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16 October 2003 Edition

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Peadar O'Donnell on stage

Joe Mulheron, star, and Marcella Ferguson, musician, in Dubbeljoint's production of Peadar O'Donnell

Joe Mulheron, star, and Marcella Ferguson, musician, in Dubbeljoint's production of Peadar O'Donnell

The life and times of Peadar O'Donnell, republican activist and soldier, socialist, campaigner for workers' rights and prolific writer, narrated by Derry-based singer Joe Mulheron, was both inspiring and entertaining while never losing sight of O'Donnell's humanity.

Joe Mulheron, ably assisted by musician Marcella Ferguson, traces O'Donnell's life from Dungloe in West Donegal to the battlefields of Spain during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and to his chance encounter with that great Black American icon, Paul Robeson, in the United States, when O'Donnell taught Robeson the words of the ballad Kevin Barry.

O'Donnell's reputation as a republican soldier was superseded by his attempts to bring the legacy of James Connolly back to the heart of Irish republican activity. These attempts led him to fall afoul of the IRA, so he parted company with his comrades.

Outside the IRA, his work centred on the struggles of the working class, inspiring them to organise against unscrupulous bosses.

In telling his story, through song and prose, Joe Mulheron gives a sense of the commitment and energy of one of the most inspirational of republican and socialist activists of our times.

However, the narrative isn't bogged down in political polemic or theorising. It recounts O'Donnell's campaigning in everyday stories, telling how he supported groups of workers in their struggles with the bosses.

The narrative is also interspersed with many songs describing the condition of working-class people and their lives under British rule and in the aftermath of partition in the newly-formed reactionary Free State.

People describe O'Donnell as a visionary and given the impact he had on republican politics for the best part of the 20th Century, that is as good a description of him as any. As someone who works in An Phoblacht, which O'Donnell once edited, my thoughts turned to how the printed word can be used to educate and agitate and inspire people to political action.

What is left now for Joe Mulheron is to take all those other left-wing republican icons such as Fintan Lalor, Liam Mellows, Ernie O'Malley, James Connolly et al and bring their lives to the stage.

An Phoblacht has learned that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has again refused funding to Dubbeljoint to stage Peadar O'Donnell, claiming that the script wasn't of the required artistic merit.

Initially, the Arts Council had made a grant of £19,000 available to Dubbeljoint. That funding, however, is conditional on the script being read, following which the Arts Council withdrew the initial grant.


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