Fables Of The Irish Reconstruction

Paddy Cullivan reveals the method to his mad alternative history of Ireland, coming to The Whale on Friday, March 15th.

I’m a historical entertainer – it’s a new art form I claim to have invented in 2016.

I do one man, 2-part, 90-minute shows that tell an intriguing tale from Irish history using over 300 images, comedy, deep historical research and song. Part lecture, part farce, the formula has been a big hit for me with both The Murder of Michael Collins and The Murder of Wolfe Tone selling out theatres in Ireland and beyond.

But, to quote a satirical song of mine, ‘We are where we are – but how did we get here?’.

Being a Jack-of-all-trades can be infuriating – all my life I’ve moved between a career in music, comedy, art or history. I studied graphics and art history in NCAD then moved straight into the music business with my band ‘The Camembert Quartet’. We became the house band on RTÉ’s ‘Tubridy Tonight’ for 15 years – then the 2016 centenary came along and the opportunity to combine all my talents presented itself. The state’s attempt at commemoration was infamously dubbed ‘ahistorical bulls**t’ by Diarmaid Ferriter – but this didn’t stop the explosion in public interest in Irish history. I started performing ‘The 10 Dark Secrets of the Irish Revolution’ in March 2016 and people started to flock to my shows.

I got my love of history from my father, classical composer Tom Cullivan – who writes original traditional Irish melodies in an orchestral setting. His love of Irish Harp music meant he was steeped in the tragic history of Ireland. He also did shows on the great Irish harpers, the 1798 rebellion and James Joyce’s father – all featuring the wonderful songs of the period.

We both noticed some quirks in the official history we had been given. The more I researched the more it seemed the history of Ireland was an elaborate fiction that revealed as much in what was unsaid in what was emphasised. Whether deliberate or overlooked, the biases and clichés we were asked to believe just didn’t cut it. During Covid I had time to really work on the Wolfe Tone and Michael Collins deaths from source to stone – the alternative scenarios I uncovered were shocking. It immediately ruffled historical feathers from academia to amateur – that’s meant I was doing something right – the public got it straight away.

Over 2022 and 2023, I toured all over the country, surprised at the amount of Protestants and Dissenters in the North were attending my 1798-themed shows. In Denvirs of Downpatrick over 60% of the audience were Protestants of some denomination. Large groups would book into my shows, eager to see anything to do with the United Irishmen. It revealed something to me that wasn’t coming through media or politics north and south. The different communities in the north were coming together, not perhaps with the immediate aim of re-uniting Ireland, but to find common ground and areas of agreement. Through history, yes – but even those combinations of people in those rooms were hopeful, special moments.

As conversation turned towards an alternative future free of partition, so an idea formed in my head. What if – instead of another show about the past – I created a future history – 2032 to be exact – where Ireland is united. How did it happen? What’s it like? Sitting in Antrim in June with Stephen McCracken, a United Irish historian and descendant of Henry Joy McCracken – I pondered what to call it. ‘United’ Ireland? Too many negative connotations. ‘New’ Ireland? There’s nothing worse than applying the label ‘new’ to something – it gets old quickly.  ‘Agreed‘ or ‘Shared’ Ireland? Too wishy washy.

Then Stephen said ‘I Can’t Believe it’s not Ireland’.

Initially I wondered why everyone at the table was laughing. Then it hit me – all Irish people North and South have a perception of what ‘Ireland’ is – these partitioned places that have personalities only a century old. When we have a United Ireland it won’t simply be six counties subsumed into the Republic where everything from the tricolor to the capital stays the same. You won’t get East Belfast to sing ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’. The south may have to give up long-held certainties and traditions for the sake of loser’s consent. Nothing will be the same – it won’t be the ‘butter’ we’re used to – but that’s what makes it enticing. We’d be creating a whole new country, keeping the best of the old and forging ahead with a new singular identity free of identity politics. Just as Wolfe Tone had hoped.

And so that show has arrived. Taking my cue from the brilliant Brendan O’Leary of the ARINS project (it’s with O’Leary in the graphs) and using AI to create incredible visions of the near future – I take a hilariously insightful journey through the history of partition and the Ireland of the future…

Imagine this. It’s 2032. The people have spoken on both sides of the border and Ireland is a brand new 32-county country. There’s a new flag. A new anthem. There’s even a new capital! As Unionists holiday in the south, discovering the imperial joys of ‘Royal’ Dublin – southerners discover the ancient landscape of Ulster beyond the retail outlets of Newry and Titanic Belfast. Magical things happen when you create a new country – where EVERYTHING is on the table – and its exciting.

Leave all your preconceptions at the door. It’s not a United Ireland. It’s not an ‘agreed’ Ireland. It’s not ‘shared’ – nor is it ‘new’. It’s simply-  ‘I can’t believe it’s not Ireland’! But first…we have to get there….

I’m very excited to be bringing this new show to the Whale Theatre March 15th after my sellout successes with both Collins and the Camembert Quartet in December. Greystones itself, a melting pot of traditions old and new – will be the perfect place to laugh ourselves into a United Ireland together, safe in the knowledge that the Burnaby at least will remain unchanged…

Kierkegaard said, ‘The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you will never have.’ Pretty depressing stuff. So I’ve chosen optimism over despair – to remember a brighter future, just around the corner. And we can have it – if we dream it together.

You can check out I Can’t Believe It’s Not Ireland at The Whale on Friday, March 15th here: https://whaletheatre.ticketsolve.com/ticketbooth/shows/873642381/events/128510451

 

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