'Cripple' home in Inis Meáin after exhausting US tour


WHEN AMERICAN film-maker Robert Flaherty arrived on Inis Mór to make Man of Aran, Seán Conneely’s mother Máire was hired to cook for him. Some 75 years later, her son travelled to neighbouring Inis Meáin for a play about fellow islanders which was inspired by that epic film.

Not just any old play, mind – but the savagely satirical Druid Theatre production of The Cripple of Inishmaanby London-Irish writer Martin McDonagh. “Fáilte abhaile Cripple Inis Meáin” read the sign at the “halla” yesterday, marking a bit of history, and also the conclusion of an exhausting five-month US and Irish tour.

For though the award-winning McDonagh work has crossed the Atlantic and Irish Sea several times, this was the first time it was staged on location.

Druid patron President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin were among the special guests, welcomed with a red carpet, along with Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley. Druid board member Tarlach de Blacam was master of ceremonies, both in the halla and at the national school, where pupils welcomed the President.

The author was there to attend the final evening performance yesterday. He had had little or no contact with the island before writing the Aran Islands trilogy. The Kilburn native had spent summers with his Irish parents in Connemara, and was present for Druid’s Inis Meáin production of his Beauty Queen of Leenanein 1996. So, was he apprehensive now, given this play’s dark content? “No, I’ll blame the cast . . . in fact, Garry Hynes, if things go wrong,” he quipped.

A clash with the annual Pátrún festival on neighbouring Inis Mór meant local attendance was more limited than hoped, but Seán Conneely, his wife Sheelagh and sister Mary were among the matinee visitors. “Fantastic,” was his verdict afterwards. “It’s a great comedy – difficult, yes, but then islanders have noted that it isn’t really about the island at all.”

Conneely was “reared” on Flaherty’s Man of Aran– it being a central theme of McDonagh’s satire, as one of the play’s characters, JohnnyPateenMike, notes “Ireland mustn’t be such a bad place, so, if the Yanks want to come here and do their filming”.

“My mother Máire Gill had gone to school in Kylemore Abbey with her friend Mary Flaherty, and both were hired by Pat Mullin as cooks for the Flaherty film crew,” Conneely recalled.

“Flaherty took a harsh approach – think of what he made the currach oarsmen do in some of those final film scenes. Then he had been heard to say that he thought islanders would do anything for a barrel of beer.”

President McAleese led the standing ovation at the matinee.