Compelling Story Of Ireland's Leading Suffragette

Ailis Duff outstanding in this one-woman play at the Tabard Theatre

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Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was Ireland's leading suffragette and an ardent pacifist. She was imprisoned several times, went on hunger-strike, lost her job, her husband was brutally killed in 1916 and she suffered greatly for her political beliefs.

Yet her spirit and passion for equal rights never wavered, and this one-act play, Sheehy Skeffington:Reminiscences of an Irish Suffragette, written and directed by Rosalind Scanlon, is a compelling piece of theatre which cleverly manages to encapsulate the story of this remarkable woman's long and at times, arduous life.

Ailis Duff as Hanna Sheehy Skeffington

The plot takes the audiance on a journey from the character's emerging political awareness as a young woman graduate, to her involvement in the soup kitchens during the 1913 'Lock Out' and later to her work as a consciencious objector during the First World War. Her husband Frank was shot during the 1916 Easter Rising, although he was not militarily involved in the uprising.

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington

One of the remarkable features of her life was her marriage to Francis Skeffington, (Frank). An ardent pacifist and feminist and a conscientious objector, the couple were part of a community of activists, poets, writers, artists and dreamers, hoping for a free Ireland. To mark their own committment to equality for the sexes, they combined their last names to Sheehy Skeffington. The play is as much Frank's story as Hanna's and tells of a remarkable relationship, a true marriage of equals.

Members of the Sheehy Skeffington family attended pictured with actor Ailis Duff(left) and writer Ros Scanlon (holding the flowers)

Ailis Duff brings energy and passion to the role, and is definitely a talent to watch. The role is quite physically demanding as she moves constantly over the small stage bringing the character to life, at times bursting defiantly into song, running from soup kitchen to prison.

A large screen at the rear of the stage displays archive film material and the production also uses recorded voice overs from actor Tony Rohr and James Reilly to bring the male authoritarian voice of the judges and politicians into play.

Sadly at the end of her life (she died in 1946), Hanna felt that the Irish State had failed the revolutionary women of Ireland. She had no pension and was forced to rely on the small income generated by part-time teaching . In 1945 , she fell ill and unable to support herself, she died on Easter Saturday, exactly thirty years following the death of her husband.

If the story of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington has been mainly left untold in contemporary Ireland, then Ros Scanlon and Ailis Duff have not only restored her memory but given it a compelling artistic expression which deserves a wider audiance.

The play is a production of the Irish Repertory Theatre Co, supported by the Irish Cultural Centre.

Anne Flaherty

The play finishes at the Tabard Theatre on July 24th with final performance 7.45pm

July 23, 2016

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