Irish Theater and the Recurring Theme of Identity

Too often I have found myself too occupied with my own coursework or social advocacy that I’ve been unable to fully explore the arts, creating an experience throughout my high school and undergraduate tenures that seemed to be all-encompassed by long nights studying or planning events. However, throughout my time in Dublin, Ireland I have attempted to go outside the bounds of what is normal or comfortable for me and to meaningfully engage with the artistic culture of the city, listening to the many stories and shared historical understandings about what it means to be Irish through the lens of plays.

Since coming to Ireland in August of 2021, I have attended 8 plays on topics ranging from remembering the Troubles in Northern Ireland and modern renditions of Samuel Becket’s Endgame to stories on familial loss and Jack the Ripper. Although the majority of the plays I’ve seen have been at the Abbey Theatre (the national theatre of Ireland), I’ve also had the opportunity to see plays at the Gate Theatre and the SmockAlley Theatre. Irish theatre, from my experience, attempts to answer fundamental questions about Irish identity and the ways in which Irish people collectively remember their history. Irish theatre asks questions such as: Who are we and how do we choose to represent ourselves? Put simply, Irish theatre tends to deal with the themes of how the Irish are defined externally and they define themselves or their experiences internally; more generally, Irish theatre also tends to deal with how society views individual groups or ideas. To those ends, Irish theatre provides meaningful insights into Irish culture and the ideas or values that are prevalent in the continuous process of creating and disseminating “Irish identity.”

The most impactful theatrical performances I have seen in Ireland have been plays such as “Mustn’t Forget High, Christine, Twinkletoes,” which aims to continue remembering the Troubles and the impact they had on individual lives through a series of three monologues. In addition to the beautiful scenes throughout the play and the brilliantly executed performances by the three actors, the play used humor and dramatic storytelling to historically place Irish identity and experiences within the Troubles. Coupled with my current studies in Race, Ethnicity, Conflict at Trinity and my multiple visits to Belfast, the play masterful showed how far-reaching the Troubles were on the composition of Irish society, family, culture, and history; its impacts were so strong, cathartic, and salient that it continues to resonate in the minds of many Irishmen and is a continual theme of Irish playwriting.

My engagement with Irish theatre has allowed me to engage with some central themes of Irish art, namely the construction and deconstruction of Irish identity, and to enhance my academic studies into conflict resolution based on differences based on identity; for the cathartic nature and memory of Troubles is something that cannot be captured in a textbook or tour but can be, ever so slightly glimpsed, through the artistic lens of Irish theatre.

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