by ks

Sheila Gallagher and Richard Kearney appeared on BBC Radio Foyle with Mark Patterson prior to their Belfast show at the Nerve Centre.

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[Mark Patterson] That’s the sound, folks, of a multimedia performance about the first world war and the Easter Rising called Twinsome Minds — Twinsome Minds. It’s left Dublin’s Abbey Theatre — the prestigious Abbey — for one night only at the Nerve Center tonight here in the city.

Think of a talk with poetry. There’s music, there’s moving imagery, and the stories of friends and relatives who ended up on opposite sides of these vast conflicts.

More from the people bringing it to our city. Richard Kearney is an Irish writer and philosopher. Sheila Gallagher is a professor of art, curator, multimedia artist — goodness, you guys have quite the CV’s — both are based in Boston. Good afternoon to you.

[Richard & Sheila] Good afternoon.

[Mark Patterson] Right, where do we start? Goodness me.

Richard, it’s problematic, it’s emblematic, it couldn’t be more important in both sets of scenarios. Where would you take the Irish in our imaginations, and where would you start?

[Richard Kearney] Well, I’d start at a place of ‘both and.’ That is to say where there is complexity. You know, the commemorations — and there are many of them, and this is a special year, 2016 — of either the battle of the Somme or the 1916 Rising in Dublin are usually simple affairs where there are canonical figures and everything is clear and lovely. And you’ve got your heroes and your martyrs.

We’re not denying that. What we’re doing is complicating it and we’re pluralizing it —

[Mark Patterson] It’s not complicated enough, no?

[Richard Kearney] Well, it isn’t complicated enough, no.

[Mark Patterson] Isn’t it?

[Richard Kearney] No, it’s not. It’s complicated in the wrong way. There’s complications that actually produce compassion because we realize that — for example, what we’re showing this evening — is that this was a question of brothers, and sisters, and neighbors, and cousins, in the same houses, in the same families, the same neighborhoods, who ended up on opposite sides. And, they weren’t killing each other by design. There were historical circumstances which lead them to be caught on different sides. So, you had one brother in the Battle of the Somme, another in the GPO.

They were there because they read different posters, because they heard somebody saying, you know, you’ll get a united Ireland by joining the British Army. You’ll get by fighting against the British in Dublin, so the reasons they ended up on different sides were extraordinarily human.

[Mark Patterson] A lot of Irish Catholics urged to go out there to help ‘her’ little Catholic Belgium.

[Richard Kearney] Absolutely. I mean there were more Catholics died in the Battle of the Somme than there were Protestants.

[Mark Patterson] Ulster Prots promised we’ll be staying with her majesty as long as you head out to France. Incredible.

[Richard Kearney] Incredible. And if you think about, there were almost four hundred who died in Easter week in Dublin. And there were three thousand five hundred who died in a single day in the Battle of the Somme — Irish Protestants and Catholics alike. Two hundred thousand who fought in the first war.

So, we’re telling the stories. I mean, I’m giving you facts and figures there, but it’s the stories behind it that interest us.

[Mark Patterson] See, Sheila, I have an sense here at home that this has changed even in my lifetime, because I certainly had a sense being reared of that them and us thing. That Catholics didn’t do 1916 — only for the rising, never for the Somme. But I have a sense now that we’ve heard more about the 16th Irish, the 36th Ulster. I have an account — a wonderful account even — in from a listener today to that very end.

I have a sense that it’s more shared now than it ever was. Have we come far enough in your imagination?

[Sheila Gallagher] I think we’re heading to the right place. I’m Irish American. I grew up in Boston where thirty five million Americans are of Irish descent, and we relate to the country of Ireland, but know very little about the nation. And what we’re trying to do in this performance is really put forth a healing act of commemoration through micro-stories and images.

So, I think we’re on our way, especially in blending — I do the visuals, Richard does the stories, and if you come to the performance tonight, you’ll see a lot of blending of imagery — of lilies and poppies.

[Mark Patterson] See, but Bostonians will see that very different than Belfastians —

[Sheila Gallagher] Oh yeah.

[Mark Patterson] — because the narratives are very different. You know, out in Boston, it’s like the ‘Fighting Irish’ — the ‘Fighting Irish’ sending money home for the folks at home. And yet it’s WASP America, that white Angle-Saxon Protestant Ulster planter, who’s often predominant in society, but silent as a culture. Do you get what I’m saying there? That Boston Irish stuff is “Come on guys let’s fight for the Irish,” you know?

[Sheila Gallagher] Yeah, but there are thirty five million Americans of Irish descent and they’re from all over. They’re from all over. It’s not just the Boston ‘Fighting Irish.’

[Mark Patterson] That’s something. I want to get over there at some stage and have a closer look at.  Tell me, Richard, what might we see tonight that might surprise us?

[Richard Kearney] Well, you’ll start with images. And the reason we start with images is because with trauma — you know, when people have been through pain and wounds, and they’ve been suppressed so that you get a simple story, you’re either Irish or you’re British — what’s forgotten, those wounds that are forgotten because they’re crossed identities, they come back first as images, like people after war trauma coming back after World War I. The first thing they had were dreams and flashbacks.

So we start with Sheila’s images and then we come to the stories. There is not analysis, but we believe that through images as visual images, musical — we use a lot of music — and then poetry and fiction, and ordinary oral stories that people haven’t told before, people will get a new insight.

[Mark Patterson] And Sheila, why do centenaries matter? Because the fallen or those in their graves do not care a jot — if it was ninety nine years on, a hundred and one years on — and yet we get so excited about the figurative notion of a centenary.

[Sheila Gallagher] I think because history’s never done. We’re constantly in the process of making history. If you see me on the stage tonight, I’m making the ‘stuff’ as we go along. It’s fluid. I choose to work in ink because you can’t erase it, but you can make it flow.

As an American, we’re still dealing with big ramifications, emotional scars, the North and the South. Our Civil War is still not over, and commemoration matters if people are going to heal and actually grow up and flourish. And that’s where we started this: what would make people flourish?

[Mark Patterson] Well, I wish we had an hour because I’ve got some lovely interactions with listeners today which we have no time for, but I wish you both success. It sounds remarkable and fair play to you for bringing it up from Dublin. Richard Kearney there, an Irish writer and philosopher, and Sheila Gallagher, the professor or art, curator, multimedia artist, both based as they say in Boston. That’s tonight in the Nerve Centre.

K. Sweet
About K. Sweet
Kevin Sweet is a Boston based artist, educator, and the Technical Director on "Twinsome Minds"
Richard Kearney & Sheila Gallagher on BBC Radio Foyle