London Irish writing to be celebrated at festival

festival celebrating London Irish writing
Benedict Waring and Shane Noone in Traitors, Cads and Cowards

Works chosen will examine Irish emigration in last century

A new festival celebrating London Irish writing is gearing up for its debut season in the capital this October. In the Shadow or in the Shelter – a name taken from a speech by Michael D. Higgins in reference to the Anglo-Irish relationship – is an examination of Irish emigration in the 20th century.

Coinciding with the centenary of the Easter Rising, the six plays look at the lives of Irish men and women who travelled to London after that monumental event. Themes of war, sexism, economic uncertainty and mental health are covered in the festival as it celebrates the skill and depth of writing of Britain’s Irish community.

Anne Curtis, who founded the festival and wrote two of the plays being shown, explained that Ireland’s identity has in part been shaped by people leaving it.

“Migration, particularly to London, is a fundamental part of the Irish story,” she said. “Our programme of plays examines how the complex and often frustrating relationship between these two nations has shaped the lives of Irish people, for better or worse.”

festival celebrating London Irish writing
Benedict Waring, Shane Noone and Aidan Casey in Martin McNamara’s Easter Rising prison drama

She believes that the host of events put on to commemorate the Rising will allow people to appreciate this concept more and take the opportunity to explore any Irish heritage.

“The Gaelic revival in the years leading up to 1916 reignited interest in Ireland’s culture,” she said. “I hope, in this centenary of the Rising, that the Irish diaspora will reconnect with their personal and family history of emigration.”

The festival is the first of its kind in the sense that all the plays on show are set in London and Ms Curtis hopes it will contribute to a growing presence of Irish theatre in the city.

“In the main, there isn’t a body of work which reflects the Irish experience in England,” she explained.

“But I think that is changing now and we aim to be part of that change.” She added that, in spite of budgetary constraints and the need for as wide an audience as possible, she intends for the festival to be an annual event.

This year’s billing runs from October 10-16 at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, 42-44 Gaisford Street, Kentish Town, NW5 2ED.

Tickets can be bought at The festival then moves south of the river and will be hosted by the Colour House Theatre, Merton Abbey Mills, Watermill Way, SW19 2RD from October 21-23.

• For more information, visit

Traitors, Cads & Cowards, by Martin McNamara

1916, Wandsworth: An Irish Volunteer, transported to the military wing of Wandsworth Prison following the Easter Rising, is bunked with a British army deserter and a conscientious objector. Can three very different ‘traitors to the King’ find common ground?
Showing at the Lion and The Unicorn on the 10th, 12th and 14th October

Jackals by Night Crows by Day, by Maureen Alcorn

1943 , Kilburn: Donegal man Tommy couldn’t wait to join the British army fighting Nazi fascism. But can his high ideals survive service in the Far East? And how will his young Irish wife in London cope with separation?
Showing at the Lion and The Unicorn on the 10th, 12th and 14th October

Body and Blood, by Lorraine Mullaney

1955, Archway: Aileen arrives in 1950s London from the west coast of Ireland in search of her runaway sister. But will she be tempted to stay herself or else go home to face the arranged marriage that drove Maeve away?
Showing at the Lion and The Unicorn on the 11th, 13th and 15th October

Just Above Dogs, by Anne Curtis

1971, Camden: Brothers Mikey and Dec arrived in 1970s Camden on the promise of a start in the building trade. Forty years on and estranged from each other, one brother lives in a hostel for the homeless while the other is a wealthy building contractor. What happened in the intervening years?
Showing at the Lion and The Unicorn on the 12th, 15th and 16th October

Importance of Being, by Anne Curtis

2006, Catford: Until two years ago Maeve Dennehy’s garden was the best kept on the estate, now volunteer be-friender Dawn must climb across junk and piles of newspapers to enter the flat. What happened to cause this change?
Showing at the Lion and The Unicorn on the 12th and 15th October

Women’s Lives, by Anna May Mangan

2016, Wembley: Nora, 80, has forgotten that she’s Irish; her 25 year old granddaughter Eilis was born in London but think she’s Irish. Stuck in the middle is Moya. How will these three generations of women survive the Easter weekend together?
Showing at the Lion and The Unicorn on the 11th, 13th and 15th October


Sign in or create your account to join the discussion

Register now to keep up to date with all the latest:

  • Irish News
  • Sport
  • Community and Entertainment

Sign up to our Newsletter to be in with a chance to win a snazzy iPad and for all the latest...

  • Email updates
  • Regular features
  • Competitions and give aways