A bittersweet taste of our emigrant history

Fergal Hallahan

The cast of My English Tongue, My Irish Heart Picture by Ruth Moore


My English Tongue, My Irish Heart

by Martin Lynch

Waterfront Studio, Belfast

THE Waterfront Studio, a darkened space. One large black cube in the middle, chairs in a circle around the centrepiece. People filter in and take their seats. Van Morrison music fills the room and we wait. Lights out.

Then five characters run in singing, up the ramp and on to the stage and this fascinating show begins, the story of Irish emigration to England from the year 395 to the present – how everything changes yet everything stays the same.

As playwright and director Martin Lynch explained in a post-production conversation, audiences need a thread to follow and in this case it's Gary, a Catholic born in Mayo and Susan, a Protestant from Dungannon.

They meet at Queen's, fall in love and marry. All the time she wants to escape, to get away from the Orange and Green but Gary likes being in Ireland because in London “I'd just be another Paddy. I know who I am here.”

That's the underlying tension throughout, the tug of home when you have to go away for whatever reason. They do go to England, start a family, but face the heartbreaking messages from relations “You must come home, your child must be Irish.” Dilemma.

Although this is Gary and Susan's story, there are many more woven into the two hours. The navvies singing McAlpine's Fusiliers, the lonely ex-pat - Oh Mary this London's a Wonderful Sight and The Parting Glass have new meaning.

There's talk of how a song can bring back the smell of the family homestead, advice from a father to his son, never trust a man who sups whiskey – nor a woman. But that's out the window on St Patrick's night in Kilburn when the Irish dancing begins.

This is a history lesson of emigrants travelling with their hopes and heartaches, asking what is identity? Where do loyalties lie?

In the end it's back to Susan and Gary in England. She asks him some difficult questions: after 10 years away, she's changed but has he?

The answer comes in the shirt their son makes to celebrate the Six Nations rugby, a rose on one breast and the shamrock on the other.

Faultless company and precision cast: Kerri Quinn, Cillian O'Dee, Keith Singleton, Margaret McAuliffe and Ross Anderson-Doherty.

:: Until May 9, then touring.


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