By Una Murphy
Did 1916 Easter Rising republican leader Pádraig Pearse commit treason against the people of Ireland?
That’s the question which will be posed at a courtroom drama in the Shankill Library in the heart of loyalist Belfast.
The event has been organised by Anthony Russell, a retired lecturer from Newry as part of Féile an Phobail– Festival of the People, which has grown into the biggest ‘community festival’ on the island of Ireland.
The audience is the jury in this political and historical fantasy, ‘The Trial of P.H. Pearse in the Court of History’ which has already had a performance in east Belfast at the Skainos Centre. It will also be performed in the Falls Library during Féile.
Mr Russell runs the Thomas D’Arcy McGee summer school in Carlingford, Co Louth, which takes place later in August, with special guest General John de Chastelain, former chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning which led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Speaking to VIEWdigital about his play, he said that Pearse was ahead of his time on education. “He wanted to set up a school that didn’t produce robots”.
The play has Pearse on trial and D’Arcy McGee, a former Young Irelander, who later became one of the founding fathers of Canada and supported the country’s limited self rule in the British Empire, as the prosecutor.
Visitors to the picturesque town of Carlingford may have seen a bust of D’Arcy McGee, who took part in the1848 Rebellion but later supported Canada’s union with Britain saying: “The British flag does indeed fly here but it casts no shadow.”
Two thirds of the audience voted that Pearse was a traitor after the performance in east Belfast. The audiences at performances in Dublin, Newry, south Armagh, Dundalk, Derry as well as several in Canada found that Pearse had not committed treason against the people of Ireland.
When asked how he personally would vote Anthony Russell said: “I couldn’t possibly comment, I’ll let the audience decide.”
He added: “The vote has reflected the political leanings of the audience. I’m not trying to convert people, just trying to get people to think.”
The courtroom drama is one of the Féile events at Shankill Library, which is also the venue for talks on the shared heritage of the Outdoor Workers Relief Strike in Belfast on 1932 by playwright Martin Lynch and a women’s history of the Shankill by Dr Myrtle Hill. The chief executive of the Greater Shankill Partnership Jackie Redpath will chair a discussion on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Jarama during the Spanish Civil War.
For more information go to the Shankill Library Facebook page: https://en-gb.facebook.com/ShankillRoadLibrary