Creating for Scotland

Scotland-map-web2By Phil Mac Giolla Bháin.

All writing starts with an impulse.

Last August I was on a plane to Glasgow to cover the IndyRef campaign for an Irish political blog.

The focus of my trip was to locate and interview the Fifth Estate element of the Yes campaign.

My journey ended up in the Lowland Hall in the count centre at Ingliston.

That morning I stood in front of a monitor in the cavernous venue listening to the old Etonian David William Donald Cameron tell the British political elite that their polity was, for now, safe.

An unforeseen consequence of those weeks what I got the creative bug again and I relapses into playwright mode.

That sequence of events will come together as the curtain goes up at The Shed in Shawlands.

Like most significant things in life it was a product of happenstance.

Early last year I was asked to give a talk on the ‘Dublin of Seán O’Casey’ as part of the Saint Patrick’s festival in Glasgow.

The objective of that lecture was to set the context for a production ‘Juno and the Paycock’.

My paternal grandfather was a regular visitor to O’Casey’s Dublin as the train he was a guard on came into Kingsbridge Station every other day from down the West.

As a Westmeath man naturalized to Mayo he had a súil eile on what was happening beneath the surface of British Dublin in those tumultuous years.

He brought tales of this strange place back to his young wife and in time she retold those stories to me.

History remembered is a weapon.

The talk was well received and I got chatting to the company that were staging O’Casey’s masterpiece and only then did they know that I had written for the stage.

Last June they put on a production of my piece ‘The Flight of the Earls’.

I had written that play in 2004 and the premier was the following year here in Donegal and in 2007 it toured the West of Ireland.

Two other plays followed after that, but other work sucked me in.

The production company, Sweet for Addicts, put so much into ‘Flight’ that their enthusiasm for the boards ensnared me.

As a thank you to those folks I wrote a play especially for them and it is the first time I have ever set a piece in Scotland.

It is also the first time I have written women-a daunting task for many male writer.

The best advice for any aspiring writer is to ‘write about what you know’.

According to female actors who are playing the major roles in ‘Hame’ my foray into the terra incognita of the female psyche turned out to be fairly perceptive.

However the women in this household remain skeptical of my overall grasp of matters feminine.

I knew when I was in Scotland last August and September that there was great drama unfolding in the streets and studios of fair Caledonia.

During those months it was, of course, all about ‘IndyRef’.

The referendum campaign and the vote itself changed Scotland and that meant it changed people.

My sense of these things is that when great social change occurs it is often most marked among women.

The most strident separatists in Ireland a century ago were to be found among the Cumman na mBan.

My granny taught me that.

I wanted to put that on stage and ‘Hame’ is my contribution to that.

Writing is a lonely craft in the end it is just you ransacking your memory and jumping on any spark of a connection that seems to work.

Now the final piece of dialogue has been finessed and the director is happy and, crucially, each actor is starting to inhabit the inner world of their character.

The craft of the thespian continues to fascinate me.

I love the movies, but acting for the camera lens is not the same as treading those boards in front of a living, breathing judging audience.

That takes a level of courage that I can only imagine.

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with the person who is looking after the props.

The set design guys already are outing aspects of the script into physical form.

It is a team effort, but it all started with an idea, an impulse.

In terms of writing what is known to you ‘Hame’ is set around an Irish family in Glasgow.

The patriarch of the O’Donnell clan first set in foot in Scotland in the 1940s to dig the great hydro schemes

Séamus O’ Donnell did not intend to stay long, but in the end he did and became plain ‘Jimmy’ in his adopted country.

When the character bio was given to the actor who will play him he blurted out “that is my father! That’s his story!”

As the play opens his son Michael O’Donnell, in his 50s, and though Glasgow born considers himself to be Irish just like his father.

Even in multi-cultural Scotland there are still some who do not feel comfortable enough in their own Caledonian skin to afford someone like Michael the cultural space to self-define.

They sectarianize his nationality and dismiss him as “just a Scottish Catholic”.

I doubt they would do so if the man’s father was a fluent Urdu speaker as opposed to a native Irish speaker.

Being an Irish Glaswegian, born in the 1950s, I have been regularly blindsided by the unconscious racism of Right On Lefties when they occasion across someone expressing a Second Generation Irish identity.

Someone like me.

My Stateside cousins did not face this issue.

In ‘Hame’ I try to explore the issues around belonging and having a cultural stake in a place called ‘Scotland’.

I stood outside the polling station on the day at the primary school in Baillieston where the British state first made an attempt at getting me to confirm.

I didn’t have a vote, but I could observe.

Looking and listening are very important to the writer.

The IndyRef campaign and the polling booth decision itself seemed to be to be a crystallising moment.

People do not change much, as a childhood tends to last a whole lifetime, but generations do.

Annemarie O’Donnell, the granddaughter of Séamus, sees the world differently from her father.

Glasgow is her city and she makes her ain hame there on her terms.

As I soaked up the atmosphere of Glasgow over August and September last year it occurred to me that great drama was unfolding.

I felt that Glasgow was changing and that mean that people were changing.

I thought that the denizens of Glasgow really should get the opportunity to witness that on stage and ‘Hame ‘is my contribution to that.

I hope you take in the show and after that you can come back here to this post and put your critique below.

Last September Mike Small said it was time for the audience to take to the stage.

They will next month at The Shed.


‘HAME’ is a two act play as part of the Glasgow St Patrick`s Festival 2015. It centres around the O`Donnell family from Glasgow as the events of the Scottish independence referendum unfold.

Tickets available here.

Comments (6)

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  1. Thats the most standout positive thing for me in the indyref was the way at the time and after the amount of creativity that was created and the way the whole nation seems more active in arts and entertainment all via the new media we have created ,its a new era for Scottish media and entertainment full of creative blogs books plays films and songs we now have a solid sustainable educating as well as entertaining alternative to main stream arts and media so click were you can and if you can go and see the shows read the books watch the films and so on

    on a different note if you are out and about canvassing remember the three Es of Scottish politics

    energize = get a good sleep before canvassing eat a healthy breakie before heading out take lots of water to keep the mind flowing!

    engage = tell the potential voter the truth about whats been said quell there fears !

    elaborate = get right in to the fine detail !

  2. gordie says:

    No problem whatsoever with St Patrick’s day marches, monuments etc or anything else for that matter. Scotland and Ireland are brother and sister countries. Scotland and Ireland are like each other more than they are like any other country. People are entitled to their own sense of identity end of story, I’m not sure where official recognition comes in, what is that anyway? does it matter? If it does matter to people then I see no good reason why there should not be official recognition of identity or ethnicity wherever that needs to be recognised. I’m still not 100% sure myself where officialdom says I can call myself Scottish now that I am thinking about it! I’m not trying to misdirect things here as I don’t give a f**k about the state’s (Britain’s) officialdom with regard to that. It is my right regardless?

  3. robert graham says:

    thanks for sharing your experience of last years vote and your views on a changed society here ,a different way of thinking for me it was hope of something better also my view of this british state and they way it operates which brought me to inquire as to the way it operated in Ireland the way i and many of my friends were brought up was to distrust anyone from the free state, they were our enemies they all supported the IRA and what they did ,however i could go on for some time but most people would fall asleep before the end just to say after finding out a few things about the way ordinary people were treated during the many years of british rule lets just say i understand ,i now understand they way people reacted to a state who would stop at nothing to enforce its rule and the way the media promotes a certain view of the world that as far i can tell is a mixture of lies and bending of the truth to breaking point , best of luck with your show and maybe for those who can’t get to see it Livestream is a great outlet that brought so many meetings and events to a wider audience ,again best of luck

  4. B8g Jock says:

    Some indigenous Scots. Mainly Rangers fans,Orange men and Tories. Abandoned their Celtic heritage in favour of an Anglo identity. They live in denial that Scots have more in common with the Irish than with people from Kent or York.

    Scotland is a multi ethnic nation. But at heart we cannot escape it’s celtic ,gaelic heritage. It’s rather ironic. That people such as myself , a third generation Irish Scot. Have embraced and held the celtic soul of Scotland dear. While people like Gordon Brown, Alastair Carmichael, Murdo Fraser. Deny their celtic heritage in favour of an alien invented British identity.

    I feel sorry for these people that they have had to invent a history for themselves. We are not a British family of nations. England has no more in common with Scotland. Than Iceland has with Germany. Its phoney and as thin as veneer on a table. The British state is just that. A state of nations with separate cultures.

    England good or bad is not Britain and Scotland is not England. The union was a political and economic act of self preservation for the elite. Our cultures were never the same and never will be.

  5. While reading throw a creative faith based website a noticed a quote and straight away after reading it a thought of what a said earlier about how the whole nation became creative before during and after the indy ref this could be mass reaction to negativity or the fear and smear we faced read the quote below

    “If you feel destroyed by negative energy I think the best thing to do is let creation be your remedy.”

    a got the quote from the site below have a look at the article stained glass creations something we love in Scotland our chapels and churches have some of the oldest nicest works on earth !

    the motto of the comment is when faced with adverse situ,s create something and thats what we did our new media books plays and so on !

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