Michael Patric, recognisable from Oscar- nominated An Cailín Ciúin, told David Hennessy about his new show about the Irish revolutionary Seán Moylan.
Following the success of his role in the Oscar- nominated An Cailín Ciúin, Cork actor Michael Patric is coming to the Irish Cultural Centre with his self-written one man show about Irish War of Independence and Civil War figure, Seán Moylan.
Moylan was a senior officer of the Irish Republican Army who headed the Newmarket division following the Easter Rising, before taking part in both the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. He would later become a prominent Fianna Fáil politician.
Based around Moylan’s reports to the Bureau of Military History, Patric spent months researching and writing the one-man show, taking audiences through the dramatic events of the period.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said: “The intensity of this period and the lasting effects of life on the run is well captured in a brilliant play called Seán Moylan, Irish Revolutionary, which I recently saw in Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. The play, written and performed by the talented actor Michael Patric is a stark reminder of the suffering experienced and the courage shown to bring about our independence and this is something we should never be complacent about.”
“He’s from my hometown although he was born in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick,” the actor from Newmarket, Co. Cork begins when asked where the inspiration for the show first came from.
“So as I was always aware of him and a few years ago I did some research into him with the idea of writing a script that would have been a TV project.
“I kind of put it to one side and then a local historian Sheila O’Sullivan got in touch and said, ‘You should really think about that’.
“And if something keeps coming back to you, I think you kind of have to listen to the universe.
“So I did.
“I started doing more research and the more I read, the more I realised that it was a stage play and not anything else because it’s really the conflict in his mind that’s interesting.
“The stuff that’s going on around him is well documented and has been done before in film and TV and every other genre you could possibly think of.
“What I was interested in was somebody who fights in a war of independence, and then subsequently a civil war and then, in middle age or later life, they’re looking back on their decisions and their actions, and how do they feel about them now? They’ve got to live with those decisions forever, be they right or wrong and that’s the inner conflict that interested me.
“I think Moylan was a fascinating man.
“He was a carpenter. He only had basic education but he educated himself, he made sure to read all the classics.
“He was fluent in Irish even though Irish wasn’t taught in the schools here at the time.
“He was a remarkable man.
“If you read the transcripts of his Dáil speeches, he was so eloquent and articulate and forceful in getting his point across.
“Nobody speaks as eloquently as they did in those days, and he was an incredible speaker.”
You say you were interested in the conflict in his mind, did he express regret over what he did in the war of independence or civil war?
“No, and you have to read between the lines when you’re reading his stuff because he’s very loyal to his men.
“There is no sense of regret about the War of Independence stuff, there’s a sense of satisfaction. The only regret is that they had to go to war in the first place.
“The Civil War, of course there’s regret. There’s regret on both sides.
“There’s no winners in a civil war, there’s only losers.
“I have no political agenda, and I have no allegiance to pro or anti-treaty, I can see the flaws on both sides.
“I think with 100 years of hindsight, the treaty was probably the only way to go but at the time, they didn’t know what we know now with 100 years of hindsight, so I don’t know how I would have felt about it at the time.
“So of course, there’s going to be questions.
“Moylan desperately tried to prevent a civil war whereas the radical factions on both sides were almost resigned to the fact that there was going to be conflict long before there was even conflict.
“He was one of the last to hold out to try to make them see sense.
“He would have had questions about himself and his decision, but he also would have had questions about the leadership on both sides because he started to be disillusioned by the anti-treaty leadership and he could see through the pro-treaty leadership as well.
“He thought that they were manipulating their soldiers to fight a civil war for all the wrong reasons.
“That’s really powerful stuff.
“It’s the realisation of that, but still having to choose a side.
“He said that he chose the side of his men who fought with him during the War of Independence.”
He was from your home town, were you familiar with his story before you took this on?
“Yeah, I was familiar with his story but not enough.
“That’s what really made me want to do it because a lot of this stuff is not spoken about.
“The generations before us, understandably, were reluctant to speak about it because it was too painful, especially the Civil War. That’s understandable.
“But after 100 years, the legacy of that burden is still in most of us but we don’t know what it is because it’s never spoken about.
“The generations below us know even less about it but they still feel it. They just don’t know what they’re feeling so unless we start discussing it and having dialogue about it, how are we ever going to figure out where all that angst is coming from? Because it is there.”
Do you feel Moylan is a figure that has been sidelined in history?
“Maybe but he was never driven by reward.
“That’s not a strong enough motivation to lie in a ditch 12 months of the year in one set of clothes, freezing cold, starving with the hunger thinking that you’re probably never going to achieve your goal but you’re going to fight for it anyway.
“Recognition or notoriety is never a strong enough motivator for that, so he wouldn’t care whether or not he’s been sidelined from history, but it’s the overall story.
“It’s the damage that a civil war does to a nation and its psyche and how many generations it takes that to leave the national psyche.
“That’s what I’m interested in.
“Don’t forget they didn’t have terms like PTSD, and they didn’t have any outlet to talk about their problems and what they were feeling so their only way of dealing with it was to shut up and deal with it internally.
“That destroyed a lot of people, destroyed a lot of families.”
Indeed. Unlike today when some counselling might be offered, then you could shell shocked and told to ‘get on with it’..
“Quite the reverse (of being offered treatment), they would have been seen as weak to be complaining about it or to even talk about it.”
Did what he did and saw in war leave a mark on Moylan?
“Yeah, the civil war in particular.
“There are two passages and the first time I read them, I actually was in floods of tears.
“The pain was just coming off the page.
“I did a lot of research on civil wars in other countries and it’s always the same thing.
“They believe they’re doing the right thing at the time and then on reflection, the regret of fighting against your neighbours or brothers is just too much to bear.
“So it doesn’t matter.
“It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong.”
There must have been responsibility for you taking on the story of a local figure who still has living relatives..
“Yeah, and I didn’t take it lightly.
“People told me I was mad to even touch it.
“My biggest fear was that I would, in trying to represent the dead, offend the living, and thankfully they (his family)’ve all been extremely supportive.”
Bertie Ahern spoke highly of the show so you must be pleased with the reaction?
“I didn’t know how it would be received outside of the North cork area or the Munster area, where people know who Moylan is.
“That week in Dublin was the first time I got the sense what people outside of Munster think about it, and we sold out for the week.
“You read the Bertie quote, and then I got a lovely email from Christy Moore who had come to see it. And I don’t know how he ended up there but he was there.
“I think one of the things that people react to the most is they’re surprised how entertaining it is.
“That’s purely because Moylan was funny. He saw the humour in the grave situations as so many people do.
“If you can’t laugh in a situation like that, I think you will go insane so there are some very funny anecdotes from their time on the run and their time organizing and setting up ambush situations.
“I didn’t expect to laugh when I was reading his memoirs, but I did out loud several times.
“I’m still doing shows locally here because people keep asking me to do it.
“I don’t know where the people are coming from but they are. That’s a great sign.
“I think, like myself, most of the audience that come to see it would have known about Moylan but not enough.
“I think people were amazed at how much they didn’t know about him and amazed about the sacrifices he made and the things that he achieved and what a remarkable man he was.
“I mean, that wasn’t taught to me in school.
“I think they’re just fascinated that this is a piece of history that we should know about but we don’t know about and then it sparks discussion as well, because people still hang on to their own family loyalties of pro and anti-treaty.
“I think people have a preconceived idea about something like this.
“They think, ‘Maybe it’s an anti-treaty play’. It isn’t.
“’Maybe it’s a Fianna Fail play’. It isn’t.
“They might think that it’s a Republican play. It isn’t.
“It’s a play about the decisions we make and the sacrifices we make and are they worth it?
“What happens is people of both beliefs come and they see the play and then they enter into discussion.
“That’s what makes me happy, not people telling me how great it is.
“My hope is that when you boil down a huge international conflict, into the perception of one man and get a look inside one man’s mind, the broader picture becomes clearer all of a sudden because he represents all of the people who fought in both of those wars for me, and that’s what I’m trying to get at.”
Later on, he became a reluctant politician.
It was all reluctant, wasn’t it? He would have been happier not going to war also..
“Well, I think the War of Independence, he was a very willing participant.
“I think he felt that there was no other choice.
“That if he and other Irish people didn’t want the country to remain a province, that they had to fight for it.
“Bear in mind Britain had just fought the first World War on the premise that they were fighting for the rights of smaller nations’ independence and freedom.
“And meanwhile, they were ignoring election results here.
“He felt that the peaceful route wasn’t working. The democratic route, Britain, were just ignoring it, even though Sinn Fein had won a majority of the votes in the 1918 election.
“So he, among others, felt that there was no option but the gun.
“The Civil War was completely different.
“He just couldn’t reconcile himself to the fact that Irishmen were going to shoot other Irishmen no matter what it was for, especially over a form of words.
“He absolutely did everything he could to try to prevent it and when it started, very reluctantly, he fought on the anti-treaty side because that’s where the majority of his men wanted to fight.
“He was anti-treaty in principle. He didn’t want to fight a civil war over it.”
You have been performing the show for almost a year now so it followed very quickly or even overlapped with the acclaim for The Quiet Girl which saw you playing the troubled father in the phenomenally successful film.
“While I was researching and writing it, I was on the circuit doing film festivals. We were in Berlin and France and London and several Irish film festivals as well.
“While I was in rehearsals, I was at the BAFTAs and then the Oscars.
“So I was at the BAFTAs, back into rehearsals. Then at the Oscars, back into rehearsals.
“So that was all happening around the same time.
“Looking back on it now, it seems a bizarre thing to be going from the Oscars in LA back into a rehearsal room in North Cork.
“While I was in Los Angeles, I couldn’t wait to get back into it because it’s the work that matters. The other stuff is just the frills that sometimes come along and sometimes don’t.”
What was it like to see Catherine Clinch come up with such a special performance as the lead in An Cailín Ciúin?
“For such a young person, she has an amazing ability to listen, process and then execute.
“She only needs a direction once and Colm (Bairéad, director) was really good with how he approached that as well.
“When you see all that come together, you think, ‘Oh yeah, this could be..’
“And Kate McCullough’s cinematography, every frame looked like a piece of art.
“We knew it had the potential to be something special.
“But beyond your wildest dreams, you couldn’t imagine where it went.”
Seán Moylan, Irish Revolutionary comes to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith Friday 19 January- Saturday 20 January.
For more information and to book, click here.