly the most powerful, yet heartbreaking part of the play as Grace and Joseph (Tim Hanley) sit in the cell with a prison guard (John Walsh) standing over them, a stop-watch counting down their final minutes together. No words are spoken, nor need to be as they sit side by side. The audience is left haunted by the sheer cruelty of the situation. When the ten minutes are up, Joseph is dragged to his imminent execution, Grace collapses sobbing, as in the distance shots are heard. The play ends with the a rendition of the poignant ballad Grace sung by island musicians Benny Crowley and David Morrisroe.
A Rose Upon the Blood was written, directed and produced by Paddy Gillard-Bentley, with costumes and stage design by Katharine Mills. The performance was facilitated by the Bere Island Projects Group.