Sep 06

Sean O’Casey Festival 2020 – full programme available

“All the worlds a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed”

So said Sean O’Casey, and there are no more appropriate words to describe this very strange year. But in the grand old theatrical tradition – the show must go on. This year’s annual festival will be very different of course, with COVID-19 restrictions meaning we cannot host events as we normally would. However, we have put together an exciting programme of online events (free and accessible to all) , and we will also include a unique in-theatre experience (though numbers participating will be extremely limited).

Friday 11th September @ 6pm until Monday 14th September 

“When Hitchcock met O’Casey”

This acclaimed documentary, which premiered at the Dublin International Film Festival 2019, will be available to view (free of charge) for a limited period.

“It was a collaboration between one of Ireland’s most noted playwrights and cinema’s greatest directors, yet the 1930 release of Juno and the Paycock is often neglected in the repertoire of both men. Brian O’Flaherty’s documentary aims to find out why. Featuring extensive, incisive interviews with family members, academics, directors and actors, including Shivaun O’Casey, Prof Charles Barr, Neilí Conroy and Peter Sheridan, it tells the story of how these two iconic figures met and the legacy of the film.”

Screening on YOUTUBE , Facebook and on this page .

Political Writings

Tuesday 15th September @ 8pm

“The political writings of Sean O’Casey”

Sean O’Casey’s life is also the history of the early twentieth century, a period that was shaped by two great ideas, nationalism and socialism. History and politics are woven into the fabric of his life; he was a socialist, a humanist and a great writer who put politics at the centre of his work. He asserted the role of the writer as a transformative force in society. In this ZOOM presentation, Paul O’Brien will explore a lesser known side of O’Casey – his writings on the great political issues of his time.

Speaker: Paul O’ Brien is a writer and activist who has just completed a Political Biography of Sean O’Casey.

ZOOM link :

Nannie's night out (2)_resized_20200821_064456338

Wednesday 16th, Thursday 17th and Friday 18th September      @ 7.30pm

“Nannie’s Night Out”

By Sean O’Casey

Set just two years after the establishment of the Free State, Nannie is just out of jail and she intends to have a good night on the streets of Dublin. But other people have their plans too.
In typical O’Casey style, this play is at times hilarious yet ultimately tragic. It was first performed, only once, in the Abbey Theatre in 1924. This audio performance was recorded by ANU PRODUCTIONS as part of ‘The Lost O’Casey’ in 2018.

Venue: Sean O’Casey Theatre

Tickets: 5 euro, available here:

Docklanders 3

Friday 18th September, from 5pm

“Docklands … by Docklanders”

Join us on Culture Night for a virtual journey through time and space in the Dublin Docklands. Using extracts from previously published literature which span over two centuries (right up to2020), we will sample the rich tapestry of stories and characters that have given this area its unique flavour.
The carefully chosen selection of material range in time from the days of the Tall ships through to the modern glass & steel skyscrapers , with each piece reflecting on the memories and perceptions of the daily life of that era, much of it focussing on how it was seen through the eyes of young people.
A diverse cast of readers will bring each piece to life, and each will be presented from an iconic Dockland location.

(This event is in conjunction with the Short Stories & Tall Tales series)

Available on Facebook, YOUTUBE and East Wall for All website.


ploughing SOC 2

Friday 18th September, from 7pm

“O’Casey in the Estate – PLOUGHING ON”

We all watched the two-part documentary “O’Casey in the Estate” on RTE back in July. It followed the plans to stage a production of ‘Plough and the Stars” using a non-professional cast. We all watched the emotional scenes and shared the shock & sadness as the once in a lifetime opportunity to step onto the Abbey Theatre stage was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But nothing can hold this cast back – The Sean O’Casey Festival 2020 is delighted to announce that cast members from the documentary will be united to celebrate Culture Night and you can all join them!
It will be an online trip through the streets where Sean O’Casey once walked – a tour through the North Docklands with the cast members reading a selection of extracts from the autobiographical writings of the great playwright.

It will be an opportunity to experience a perfect combination of evocative memoir, passionate performers and iconic locations, as we bring the words of one of Dublin Docklands most famous figures to life.

Available on Facebook, YOUTUBE and East Wall for All website.


“The whole worlds in a terrible state of chassis”

… but the show must go on .

We hope you join us .

Sep 03

“Waterloo, John Rennie , Black Drop Opium and the Docklands dislocated Doorway “.

John Rennie was an innovative Scottish civil engineer , responsible for key works in Britain, Scotland and Dublin , including within the North Docks. His “Doorway into the Docklands” (1813) was never really meant as the tribute to a future victory over the French as is suggested today.

However, that victory which would come in 1815 at Waterloo – an event which would have profound consequences for the Dublin Docklands, would open up an exotic world which among other things would see Ireland become an exporter of Opium to Great Britain.

Rennie’s Doorway , located at the CHQ building has witnessed many of the iconic events of Irish History , and through the stories of the various Doormen such as Robert Nolan in 1795 through to Michael Connolly and John Nolan in 1916, a long forgotten era of Dockland’s history will be explored. Presented by Hugo McGuinness .



Originally scheduled for broadcast on 30th July 2020 as part of the new Short Stories Tall Tales  series. These online events were created as a response to the restrictions created by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Aug 28

The story of Clontarf Island


In this talk , Caitriona Ni Cassaithe traces the history of the now disappeared Clontarf Island which was a prominent feature of Dublin Bay right up until the late 1800s. The island served many uses over time and was used as a bathing spot, a quarantine for plague victims and a retreat for city dwellers. The last resident of this popular beauty spot was a Mr. Christopher Cromwell, who spent his final ill-fated days on the island.

Originally broadcast live on 16th July 2020 as part of the new Short Stories Tall Tales  series. These online events were created as a response to the restrictions created by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Jul 18

Sarah Lundberg Summer School 2020 presents …

Jul 13

“May your song always be sung” : Sarah Lundberg Summer School 2020

The Sarah Lundberg Summer School 2020 will be an online event , due to COVID-19 restrictions. Each year we remember our friend Sarah (who sadly took her own life in 2014) , when we celebrate her inspirational spirit with an afternoon of talks or performances based on subjects that would have resonated with her and reflect her many interests .

This is the sixth such event . We will also be remembering out friend Alan MacSimoin , who passed away in December of 2018 . Alan was one of the organizers of and a contributor to  previous summer schools.

105683142_3062627390473117_5319781788746306078_nThese individual contributions will be broadcast on Youtube , East Wall History Group Facebook and on the East Wall For All website . Here is the full schedule of presentations , with most running for between 15 to 25 minutes. Please join us on Saturday , and we hope you find something to enjoy :


12.00pm: “One step behind”.

12.10pm: “To the East…”

12.30 pm: “Socialist Whodunnits: activism and writing crime fiction in Cork”.

1.15pm: “The Truth about Writing.”

2.00 pm: “The next five minutes: Science Fiction, the future and the present.”

2.45pm: “John Charles McQuaid made me a Socialist”

3.15pm: ‘”The Making of a Community Garden – the story of Mud Island”

4.00pm: “May your song always be sung”.

4.30 pm: “From across the broad Atlantic”

5.00 pm:  “Musical Differences”

5.30pm: “There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears…”






12.00pm: “One step behind”.

Paul O’Brien will open this year’s event performing his own beautiful song “One step behind”. A poignant memory of those who have gone before us but are still very much with us.


12.10pm: “To the East…”

Our first presentation is written and performed by Roxanna Nic Liam .

Roxanna Nic Liam
Roxanna Nic Liam

Roxanna is a poet, writer and actor from Dublin. She has performed her poetry at many different festivals including The London Irish Centre, Doolin Writers Festival, Body and Soul, All Together Now and Electric Picnic. Her poem ‘The Bubble’ was recently made into a short film directed by Dave Tynan and won best poetry film at the Doolin Writers Festival. She has performed with many Irish theatre companies including The Abbey Theatre, Druid, Brokentalkers, THEATRE club and AXIS Ballymun. She has also worked in the UK with many companies, including the National Theatre in London. She is a trained drama facilitator.


12.30 pm: “Socialist Whodunnits: activism and writing crime fiction in Cork”.


Kevin Doyle is the author of two contemporary crime novels set in his native Cork, with the final part of the Solidarity Trilogy due next year. His writing is a blend of traditional crime fiction and social commentary, very much located in a real time and place and shaped by his own experiences as a political activist.

In this presentation, Kevin will describe how his years of activism and his knowledge of his home county contributed to his writing, creating a sense of realism, with recognizable characters and a storyline which could be tomorrows headlines.


1.15pm: “The Truth about Writing.”


“Not a whodunnit, this is a how-I-dunnit “.

Derek Farrell is a Dublin Born Crime Fiction Author.

His five Danny Bird Novels have been described, by Neil Broadfoot, as having “Heart, humour and enough twists to give you whiplash,” by Chris McCrudden as “Like M.C. Beaton on MDMA,” and – by no less an expert than Monty Python’s Eric Idle – as “Quite Fun.”

He lives and works in West Sussex.


2.00 pm: “The next five minutes: Science Fiction, the future and the present”


Ciarán Swan takes us on an exploration of science fiction, personal activism and concepts of progress.

Ciarán works full-time in the area of political imagery in the Oireachtas, has a doctorate in visual and national identity on the island of Ireland and has lectured widely at third level in the areas of visual and material culture. He’s a member of the Curatorial Committee of the National Print Museum. He has also designed many of posters, flyers and newsletters for the East Wall History Group.

2.45pm: “John Charles McQuaid made me a Socialist”


In this short talk, Dr. Mary Muldowney will describe how her teenage years in the late 1960s and early 1970s were affected by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, as Dublin’s representative of the Irish Catholic Church. McQuaid’s powerful influence on successive Irish governments prompted Mary to question both the role of Catholicism in the Irish state and her own values as she was growing up. The belief in Socialism which answered her questions has stayed with her and prompted her involvement in community, pro-choice and trade union activism in a broad range of campaigns.

Mary is currently Dublin City Council Historian in Residence for Dublin Central, working particularly to promote ‘history from below’.

3.15pm: ‘”The Making of a Community Garden – the story of Mud Island”


It is one of the great local success stories, as much about community as it is about gardening, and we are delighted to have guests from this award-winning project participate in the Sarah Lundberg Summer School 2020.

This short-illustrated talk will cover the history of the garden, its development over the past eight years and the social as well as environmental role it plays in the area.

4.00pm: “May your song always be sung”.

Sarah loved music, was passionate about creativity and was committed to providing opportunities for artists to find a platform and develop their talents. This is a very important part of today’s event, as several talented young people will be performing songs  they have selected themselves.

Ghaliah Conroy was born in East Wall and having spent most of her childhood there is now studying dance and choreography in the Netherlands. Ghaliah is also a singer and has performed with a variety of different artists such as Soule and Gemma Bradley.

Tadhg Conroy (TYG) is an up and coming singer songwriter, his current single ‘Search for Freedom’ can be listened to on Spotify. His new single will be released on the 27th of July.

Daniel Wigglesworth is a singer-songwriter. He plays the guitar and sings, taking his influences from a wide range of rock and folk. On top of the solo projects, he sings for a rock band too, enjoying the opportunity to explore different styles and techniques within music.

Rebecca Duff is a 23-year-old graduate from the drama and performance bachelors’ course with TU Dublin. Rebecca has lived in East Wall for her whole life, and recently took part in the RTÉ documentary ‘O Casey in the estate’ as Nora Clitheroe. Rebecca also sings at wedding ceremony’s and funerals.

We know you will enjoy the incredible talent on display here, and please support these artists – buy their music, attend their shows , book them . They are the future.

Zeztra are sisters, Avril and Lorna from East Wall. They are a singing and songwriter duo with powerful unique harmonies. After a chance opportunity to open for Maverick Sabre at The Academy in Dublin, they continue to write release and perform their own material.

Rebecca Duff
Rebecca Duff
Dan Wigglesworth
Dan Wigglesworth
Tadgh Conroy (TYG)
Tadgh Conroy (TYG)
Ghaliah Conroy
Ghaliah Conroy

4.30 pm: “From across the broad Atlantic”


We are delighted to have Maria Deasy , President of Irish American Writers & Artists (IAWA) join us with a solidarity greeting and she will briefly describe the organisations goals and their links with todays event.

Maria will introduce Alice Dunne and Niamh Ryan, two Dublin born actors who first met in New York appearing separately at an IAW&A event. They will perform two short but topical lockdown themed pieces, one written by Niamh and the other by NY based Sheila Walsh.


Maria Deasy is President of Irish American Writers & Artists. She is a New York-based actress, who has appeared Off-Broadway and in several films and television shows. Maria won the Bairbre Dowling Spirit of the Festival Award at Origin Theatre’s 2019 1st Irish Festival for her work as a Producer of Derek Murphy’s Inside Danny’s Box. She also received a Best Actress nomination for that production. At the 2018 1st Irish Festival, Maria starred in Dyin’ For It, also by Derek Murphy, for which she received Best Production and Best Actress nominations. She is the author of the play Mine, about the connection between the coal mining industry and the New York finance world, which she produced at The Broadway Bound Theatre Festival in 2017. Education: Brown University. While her parents harken from beautiful County Mayo, Maria is both a native New Yorker and a Jersey Girl.


Niamh Ryan is an award-winning writer, actor and producer. Her plays have been performed in New York, Connecticut, Dublin, Galway and North Carolina. She is founding member of theatre company Cáca Dána. She received a BA in Drama, Theatre and Performance from the National University of Ireland Galway. She also trained at The School of Visual Art New York and The Acting Studio New York. She has enjoyed and thrived from her experiences at IAWA both at home and abroad and found lasting friendships in it’s caring members.


Alice Dunne is a student midwife who uses her spare time to act and dance. She began performing at a young age with East Wall’s PEG Drama and Variety Group, where she has preformed in many plays and pantomimes. She attended the National Performing Arts School for 10 years and currently teaches musical theatre there. Alice completed a year of full time dance training at Inchicore College of Further Education. She has had the opportunity to perform in James Plunkett’s ‘The Risen People’ (Sean O’Casey Theatre) Peter Sheridan’s ‘Children of Eve’ (Sean O’Casey Theatre), John Kearns’ ‘Sons of Molly Maguire’ (Liberty Hall) and most recently appeared as Mollser Gogan in Shinawills / RTÉ’s O’Casey in the Estate, which was set for the Abbey Stage. While spending a Summer in New York, Alice became involved with the IAWA, where had the opportunity to perform and make some amazing friends.


5.00 pm:  “Musical Differences”


A brief exploration of the role of song and music in the history of the international workers movement and the forging of a sense of class identity and solidarity. Two songs will serve as examples for the narrative and will be sung by the narrator.

Paul Bowman is an international anarchist activist currently living in Dublin and active in community and workplace organising as well as the occasional musical forays.


5.30pm: “There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears…”


Just as we opened with an appropriate song, we will finish with one. We never forget our friends, colleagues and family who have gone before us, and we try to move past the sadness and remember these people and why they were important to us. 2020 has been a strange and difficult year with hard times experienced by many. But we look to the future, and hopefully there are better days ahead.

A song that is almost 180 years old, performed here by Black 47.

Used with permission, with gratitude to Larry Kirwan.



 Thanks to all the contributors who joined us for this event , and took the time record their performance or deliver presentations .


 Remembering Sarah and Alan.


Any comments or messages please contact :

Jun 14

“Kick over the statues” – the rise and fall of Edward Colston


(Illustration : Banksy)

Bristol-born Edward Colston (1636-1721) was a leading profiteer and organiser of the English slave trade in the late seventeenth Century. Predicated upon his philanthropy, during the Victorian era, Colston was reinvented by Bristol’s business elite as a ‘merchant prince’ and ‘moral saint’ effectively becoming the City’s father. 

The Countering Colston (CC) campaign was launched in 2015 to challenge these perceptions, uncover his real history and to oppose the celebration, commemoration and memorialisation of Edward Colston. Since then, many dominos have fallen, including his statue a few days ago.

Roger Ball of CC will briefly outline the history of the campaign and the questions it raised about who should and should not be celebrated in Bristol’s memorial landscape.

Join us for the latest presentation in our on-line series “Short stories and Tall tales”

Thursday 18th June @ 8pm 

ZOOM invitation :

Guest Speaker: Roger Ball of Bristol Radical History Group and Countering-Colston .

He is also the author of several books on aspects of Bristol history . His most recent publication , co-authored with Mark Steeds is “From Wulfstan to Colston -Severing the sinews of slavery in Bristol”.

Roger and Mark were guest speakers at the Sarah Lundberg Summer School 2018 at the Sean O’Casey Theatre.


Jun 14

“Matt Talbot, James Joyce, and a very different Pint of Plain.”


Take a walk on the Joyceside of Dublin’s Docklands in a pre-Bloomsday contemplation of two iconic Dubs.

They both have their own statue, they both have bridges named after them , and both men had a deep understanding and experience of the darker side of Docklands culture .

Hugo McGuinness will deliver a 15 minute presentation followed by questions and disussion.

Join us for the second in our on-line series “Short stories and Tall tales” , a special one to mark the evening before Bloomsday .

Monday 15th June @ 8pm 

ZOOM invitation:

Jun 01

“The 1832 cholera pandemic in the North Inner City” – online event

“Bodies , the Bishop , and Molotov cocktails :The 1832 cholera pandemic in North Inner City”.


Illness , death , social-distancing , lockdown and fake news – we’ve been here before !

Join the East Wall History Group on Thursday 4th June @ 8pm for our first ever on-line event , when Hugo McGuinness will tell the story of the 1832 cholera outbreak , including where it originated , how it spread and how was it tackled .

Fifteen minute presentation followed by opportunity for questions and discussion .

This is the first in a series of on-line series “Short stories and Tall tales” .

ZOOM invitation :

Apr 24

“A RARE TIME FOR DEATH…” – Sean O’Casey and the Easter Rising

Watercolour of Irish Volunteer uniform by Sean O’Casey

Watercolour of Irish Volunteer uniform by Sean O’Casey

O’Casey was not just one of Irelands greatest playwrights, he also wrote a large amount of other material, including six volumes of autobiography. In these edited extracts, we look at his own experiences during Easter week 1916. Despite his earlier involvement with many of the revolutionary movements in the city,  O’Casey was a non-combatant in the Rising .His account is very much from a civilian’s perspective, and is a unique record of events locally, not recounted in such detail elsewhere.  We begin on Monday afternoon (24th April 1916) , as a quiet Dublin City suddenly changes -

 GPO Easter 1916

O’Connell Street, Spencer Dock and Abercorn Road

“Down the centre of O’Connell Street, silent but for the tramp of their feet, came hundreds of armed Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army, led by Pearse, Connolly and Tom Clarke, to halt, wheel and face the General Post Office.

There go the go-boys! Muttered an old man, half to himself and half to an elderly, thin lady beside him who had stopped to help him stare at the volunteers. Well, Mac Neill put a stop to their gallop! What th’ hell are th’ up to now? They seem to be bent on disturbin’ th’ whoremony of the sacred day. Goin’ in, eh? Wha’ for, I wondher? Can’t be wantin’ postage stamps. Can’t be to get th’ right time, for there’s a clock in th’ window. What’r they doin, ma’am? I dunno. Somethin’ brewin’? Ma’am, there’s always somethin’ brewin’. I’m seventy, an’ I’ve never known an hour that I didn’t hear tell of somethin’ brewin’. Be God, they’re takin’ th’ clock outa th’ window! That’s odd, now. Looka, they’re smashin’ out th’ windows with their rifles! There’s a shower o’ glass – right over th’ passers-by! That’s goin’ beyond th’ beyond. Tha’s, tha’s just hooliganism. We betther be gettin’ outa here – th’ police’ll be here any minute! Didn’ I tell you before, ma’am, I dunno! They’re shovin’ out the Post Office workers; pointin’ their guns at them. We betther be getting’ outa here while we’re safe. Houl’ on a second – here’s someone out to read a paper. What’s he sayin’? I dunno. How th’ hell can you expect a fella to hear from here? Oh! Pushin’ th’ people off th’ streets, now. Eh? G’ on home, is it? An’ who are you t’ ordher me about? Takin’ over th’ city? D’ye tell me that? Well, you’re not goin’ to take over me! I’m a peaceful man out on a peaceful sthroll on a peace-ful day, an’ I stand be me constitutional rights. Gun-fire here soon? Arrah, from where? From where, ma’am? I dunno, I’m tellin’ you! He says he’s speakin’ in th’ name of th’ Irish Republic, so now you’re as wise as I am meself. Th’ police’ll soon explain matthers. Don’t be talkin’, looka what’s comin’ up O’Connell Street! A company o’ throttin’ lancers – full regalia with carbines, lances, an’ all! Comin’ to clear th’ Post Office. Don’t be pushin’ me ribs in, ma’am! Hear th’ jingle of them! This looks like busi-ness. Here we see, ma’am, the Irish Republic endin’ quicker’n  it began. Jasus, Mary, an’ Joseph! th’ fools are firin’ on them! Here get outa th’ way, ma’am, an’ let a man move! Near knocked you down? Why th’ hell are you clingin’ on me tail for, then? Didn’ I tell you hours ago that it was dangerous dawdlin’ here? D’ye hear that volley! Looka th’ police runnin’ for their lives! Here, let’s get outa this; we’ve dilly-dallied too long where we’ve no real business to be! “

"A company o’ throttin’ lancers ..."

“A company o’ throttin’ lancers …”

“When the shooting seemed to have got less, Sean slid cautiously out of his shelter and, keeping close to the walls of the shop and house, made his way home. Darkness had fallen, and his near-sighted eyes could see but a few feet in front of them.  Coming to the bridge across the canal at Spencer Dock, his semi-consciousness heard a calm, tired voice say somewhere, Halt! Who goes there? A few steps farther, and the voice, tired no longer, terse and threatening, said again, Who goes there? In the hesitating shock of seeing nothing, he managed to say, Friend, and a moment after, passed by the dim form of a soldier with the rifle at the ready, who passed him by with the advice of, Answer quicker, next time friend. A narrow squeak, that! A few seconds more of hesitation and he’d have been high among the stars. Watch your steps, Sean. A little farther on, his breast almost touched a bayonet as another voice said, Who goes there? Murmuring, Friend, the bayonet was lowered, and a soldier’s voice said, Pass on, friend. They were dotted along the road up to the corner of the street that held his home. Pouring in by the North Wall, and no one here to stop them. Poor ould Ireland!

Spencer Dock (with St Laurence O'Tooles Church in background)

Spencer Dock (with St Laurence O’Tooles Church in background)

He halted at the doorway thrust through with the knowledge that it was dangerous for him to be abroad at night. His eyes were blank in the darkness. He thought of the things that had happened, and wondered how it would all end.  It was a deserted city now, but for those who fought each other. The pubs had emptied, the trams has jingled back to their sheds, the shops were shut.  Lansdowne Road, Rathmines, and Rathgar gathered up their fine clothes and ran home; the janitors of the Bank of Ireland came rushing out to slam-to the great iron gates with a clang, turning the thick lips of the lock with hurried hands, and the sentries rushed into the guardroom; those coming home from Fairyhouse had been stopped by British barricades, and choruses of How th’ hell am I goin’ to get home ascended to God and His blessed saints. And Sean, standing in the doorway of his house, gazed back towards the centre of the city and saw a great plume of flame rising high into the sky: the first passion flower had blossomed.”

Bell-tower of St Barnabas Church , as seen from the O'Casey house

Bell-tower of St Barnabas Church , as seen from the O’Casey house

Saint Barnabas Church , Snipers , and Soldiers.

“Sean was behind his mother when she gawked out of the window in the back room, seeking to see something of what was happening.

-There’s some soldiers in th’ church tower, she said, the last word blending with a cracking roar, while the two of them staggered about the room, choked and blinded from a cloud of powered mortar thick as white thundercloud.

-I’m shot, Jack she whimpered; but feeling her all over, he found she wasn’t; and he hurried her into the other room where she lay down, panting, on the old horsehair sofa. He gave her a drink of water, then coaxed her down to a neighbour below who set about making a cup of tea for her. As he was going back to see what had happened, a number of soldiers, in charge of an officer and sergeant, came in and went upstairs with him, leaving two men to guard the outside door. The officer stood beside Sean, a revolver in his hand, while the sergeant searched the back room. After some time, the sergeant came out and whispered to the officer.

-Come downstairs with me, said the officer to Sean.

They placed him stiff against the wall of the house, outside, while the sergeant searched him, taking off his old boots to have a look inside, a soldier kneeling on one knee before him, butt of rifle to the knee, the bayonet but a foot away from Sean’s chest. They were searching for an automatic, they told him, and he wondered how one could fit into either of his boots.  A violent explosion in the wasteland beyond the wall bordering the railway sent a storm of stones, tufts of grass, and bunches of poppies sky-high, showers of them falling around Sean and his searchers. Another, and then, a second later, a vicious ping on the wall beside him, sent Sean word that some sniper was having a shot at the soldiers around him.  The officer slid down the street into a shop, and the soldiers, bending low, followed him, leaving Sean stretched out against the wall, alone, watched by neighbours who were peeping from their doorways in the houses lower down the street.  He took his outstretched arms from the wall, turned in, and mounted the stairs to his home. While by the wall, he had felt that his end was near, and had had a stiff time trying to hold on to his pride and dignity. Now he was shaking, and tense with fright. Either the badly-aimed shells fired from the gunboat Helga or the sniper’s bullet may have saved his life. For a long time he had tried to keep out of danger, and as often had found himself in the thick of it. Three times, at work, he had had narrow escapes: once when a bucket had been whipped from a swinging hand by a train passing by at fifty miles an hour; once when a scaffold had collapsed, and he had come down with it, escaping with a bad shock and many sore bruises; and once on a high roof, cleaning glass, a fellow worker, in a hurry to show the foreman how alert he was, stepped on a plank, leading over the glass, before him; the plank had snapped, the glass had given way, and the poor devil had fallen forty or fifty feet, to be smashed to pieces on a concrete floor below. And today, he and his mother had had a stream of machine-gun bullets sweeping between their two heads, making a hash of the wall behind them. How often during the riots of drunken policemen had he escaped a batoning? More often than he wished to remember. He didn’t like this sort of thing at all. As he grew in grace and wisdom, he was growing less and less of a hero. Like the fine and upright Alderman Tom Kelly, he wanted to die in bed surrounded by medicine bottles.

"Dodging bullets in Dublin..." - sketch by Sean O'Casey

“Dodging bullets in Dublin…” – sketch by Sean O’Casey

Good God! Looka th’ mess the back room was in! The one old palliasse they had had been ripped open with a bayonet, and the dirty feathers had been scattered about. Their one mattress, too, had been torn the same way, and the straw, mixed with the feathers, littered the floor. And all this on top of his aching, trembling legs, and oozing neck. Had he been made of less sterner stuff, he’d have sat on the edge of the ruined bed to weep. But he must sway his thought away from an inclination to tears to hard resistance, and an icy acceptance of what was beyond his power to avoid.

He lighted some sticks, put some water into a small saucepan, and made himself a cup of tea. In the old dresser he found a small lump of loaf, and cut himself a slice; no more, for the neighbours might send back his mother any minute and she’s need her share. But he ate all the bread there. For he wanted all he could get to modify with new strength the energy lost through his oozing neck, his aching legs, and troubled mind. He was sipping the tea, when in came a sergeant and two Tommies, and his heart sank again.

-Ere, you, said the sergeant, motioning towards the Tommies, go with ‘em; the church; ‘urry! Why? Never mind the why. They ‘as their orders – that’s enough for you.

-Whose orders – the Lord Lieutant’s?

- Naw! Company officer’s. ‘Urry!

Sean sighed, and slipped a volume of Keats into a pocket, put on his cap, and went with them to the church. In the porch a young officer sat by a small table, a notebook before him, a pencil in hand. Name? Address? Age? Occupation? Sean saw the officer bend a searching look at him when he said, Unemployed. Another search. What’s this, eh? Oh, a book! Poetry – harmless enough. Why don’t you join the Army? No interest in armies – not even the Salvation Army. Civil answers, my man, will serve you better. Into the church with him.

Soldiers were asleep, asprawl, in the bapistry; others snored lying on the tiles of the chancel; and an armed sentry stood at the east end and west end of the church. Piles of haversacks, belts, boots, and rifles were heaped on, and around, the Communion Table. But two other prisoners were there, each widely separated from the other. It was strange to be this way in a church where he had so often sat as a worshipper, in which he found his first genuine, educated friend – the Rector. How angry he would be if he knew the soldiers were making themselves at home in the House of God! Do This in Remembrance of Me were words forming a semicircle above the Holy Table.

That whole evening, and throughout the night, he sat wearily on the hard bench, finding out that things even of beauty weren’t joys for ever.”


A prisoner in ‘the Merchants’

“The next evening, all the lusty men of the locality were marshalled, about a hundred of them, Sean joining in, and were marched under guard (anyone trying to bolt was to be shot dead) down a desolate road to a great granary. Into the dreary building they filed, one by one; up a long flight of dark stone steps, to a narrow doorway, where each, as he came forward, was told to jump through into the darkness and take a chance of what was at the bottom.  Sean dropped through, finding that he landed many feet below on a great heap of maize that sent up a cloud of fine dust, near choking him. When his eyes got accustomed to it, he saw a narrow beam of light trickling in through some badly shuttered windows, and realized he was in a huge grain store, the maize never less than five feet deep so that it was a burden to walk from one spot to another, for each leg sank down to the thigh, and had to be dragged up before another step could be taken. It took him a long time to get to a window, and crouch there, watching the sky over the city through a crack in the shutters. A burning molten glow shone in the sky beyond, and it looked as if the whole city was blazing. One ear caught the talk of a group of men nearby who were playing cards. He couldn’t read Keats here, for the light was too bad for his eyes. More light, were the last words of Goethe, and it looked as if they would be his last words too.

Merchants Warehousing Company , Sheriff Street

Merchants Warehousing Company , Sheriff Street

-I dunno how it’ll end, said one of the card-players; the German submarines are sweepin’ up th’ Liffey like salmon, an’ when they let loose it’s goodbye England. My trick, there eh!

-I heard, said another player, that th’ Dublin Mountains is black with them – coal-scuttle helmets an’ all – your deal, Ned.

-Th’ Sinn Feiners has taken to an unknown destination that fella who ordehered the Volunteers in th’ counthry to stay incognito wherever they were -  what’s his name? Oh, I’ve said it a hundhred times. What’s this it is?

-Is it Father O’Flynn? Asked a mocking voice in a corner.

-No mockery, Skinner Doyle; this isn’t a time for jokin’. Eh, houl’ on there – see th’ ace o’ hearts!

Then they heard them, and all the heads turned to where Sean was crouching at the window; for in the fussy brattle of ceaseless musketry fire, all now listened to the slow, dignified, deadly boom of the big guns.

-Christ help them now! Said Skinner Doyle.”

Liberty Hall , showing scars of bombardment

Liberty Hall , showing scars of bombardment

A ‘cup of scald’

“Next day, he heard his name called from the hole at the end of the store where the sentry stood.  Wading through the corn, he was told to leap up, and leaping, was caught by a corporal who helped him to scramble to the floor above. He was to go home for a meal, accompanied by a soldier, for a while the rest were permitted to disperse home for an hour, they were suspicious of him because his room was the one that received the fire from those searching out a sniper. He was covered with the dust of the corn, and though he had pulled up the collar of his coat to protect the wound in his neck, he felt the dust of the grain tearing against its rawness and felt anxious about it. But he had to be patient, so he trudged home, silent, by the side of the soldier. When he sat down, and, in reply to the soldier’s question, said there was nothing in the house with which to make a meal,

-Wot, nothink? asked the soldier, shocked. Isn’t there somewhere as you can get some grub?

-Yes, said Sean; a huckster’s round the corner, but I’ve no money to pay for it.

-E’ll give it, ‘e’ll ‘ave to; you come with me, said the Tommy; Gawd blimey, a man ‘as to eat!

So round to Murphy’s went the Saxon and the Gael, for food.

Murphy was a man who, by paying a hundred pounds for a dispensation, had married his dead wife’s sister, so that the property might be kept in the family; and Sean thought how much comfort and security for a long time such a sum would bring to his mother and to him. The soldier’s sharp request to give this prisoner fella some grub got Sean a loaf, tea and sugar, milk in a bottle, rashers and a pound of bully beef. On the way back, Sean got his mother, and they had a royal meal, the soldier joining them in a cup of scald.”


Extracts from “Drums under the windows” (1945)




(All six volumes of Sean O’Casey Autobiographies, republished by Faber and Faber , are currently available in both print and kindle editions).

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Mar 08

The Aintree Grand National and the Dublin Dockland’s Field of Dreams

Wharf Tavern

“…renowned specimens of horseflesh got their first lessons in Horseology.” 

 Joe O’Grady passed away in 1960, and it was in that year that ‘M.A.T.’ an Evening Mail Columnist recalled sipping a pint in the Wharf Tavern with him. Joe was a well-known poet, balladeer, and songwriter, and that evening he was lamenting his changing world. All the landmarks of Joe’s youth were vanishing. Places such as the Middle Arch, the Halfpenny Arch, Madge Mulligan’s Hut, even the Bathing Slip at what is now Alexandra Road, were just memories buried beneath progress. Sass Bollan, the genial headless horseman, hadn’t been seen on Johnny Cullen’s Hill since the 1940s triggering Joe to compose a timely lament. But what caused O’Grady the most regret was the demise of Nugent’s Field and the East Wall greats that once pounded its turf. This was a place where dreams were once made and nurtured and where many “renowned specimens of horseflesh (both draught and racing)” according to Joe, “got their first lessons in Horseology.” Joe knew them, because he’d helped “train” them, insofar as he and Fluther Good used to stack up haybales to teach the horses to jump over them. Among them were an extraordinary trio whom all Docklanders who’ve ever had a flutter on the Grand National should be genuinely proud of.

A British Lancer Regiment

A British Lancer Regiment

The Nugent family were the last in a line of East Wall horse-breeders and dealers who up to the First World War stocked the cavalry regiments of Europe. Then in its aftermath, facing severe financial constraints, they concentrated on supplying the Sport of King’s, producing three extraordinary Grand National Champions between 1923 and 1931.

Cigarette Card showing Sergeant Murphy winning the 1923 Grand National.

Cigarette Card showing Sergeant Murphy winning the 1923 Grand National.

First up in 1923 was Sergeant Murphy a 13 year old 100/6 outsider ridden by Captain Tuppy Bennet and owned by the American “Laddie” Sandford. Bred in Ireland by C.L. Walker, the Sergeant was put through his juvenile paces at East Wall’s Nugent’s Field until inevitably, he was sold on, eventually being bought by the young American undergraduate at Cambridge University who fancied a horse for chasing foxes with the local hunt. Sandford was unable to handle him, so he was sent back to the track and his impending place in history. The Sergeant had fallen at the Canal Turn at the 1922 National but got himself back up to finish fourth. Then teaming up with Tuppy Bennet he won the Scottish Grand National some weeks later. Sergeant Murphy won the 1923 race by three lengths with only six of the original starters finishing as it was run in a thick mist.

Ronald Reagan in the Sergeant Murphy Story

Ronald Reagan in the Sergeant Murphy Story

The win caused such a sensation that Hollywood came calling soon after and a movie was made based on the Sergeant’s life starring Ronald Reagan in 1938. The renowned Irish artist Sir William Orpen painted Sergeant Murphy’s portrait in celebration of this win. However , this story of  triumph would not have a happy ending. Tuppy, unfortunately got a kick in the head in 1924 from which he died. Because of this all Jockey’s now wear helmets. Sergeant Murphy broke a leg in Scotland in 1924 bringing his racing career to an end.

Cigarette Card showing Gregalach winner of the 1929 Grand National.

Cigarette Card showing Gregalach winner of the 1929 Grand National.

Next up in 1929 was Gregalach. The 1928 National had been won by 100/1 outsider Tipperary Tim the only horse to finish that year which offered hope for those looking for a jackpot from a complete outsider. Gregalach had fallen eight days previously at Sandown, making him, like Tim the year before, a 100/1 outsider and all the hopeful punters’ favourite for taking the bookies to the cleaners. Ridden by Bob Everett, Gregalach played it clever overtaking the favourite at the second last fence before winning by six lengths. 66 horses, the largest field on record, competed. Born in 1920, (a not insignificant year in Irish history) Gregalach went through his early paces in Nugent’s Field as machine guns riddled Dublin Port and gun battles along the Wharf Road were common. Perhaps it helped give him his edge.

Cigarette Card showing Grackle winner of the 1931 Grand National.

Cigarette Card showing Grackle winner of the 1931 Grand National.

Grakle’s win in 1931, ridden by Bob Lyall, so delighted his owner, the Liverpool Cotton Broker Cecil Taylor, that he gave a half-crown to every child in his local village. He could afford it as the prize-money was £9,310. Bob Lyall was only in the saddle as Grakle’s regular Jockey had injured himself some weeks before. He was Richard Pigott, father of Lester and Grandfather of Tracey. Grakle was a difficult horse to handle, tending to “pull” when in full flight, and would create a bit of history wearing a customised figure of eight noseband in the race which is still named after this wonder horse. It was his fifth attempt at the National and he set a new course record at Aintree at odds of 100/6 which would have made many of his hard-pressed old friends back in Dublin’s Docklands, such as Fluther Good and Joe O’Grady, very happy with the fortuitous windfall. Born during the Civil War year of 1922, like his fellow East Waller Gregalach, (who came second in the 1931 National), he may well have benefited from exposure to the munitions flying around East Wall and Fairview Park when he was only a nipper.

The Legendary Pat Taaffe.

The Legendary Pat Taaffe.

Although only possessed of two legs rather than four, and something of a “Docklands blow-in”, an honourable mention has to go to the other legend of the turf, Pat Taaffe. Forever tied in song and story to his partnership with Arkle, (on whom he won three Cheltenham Gold Cups between 1964-66), Taaffe’s first serious berth on a horse came in Nugent’s Yard. Born in Rathcoole in 1930, Taaffe spent his holidays in East Wall and his love of the sport and skill in the saddle were first recognized and nurtured by the Nugents in their field off the old Wharf Road. Taaffe, of course, won the National in 1955 on Quare Times, a 100/9 outsider and again with the 15/1 Gay Trip in 1970. Despite all his success Taaffe never forgot where he got his start and was a significant fundraiser for the building of St. Joseph’s Church in the 1950s.

Stables at Nugent’s Field off Church Road.

Stables at Nugent’s Field off Church Road.

Today there are few markers of the once great local Docklands industry of horse breeding and training which went back to the eighteenth century, when in 1756, Mrs. Brown announced that the Bay Arab would cover mares at Cook’s stables for 5 guineas and a crown each (about €1,500 today). Financial constraints brought on by the First World War and the Irish Revolution forced the Nugent’s to sell much of their field of dreams for a factory in the 1930s. The same constraints had earlier required the sale of Ledbury, Linden, Pistachio, and Sans Pensee to the Brazilians in 1915. They had little financial gain from the wins of Sergeant Murphy, Gregalach, or Grakle, as their role was to bring the horses to a stage where they were competitive and would fetch a good price with the honour and glory going elsewhere usually in a different country. Grakle was sold for 4000 guineas and Gregalach for 5000 guineas to the owners who would ultimately gain glory with them. The Nugent’s would have originally sold them for a fraction of that. But people in the Docklands knew where these great horses came from and for the likes of Joe O’Grady it was something to celebrate.

The refurbished Seaview House

The refurbished Seaview House

Today Nugent’s Field lies beneath a number of Apartment complexes. The only horses to be seen in the area are Anto Kelly’s and then they are usually attached to a vintage hearse or one of the thirty or so carriages which form his nostalgic fleet. But Seaview House, built by the Bollans, and lived in by those other great horse-people, the Shiels and the Nugents, still remains and has recently been refurbished to its former glory.

Recalling it from her childhood, Lucy Brennan (nee Nugent) remembered it as “a solid, sprawling house, which in its heyday had three street entries. A high whitewashed wall with a red, latched door in it gave downwards onto a steep cement stairway, at the bottom of which were a rectangle of grass, about four stables and a plain backdoor into the back-kitchen-cum-scullery. There would have been fields behind, where the horses grazed when there were horses: but they had been replaced by houses and industry.” Horse-training may have declined in Lucy’s day, but a somewhat older Joe O’Grady,  known to her by the nickname of Pudner, drove a milk cart for a local Dairy and kept his horse at the stables behind Seaview House and occasionally allowed Lucy accompany him as he delivered milk in East Wall and the Docklands.

Seaview House
Beside Seaview House, the pillars of the gateway through which Fluther Good led the likes of Grackle and Sergeant Murphy in and out of Nugent’s Field are still standing and provides a tentative link with a once glorious past through which a small part of the Aintree Grand National will always be linked with the Dublin Docklands.


Corrections , clarifications and further information welcome

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