“Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.”
(from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney)
Ballydam Theatre, launched as part of my writing-acting company, aims to give an artistic voice to greater contemporary and political themes.
Since Maggie Went Away is a one-woman, multi-character show I wrote and have performed. It is directed by Lora Mander.
Productions to date: Perdu, Amsterdam, June 2015; theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 2015; and with STET Theatre, De Koninklijke Schouwburg (Royal Theatre), The Hague, November 2015.
1949: Maggie, an Irish country girl, secretly gives birth to a baby boy and is forced to give him away. 2010: Her journalist daughter discovers a global story on abuse in the Catholic Church is also her family’s narrative, and sets out to put flesh on the bones of a past hidden by church, state, media – and shame. A true story of atonement for the sins of others, softened by Irish humour.Read More
Since Maggie Went Away is the story of so many Irish families. It is ongoing and it is topical.
The piece started as a newspaper article I wrote in 2013 about discovering I have a brother who was abused in a Catholic institution.
After publication, I travelled back to the Catholic mother-and-baby home where my brother was born in 1949. I was attracted to the cemetery situated in a corner of the grounds, but there, struck by the absence of gravestones as I stood alone on the neatly trimmed lawn, I sensed there was a bigger story underneath my feet.
I did my homework, then wrote a monologue set in the cemetery – basically a mass grave – and performed it as part of Orange Tea Theatre’s evening of monologues in June 2014. A couple of weeks before performance, a story broke in the international press about some 800 babies allegedly buried in a disused septic tank in a similar home in the west of Ireland.
Responding to public uproar, the Irish government has launched an investigation into allegations of neglect and criminality at these mother-and-baby homes. The terms were announced at the beginning of 2015, and include high mortality rates, forced and illegal adoptions, child trafficking, burial practices and secret vaccine trials.
In 2015, I developed the piece into a full-length play with dramaturgical input from my director Lora Mander. My play had to include the mothers, the “fallen women” who had been locked away for so long, and made do forced labour behind high, iron gates.
Maggie is not all dark: Its humour is part of the characters’ victory. In the words of some reviewers…
Lilting with Irish humour…It’s emotional, will give you goose pimples from head to toe and weigh on your soul. **** Broadway Baby – Lydia Novak
Deeply affecting story…Nolan deals sensitively with the idea of victimhood, leaving plenty of room for the play’s message of hope and redemption. **** The Skinny – Cat Acheson
Leavened by lyrical humour…a tragic tale emerges of systematic abuse that went unchallenged for decades. *** The Scotsman – Paul Whitelaw
A powerful one-woman performance…A recommended watch, just don’t forget your hankie. The Underground – Helena Remie-Bond
The Journey Continues
Encouraged by the Chair of Irish Writing at Trinity College Dublin, Professor Christopher Morash, who saw the performance in Edinburgh, I’m currently investigating the option of a regional tour in Ireland, and a run in New York and Boston, where many similar stories have ended.
I’d love you to get in touch if you are interested in providing a source of funding, or in acting as manager or producer.
I am also looking for funding to develop a second play, working title Second Class Republican, set in the women’s jail in Northern Ireland at the height of the ‘Troubles’ in 1980. The 1980-81 hunger strikes in the men’s prison were traumatic episodes in Anglo-Irish history; they drew attention from the world press. But little is known about the Republican women who also went on the dirty protest (smearing their excrement on prison walls) and on hunger strike to protest against the appalling conditions they endured, including repeated strip searches from male wardens.
War was about men then… I have written and performed a monologue about the women in this war, and would like to expand it.