In the scorching summer of 2018, Róise Goan invited me to be part of a great team of artists, making another performance with and about Donegal local stories and local people. The first time was with She Knit The Roof. This show was called Foyle Punt, after a particular kind of local wooden boat. As part of the show, we commissioned a boat to be made by the famous McDonald boatyard of Greencastle.
I got to spend some magical summer weeks in beautiful Moville, in the very far north of the country, with Caitriona McLaughlin, Darren Murphy, Little John Nee, Farah Elle, Jennie Moran, Lisa Mahony, Evie McGuinness, Brian Mooney, and the boatbuilder Philip McDonald who also performed in the show.
The highlight of my time there was spending a week as an honorary member of the Moville Men’s Shed as we (they) built the few set pieces. Lakes of tea, mountains of chocolate biscuits, and endless quiet slagging of my carpentry skills. Shout out to Hubert (standing on the right of this photo) for the best sarcastic eye roll on the island. I might have been offended if I could understand a word any of them said.
I won’t lie. Touring a show with a boat to 6 harbours in 10 days nearly killed us all. And what eejit decided that stones were an integral part of the design and had to tour with us? But on the plus side, I had biceps for the first and only time in my life. At the most difficult moments, we pursed our lips and said that at some point we’d probably look back at the experience fondly, forgetful dopes that we were. I guess this is that point.
And to be fair, when it went well it was absolute magic. I’ll always remember the day at Raghly harbour in Sligo, which is just about the most beautiful place you could imagine working. The weather was incredibly tranquil. We arrived in the van first thing in the morning, quickly mapped out how the show would be set up, set it up, stopping every once in a while to look at the changing light on Ben Bulben, did the show to a full house, fed the audience, took everything down in the dark, and only as we packed the van the wind picked up a little and we realised how differently our day could have gone if there’d been even a breeze.
We finished that night in the legendary Ellen’s pub, accidentally becoming part of a kind of wake for the ashes of the local writer Leland Bardwell, who was an old friend of my father’s.
Róise set up The Local Group as a way of making high quality theatre that is rooted in local stories, local history, local places and local people, and that the team making it becomes embedded in the local community. The fact that Foyle Punt and She Knit The Roof were both sell-out successes and attracted crowds from far and wide is testament to her vision. Fingers crossed that more excellent Local Group comes soon.