I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Faith and Hope

Barry Houlihan
Donal McCann was already reciting an incantation of Welsh and Scottish villages when the stage lights lit up his face for the first time, as the “Fantastic Francis Hardy, Faith Healer. One Night Only”. For the audience of the Abbey Theatre at its Irish premiere in August 1980, the darkness which hid Frank Hardy at the opening of Faith Healer was like a confessional – a shroud around a private moment of exchange where one reveals their transgressions in the hope of finding absolution. Through clenched eyes and looking skyward McCann intoned a list of “all those dying Welsh villages” – the mesmerism, the sedation of the incantation – “Kinlochbervie, Inverbervie, Inverdruie, Invergorden, Badachroo, Kinlochewe, Ballantree, Inverkeithing…”– a necrology of place names. Kirks in Scottish nomenclature are akin to Irish Cills. They are church names, meeting places defined by faith, spaces which Friel made real in the theatre. In its four decades since its Irish premiere, the play has created its own folklore, its own varied stories of sedation and spirituality. It is a play about an itinerant mystic, Frank Hardy, his harangued and grieving mistress, Gracie, and Teddy, a cockney stage-manager and fixer of Frank’s performances. As self-displaced exiles, Frank and his supporting cast travel the halls of Scotland and Wales meeting the locals who entrust their own bodily and spiritual restitution to “the man on the tatty banner”. Fintan O’Toole has previously argued that the reason Faith Healer is so seldom performed is that it is so ingrained in public memory through McCann’s magisterial and hypnotic performance. It is a role ghostly inhabited by McCann to this day. Similarly, with Tom Murphy’s Bailegangaire, a powerful play that is also structured through the mode of pure story-telling and the relentless telling and retelling of how the eponymous town got its name. The great Siobhán McKenna ascended to Irish cultural folklore in her role as Mommo, the bed-ridden matriarch of memory whose nightly recitation is an Odyssean journey through local folklore and family memory. First produced by Druid Theatre in 1985, the company did not revisit the play until 2015, when the role was inhabited by Marie Mullen, who had starred opposite McKenna in the original thirty years earlier. The “Fantastic Francis Hardy” in the form of McCann, has achieved a sort of deified memory embodied in the public’s mind. Like those who claimed to have been present when Munster beat the All-Blacks in Limerick’s…

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