Cheryl Herr, ed. & intro., For The Land They Loved: Irish Political Melodramas, 1890-1925 (Syracuse UP 1991)

Preface: The book is copyrighted by Herr in all parts excepting the de Burca plays, which are copyrighted to him. Seamus (‘Jimmy’) de Burca, son of PJ Bourke, described as ‘a national resource of the highest order’; the book dedicated to him ‘and all who dared to speak of ‘98’ [the allusion being, apparently to a pamphlet rather than the Ingram ballad]. Thanks to Stephen Watt for sharing soon to be published research into Irish melodrama; the British Library consented to the publication of JW Whitbread’s works, housed with the Lord Chamberlain’s plays; other of his material in the Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson Theatre Collection in London. [xi, xiii]

A criterion in not modernising—or Americanising—spelling is that the mode of capitalisation represents how words such as Government and Scaffold were experienced in the historical field, ‘political radicals inhabiting a world of concrete immediacies over which loomed a realm of monumental forms of oppression. That oppression infiltrated material reality at all social levels, even down to the practical mechanics of writing—or so Whitbread’s scripts suggest.’ [xv] Herr is happy with “red coats” as being evocative and attendant to the drama of costume, but changes it for editorial reasons.

‘monolithic ideological determinations’ [xv] BUT SEE ‘monolithic’, infra.

When Wexford Rose, by PJ Bourke, manuscript A, is in the hand of Peadar Kearney, ca. 1907. A twelve part score is housed in Irish Theatre Archive, Dublin.

The Essay

Opening quotes Fanon: “colonised man who writes for his people ought to use the past with the intention of opening the future, as an invitation to action and a basis for hope.”, and goes on to speak of Ireland as one of the ‘occupied countries’ [3] Cf. ‘partially occupied country [coming] to terms with their national identity in all its variety (Boucicault).’ And cf., also ‘contemporary oppressions of an occupied country’ [15]—where this sounding more plausible in conjunction with the banning of de Burca’s film as ‘seditious’.

Taking hold of existing, and usually imposed literary genres, often of the most conservative line, such authors have forged links betweeen foreign aesthetic conventions and living, radical historical imperatives. Doing so, they have turned received forms towards the complicated ends of the temporal extrications we call freedom. Certainly this is the case in late 19th and early 20th c. Ireland (before the partition) when the fervently sought reality of a whole, independent, and in every way united nation often seemed to be just over the horizon. [3]

the plays convey the utopian and nationalist ideologies of [...] 1798 [...] with the intense hope of “opening the future” [...]

.. these writers, both of them entrepreneurs of modest social status and addressing a popular audience, take upon themselves the task of promoting Irish nationalism from the stage.

.. an Ireland that is both Free State and postimperial domain. [4]

.. the historic Abbey Theatre (designed by Joseph Holloway) [...] [4]

Hubert O’Grady, Famine (1886); JW Whitbread, Wolfe Tone (1898); PJ Bourke, When Wexford Rose (1910); Ira Allen, Father Murphy (1909; [for which a playbill but no MS exists, vide Herr., p.42]).

ftn. Stephen Watt ed., O’Grady’s Emigration and Famine, in JIL 14 (Jan 1985)

The erroneous assumption by scholars that these plays would have little or no audience outside of Ireland highlights our collective misconceptions about the functions of these dramas and about the nature of English dramatic censorship, which was not monolithic but shifting in purpose and impact. [5]

The plays produced at the Queen’s were ‘concensus dramas, propagated in village, towns, and cities throughout the nation and in other countries as well.’ [5]

Queen’s, founded 1829, destroyed 1969, Golden Age 1882-1907, under management of James W. Whitbread, b. England 1848, developed strong sympathies for Ireland, d. 1916. Whitbread oversaw the shift from stock to touring companies. Whitbread left the Queen’s in 1907; the theatre was closed 19 Mar 1907 to 13 Sept. 1909, and reopened by the new patentee FW Marriott-Watson, who relied on English melodrama, leavened by such irish plays as Buckstone’s Green Bushes and Boucicault’s Colleen Bawn. In 1910, the influence of PJ Bourke and his No. 1 Company began to be felt.

JW Whitbread’s WORKS: Shoulder to Shoulder (1886); The Nationalist (1891) [both of these in contemp. printings—see ftn 6, p.66]; The Irishman (1892); The Spectre of the Past, or Homeless in the Streets of Dublin (1893); The Victoria Cross (1896); Lord Edward, or ‘98 ([27 Mar.] 1894); Theobald Wolfe Tone ([26 Dec.] 1898); Shadowed (1899); Rory O’More (1900); The Ulster Hero (1902); The Insurgent Chief (1902); The Sham Squire (1902); Sarsfield (1905; [publ. Seamus de Bruca, 1987]); The Irish Dragoon (1905); The French Hussar (1906). [Missing? Michael Dwyer, n.d., see infra, QZ]

And NOTE: ftn., p.66, identifies further Whitbread plays as follows: The Soldier Priest (1915); the Mander-Mitcheson collection includes a panto., Dick Whittington, with Joseph Eldred and Augustus Wheatman (1882-83); an operatic burl., Miss Maritana, or ‘Not for Jo!’—See? (1890) with George Nugent; a printed vers. of The Nationalist (1892), and Shoulder to Shoulder (1888); manuscript stories, and a play called Pat. The name attached to other stories, Frank Fairfield and Colin Mabberley, may be peuds. Shoulder to Shoulder, cover, identifies Whitbread as author of ‘Race for Life’; ‘The Foster Brothers’; ‘Staunch and True’, and other works.

Irish melodrama occupied one-third of the annual programme, perhaps fifteen weeks. The popularity of his Lord Edward regularily attested in the press reviews, ranging from The Era to The Irish Times which writes: ‘the plac which it holds among latter-day contributions to Irish drama is accurately attested by the large measure of patronage invariably extended to it.’ (20 Apr. 1897) BUT what does the paper mean by ‘Irish drama’—that term used in connection with the London Brittania Theatre Irish dramas of the period?

Joseph Holloway, in an article in The Irish Playgoer, 1900: writing on JW Whitbread’s Lord Edward, opening on Dec. 26 1898, he comments ‘ [...] it is a step in the right direction to try to create a new type of true Irish play without too much of the “arrah-begorra” element in it, so inseparable from the old form of Irish drama, where everybody, from the highest to the lowest, spoke with the vulgarest brogue (often mingled with a Cockney accent). [PARA] Why not have educated Irishmen and women speak, as in everyday life, as Mr Whitbread has endeavoured in this play to make them do? We have had enough and plenty of Irish caricatures on the stage, God knows, in the past; let us have a little of the genuine article now by way of a change.’ A line that he cut from the published text, but still to be found in his diary, reads: ‘this is the sort of play that will ultimately put a new spirit into Ireland’—a lucky find for Herr!

PJ Bourke, b. Dublin 1883, orphaned at 12, drove department store van; frequented Queen’s from age of 10; acting and managing in local halls at 20; key roles in Whitbread plays [incl. Michael Dwyer, not listed above: QZ]

WORKS: When Wexford Rose, prod. Fr. Matthew Hall in 1910 and Queen’s in 1912 and following; For the Land She Loved (prod. 1915); The Northern Insurgents (1912); For Ireland’s Liberty (1914); In Dark and Evil Days (1914; the British Govt. banning pictorial poster ads); he wrote and produced the first full length film made in Ireland, Ireland a Nation; d. 1932. Also cited onp. 16, songs and dancing in his version of Kathleen Mavourneen.

Lesser figures are Ira Allen (Fr. Murphy [1909]; The Bailiff of Ballyfoyle [1911]); Fred Cooke (‘98, or Faugh-a-Ballagh [1874]; The Diver’s Luck [1888]; On Shannon’s Shore [1895]).

Herr’s political special pleading comes to a head in treating of the surprising predominance of women’s plays on the programme for 1916 (A Woman’s Honour, Her Luck in London, The Shop Girl and her Master, The Old Wife and the New, The Queen of the Redskins, The Mother’s Heart). Herr quotes Hogan to the effect that ‘there were no plays about the war, and perhaps the theatres offerings reflected a desire for escapism as well as the fact that much of the male audience was now in the army’; but she goes on: ‘In addition, managerial fears of governmental suppression induced a strong self-censorship [...] through the discourse of English women’s palsy, issues of power and domination continued to be popular mediated in forms that masked the national question but that highlighted the socioeconomic underpinnings of any approach to “home rule” [...] objectify[ing] issues of contested identity and forced disguise that also marked debates over national self-determination’ This is Kiberdian palaver of a high order.

The rider is a reinterpretation of Hogan’s down-to-earth remark that when the English tourers could no longer travel due to wartime restrictions, Irish companies usually confined to the provinces reached the Dublin stage. Herr says: ‘I take this assessment to be important from the standpoint of concensus culture; wha palyed well across the country now had to make it in Dublin; a closer dialogue about national self-representation was established between city and country.

The Irish companies playing were Delany and Condron’s; PJ Bourke’s; Lena and Dermont’s; Ira Allen’s; PP Nayr’s; JF Mackay’s; and JB Carrickford’s.

Takes issue with Richard Pine’s view of Bourke et al. as vulgar manifestations of the melodramatic impulse—and on the basis that the play cited by Pine has not been seen, her argument is hard to contradict (ftn., 67).

Kavanagh erroneously called O’Grady ‘the most pop. dramatic author in Ireland during the last decade of the century.’ Herr remarks: it is clear that Kavanagh’s rejection of melodrama’s comic Irishmen, stock characters, elaborate gestures, ready emotions, and predictable plots was not so much a critical evaluation as [...] a marker [of] a phase in the on-going struggle of people in a partially occupied country to come to terms with their national identity in all its variety.’ Herr goes on: ‘In contrast to that moment of rejection, writers like Synge were and are valued precisely because they did not attempt to displace their cultural past with all its schismatic self-portraits; they embraced native tradition, theatrical and otherwise, while transforming rather than neutralising it.’ [13]

The bridges of which Herr speaks [13] between melodrama and modern Irish drama are real enough; and the revaluation suggested by Cyril Cusack in numerous articles bears timely witness. Herr refers to the Dublin Th. Archive exhibit, ‘Dion Boucicault and the Irish Melodrama Tradition’, 1983. [13]

Herr: ‘.. Enabling effective agency to replace inebrietated passivity, Boucicault at least partly freed the stereotype from within.’ [14]

So it is [quoting remarks by Stephen Watts in ‘Boucicault and Whitbread’] that when we consider the transformations of Irish self-representation from early Boucicault through late Bourke, we find a progression, a political enrichment so historically logical as to make dismissive comments about these writers (or their simple exclusion from the Irish theatrical canon) shortsighted in the extreme. [14]

Whereas Boucicault opened the melodramatic terrain to new formulations, it remaind for Whitbread and Bourke to enact the implications of these developments. To some extent, of course, Whitbread wanted to produce an audience, Bourke, whose republican sentiments were well known, wanted to produce a revolution. Both writers thus occupy key places within the Boucicauldian conventions that they embraced and reshaped. [15]

In 1915, Bourke’s For the Land She Loved was produced at the Abbey; the Castle remonstrated with St. John Ervine for ‘permitting this piece of sedition to be performed’ (Seamus de Bruca); Ervine responded by barring de Burca from the Abbey. Bourke’s film, Ireland A Nation was shown at the Rotunda on 8 Jan. 1917, he himself playing the part of Michael Dwyer, and banned on the following day. [15]

Holloway, having had a change of heart with the prominence of the Abbey players after the turn of the century, and having decided that the Queen’s represented only a decadent form of theater, found himself out of sympathy with the production [of For the Land She Loved] (1915). The play at a ‘rousing reception’ at the Queen’s on 27 April 1920.

The Impact of Irish Political Melodrama

.. writers like O’Casey and Synge made no secret of having attended the Queen’s. Hence the radicalisation of audience and playwright that took place on the site of melodrama had its reverberations in that 1798 dfrma of Yeats’s, Cathleen Ni Houlihan [...] [17]

.. Abbey productions were read partly in terms already established by the theatregoing community [...] our concept of the Abbey requires attention to the drama of the Queen’s.

The stage representations of historical and imaginary characters changed in value and force because Irish society en masse was changing in ways that the stage both attended to and impelled. [18]

98 in History

Even in their own time, the major events of 1798 were treated by diarists and historians with a high degree of self-consciousness that often can only be called theatrical. [19]

Herr comments on the element of typological dimension of the traditions emanating from 1798.

.. one consequence of this elevation of history to myth, from in some sense autonomous enterprise to prefigured reality, is that we have kept in our collective foremind the belief that 1798 marks a departure from the expected and the normative, that conditions actually supported a different ending to the story, but an outcome tht remained maddeningly and mysteriously elusive. The endless damning coincidences, the infinite penetration of patriotic enclaves by Castle spies, makes us wonder, still, why history remained so recalcitrantly against Ireland’s liberation. [...] the mind rebels against things having gone so persistently wrong. [21]

Herr calls the tradition of interpreting 1798 which eludes the trap of guilt, self-hatred and ‘cosmically mandated dependency’ ‘an alternative take’ [for which] the primary vehicles [...] were ‘plays created by Whitbread and Bourke.’ [21] Their work asserts a typological patterning in order to resuscitate the triumphs of the highly varied political undertakings often too indiscriminately gathered together as the 1798 Rising. [...] they emphasised the coexistence of success and defeat. [...] [they] entered into the dialogue that produced the Easter Rising.

Description of Richard Musgrave’s Memoir of Different Rebellions &c. (2nd ed. 1801).

Irish Civilisation and its Discontents

This section of the essay is a general history of the 1798 Rising, dealing with the amalgam of lower class Catholic grievances of the dispossessed, and the egalitarian, anti-oligarchical thrust of middle class republicanism. Drawing up Marianne Elliot (Partners in Revolution: the United Irishmen and France, 1982), she illustrates the original limitations of the Society’s aims: ‘abolition of tithes and hearth-tax, the establishment of a national system of education by a reformed parliament, and a reduction of textation indirectly through cheaper government and the abolition of sinecures’—but also the wider agenda of “regeneration”, in Tone’s coinage. [23-24]

Lord Edward Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald, Lord Edward, younger br. of Duke of Leinster; called by RR Madden ‘a man singularly amiable, estimable, and lovable.’ (United Irishmen, NY Catholic Publ. Soc. ed, 1916, 4:172; quoted in Herr, For the Country They Loved, 1991, p.25).

Returned from America with a black servant called tony; joined Jacobin Club in Paris, 1792; renounced his title while banqueting with Thomas Paine and others; relieved of his commission; served in the Irish Parliament. Married to Pamela, foundling adopted by family of Phillipe d’Egalité, gaining entre to society of Mme. Genlis and Mme Sillery in paris and Hamburg; tried to convince French Directory to invade Ireland, 1796; Provincial Director of Leinster, in 1798; died on the eve of the Rising.

Wolfe Tone

Herr notes of his enthusiastic involvement in enlightenment circles in Dublin: ‘an exhilaration born of empowering transgressions moved participants to actions whose outcome they might try to anticipate but could not control.’ Herr does not use Marianne Elliott’s biography of Tone in her account of him. [69]

The Drama of Betrayal

On the arrest of Lord Edward, Herr cites a passage from Froude’s The English in Ireland in the 18th c., (1888), but draws the details chiefly from W. J. Fitzpatrick’s Secret Service Under Pitt (1892). Herr adds: If a contemporary reader feels puzzled by a seemingly irrelevant character or encounter in one of Whitbread’s plays, there is almost always a specific source whose findings were too exciting for him to ignore. [34]

Violence and Propaganda

Having outlined the circumstances in which Fitzgerald was stabbed in the neck, Herr begins her next section: ‘To understand the complex aftermath of this assassination [sic], it is necessary to recall the extent to which the British worked explicitly to keep the country in a state of religious division [...] had the various native public and parliamentary gestures toward universal emancipation been allowed to mature without imposed external restraint, Ireland would certainly have follow3ed the American colonies in securing independence. [34] [...] Commentators are agreed that English insensitivity to irish social necessities fed into structural shifts to generate the antithetical pressures that made 1798 mythic and that, sadly, inscribed militancy and internal division rather than emancipation as historical inevitabilities. [35]

Compares the military ravages of the yoemen with the later ‘Auxies’ of 1916 [sic] and following. [35]

On the avoidance of atrocity scenes in Irish pol. melodrama: [...] Stage decorum [...] demanded higher degree of physical propriety than [now], but the more compelling observation is that these plays are relentlessly patriotic; rather than abuse the oppressors, the drama lingers on heroism, challenge, and opportunity. [37]

Herr finds a memoir of the Rising in Wexford, shown her by the Museum librarian, written by Jane Barber. Herr concludes, remarking on Barber’s closing note about the inability of the young Protestant yeomen to settle to farming again and the consequent loss of land: ‘Considering her strong feelings, Barber shows restraint here, but fails to add the further observation that the Penal Laws’ dispossession of Catholic owners had established claims to property that superseded those of the more recent Protestant proprietors.’ [41] This is more of Herr’s unthinking partiality; cf. Joe Lee on the idea of peasant proprietorship and the Gaelic mandate for it.

.. ironies of timing [...] support an analysis that sees in place of a single rebellion a number of revolutions. Each [...] hd its own adherents; each shared only certain ideological presuppositions with others; each thought that its version of the Rising was definitive. [46]

2 points: 1) the Rising was concieved in its time in dramatic terms as a series of scenes and tableaux; 2) the melodramatists’ portrayal of revolutionary actions emphasized not historical uniformity but the complex aetiology and consequences of civil discontent in 1798 [46]

Theatre as Historical Context

Herr recounts the history of the relationship between Lord Edward and Pamela [see Rx], and concludes: ‘.. a reader must be intrigued by the interweaving of love relationships, by the convention of love at first sight, and by the initial encounter [...] being almost on stage.’ [47]

By the time that Dion Boucicault, Ireland’s greatest writer in this [melodramatic] genre, wrote The Fireside Story of Ireland (1881), it was perhaps unsurprising to readers of history that [he] divided the story into four sections—four acts, really—each with its own high conflicts and stylized denouements. What we find here are tableaux from Irish history, moments in themselves so hortatory that they need little or no language, merely histrionic gesture, to communicate the depth of injustices committed against the beleaguered heroine, Cathleen ni Houlihan.[48]

Such formal and literary allusions to the theater emphasise how natural it must have seemed to Whitbread to represent sreious revolutionary activity in melodramatic terms. [48] In a ftn., Herr quotes approvingly Watts’s statement that ‘for many people [...] history was melodrama.’

‘The central question becomes [...] the relationship between espionage and civil order.’ Herr rehearses the complexities and duplicities of the spy-rings—conforming with Fitzpatrick’s conclusion that ‘the organisers of illegal societies [will find] informers [...] at any moment ready to sell their blood.’ [49] Herr draws attention to the centrality of the fear of betrayal in Whitbread’s plays, exemplified by Lady Pamela’s exclamation about ‘the horrible uncertainty of not knowing friend from foe, that is sapping my life away.’ [50]

Re Whitbread: ‘There’s a dale ov pleasure in lend’ muney to a gintleman.’ (Wolfe Tone). [And see also Lord Edward: How rich I am in faithful hearts. Emblems of the future.] [...] This positioning of class relations has a great deal more to do with melodramatic tradition than with Ireland in the era of the Queen’s theatre, and by Bourke’s time such sentimentalising of the class system was highly anachronistic. [53-54]

Bourke portrays a world in which the stakes are just as high but in which the principal players are neither aristocrats nor barrister-statesmen but folk more humbly placed in the social hierarchy. [53]

In focusing on local instead of national heroes, Bourke achieved a shift in emphasis from the truly or metaphorically aristocratic to the position normally occupied by the stage Irishman [...] the ordinary worker-as-hero found his or her place on the Queen’s stage. [55]

.. while political melodramas modulated towards realism, real life once again veered towards the theatrically heroic. [55]

Herr quotes effectively from Breandán MacGiolla Choille, Chief Secretary’s Office, Dublin Castle, Intelligence Notes 1913-1916—Preserved in the State Paper Office (Oifig an tSolathair, 1966).

Dramatic connections: 1)Countess Markiewicz who not only acted at the Abbey but also joined the Irish Citizen Army, supported the labor movement, epitomized one style of Irish femininism, and took part in the Easter Rising. 2) Peadar Kearney, who worked with both the Abbey and Queen’s, who wrote Irish national anthem, who stood his ground in an embattled factory on East of 1916, was a brother-in-law of PJ Bourke.

In For The Land She Loved (a benefit for the Defence of Ireland Fund), the playwright introduces all three radical agenda—nationalism, labor power, and feminism. [57]

Herr refers intriguingly to a pirated version of Boucicault’s Colleen Bawn as The Bride of Garyowen by one Henry Young, of Staffordshire, an English writer insensitive to its Irish nuance. Herr speaks of it as an emblem of significant difference between English and Irish aspects of the melodramatic tradition. [59]

Of Yeats’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan: ‘I think that for an audience fed from childhood on imported plays and partially weaned from English pap on Boucicault, Yeats’s gestures of disavowal and commitment must have taken on a heightened theatrical meaning beyond what we can imagine [...] Bourke’s For the Land She Loved [...] shimmers when we attend to this dramatic lineage. [59]

On the death of Betsy Gray [‘skewered’ on the swords of Englishman nd her Irish lover]: It is against the grain of such dramatic conflations of love and patriotism that we must measure stage deaths like that of Minnie in O’Casey’s canonical play The Shadow of a Gunman. [61]

.. within the purview of history, pyschological and emotional states like desire and hatred are surrogates for social forces like insurrection and oppression. [61]

The plays were less propaganda than they were arguments that political change could be initiated and sustained by the masses. [...] If 1798 was not the moment. the moment waited somewhere in the future. [62]

Babha [‘The Other Question—the Stereotype and Colonial Discourse’] argues that within imperialistic govenments, colonial discourse is ‘an apparatus of power [...] that turns on the recognition and disavocal of racial/cultural /historical differences [whose] predominant strategy [is] the creation of a space for the ‘subject peoples’ through the production of knowledges in terms of which surveillance is exercised and a complex form of pleasure/unpleasure is incited. It seeks authoriization for its strategies by the production of knowledges by coloniser and colonised which are stereotypical but antithetically evaluated.’ Herr concludes: [...] Irish playwrights made use of a theatrical discourse that was, for all intents and purposes, impose, alien, a colonializing of popular consciousness. A writer like Bourke placed within his world a heroine [...] [whose] ideological force was to resist the colonization of consciousness. [62]

The dialectic between linear history in which the rising were at some level unsuccessful, and theatrical space, in which the 1798 setting signifies the energies of revolution, is the primary defining feature of Irish political melodrama. The genre showcases the revolutionary moment as the one that counts. [63]

Takes issue with Deane’s appeal to the concept of imagination (which she refers to ‘the never-never land of the so-called universal values [of] English culture) in his introduction to Friel’s Selected Plays: “No Irish writer since the early days of this century has so sternly and courageously asserted the role of art in the public world without either yielding to that world’s pressures or retreating into art’s narcissistic alternative.” [63]

Herr refers again to Fanon in the context of her experience with Indian and African students and the writers who concern them: ‘Such artists are more likely to aim for refiguring the historical past and, as Fanon indicates, for re-envisioning the material future than to be content with successes limited to the imagination. [63]

.. Irish political melodrama, a genre that alters its foreign sources to renew itself in terms of local settings, a genre that resisted the inscribed facts of history and thus not only produced some powerful theatrical offspring but also stirred up national feeling throughout Ireland, creating a different kind of revolutionary activity in 1916 and for many years to come. [64] [END]

By the same author bibl. ‘One Good Turn Deserves Another’: Theatrical Cross-Dressing in Joyce’s Circe Episode’, in Journal of Mod. Lit., 11 n. 2 (1984), pp.263-76. [Cahalan]. Also Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture.

Plates and portraits throughout the work include ones of Major Sirr and Leonard McNally.

Glossary: Gives “bossin” as bullying [recte kissing, viz., bussing; 330]; styles poteen a whiskey; faix, prob. faith; spalpeen as clown or low rascal; old harry is the devil; that hoxter is arm [‘is a rural term:; a croppie is a rebel; other idioms dealt with incl. drop of the craythur ..; acushla, arga, alanna, arrah, avic, avourneen ... &c.; comether is to charm the person.

†The notes were compiled for a review.

[ back ]
 
[ top ]