ARTS AND FEATURES — 27 September 2013

By David Hennessy

The BBC say “everyday is St Patrick’s Day when these guys are in town” and the UK will get to see exactly what they mean when The Essence of Ireland begin their extensive tour this week. Described as a celebration of all things Irish such as song and dance, the stage show tells the story of Sean Dempsey from Dublin and his lover Cora McGowen from Galway. However, the couple are separated when Sean leaves for London and then New York, with the intention of making a life for them. Based on true events, the show reflects the joy of their love but also their heartache from being apart.

Writer and lead male vocalist Ged Graham, from Dublin, explains how he and Ross Mills were inspired to create the show: “It’s great having an Irish show out there that has some great Irish dancing in and all your favourite Irish tunes but there needs to be some form of meaning behind what we do and it’s very important to me to tell an Irish story: To build a story that would try to explain in some way what it was like to actually have to leave Ireland and have to go to another land and the things that you left behind are very important but none the less you have to leave them behind because that’s what you have to do. We had to leave Ireland in the ‘70s, I know from landing in the ‘70s that it wasn’t the best time to be an Irish person in England. We didn’t have a choice but you make the best of what you’ve got and I think that is what makes Irish people shine throughout the world: We make the best of the situation we’ve got but we make it better for ourselves and usually better for the place that we settle in so we bring more to the table then we take off it. It was important to put that into some sort of context.

“After each show, we always go out and have a chat with the general public and there’s no time when people don’t say: ‘That’s my grandad’s story’ or ‘That’s my mum’s story’. Then they tell us a little bit about their stories and they’re more exciting than anything you could put on the stage or on film. What we try to do is give a little flavour of that through the story of Sean Dempsey and Cora McGowen. We’re just ordinary people telling an extraordinary story really.”

The story will ring true with many hear with the role London and Cricklewood play: “The first stop for many generations of Irish would have been to England and it certainly was for my father. There was 21 in his family and every one of his brothers and sisters emigrated to some part of the UK.”

Going for five years now, the forthcoming tour for Ged and his team, which runs until mid November, will be challenging with dates all over the UK, different venues each night and even two shows on certain dates: “I physically ache when I come offstage. It’s two hours of full on, high energy entertainment. As I say to everybody: We go onstage to have a rest. That’s the fun part. There’s a saying in our business: You don’t get paid for your performance, you do that for free because that’s what you love. You get paid for carting the gear around and doing the loading at 8 o’clock in the morning and the kebab shops at 3 o’clock in the morning. That’s what you get paid for, the inconvenience. You do the show for the love of it.”

The show has already been taken to the Middle East and more recently South Africa: “We’ve travelled extensively and it’s been great. Because of the nature of being Irish and how for the last 200 years we have been travelling throughout the world and establishing communities so in the most unusual of places, anywhere you go in the world, you will find some kind of Irish link so it’s not unusual, say when you get to South Africa, to find a real Irish community there. And because something Irish is on, they will travel hundreds of miles to go and see it.”

“Our real ambition is to go over to the states. That’s our target for 2014. We’ve also pencilled dates in for Australia in 2014.

The Essence of Ireland is touring the UK from October 1. For more information, go to: www.essenceofireland.co.uk/.

 

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