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Ken Coates


(Summer 1961)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 5, Summer 1961, p. 32.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Drums of Father Ned
Sean O’Casey
MacMillan, 8s 6d.

Father Ned’s drums (rolling to a measure set by Haydn) are Sean O’Casey’s latest symbol for the Ireland which lies, tormented by bigotry, blistering in clerical hells of intolerance. In his dedication to previous drummers for Father Ned, O’Casey cites Dr MacDonald of Maynooth, Dr Morgan Sheehy, ‘banished for defending a Parish Priest against a Bishop’, and, of course, Father Michael O’Flanagan, who bade his flock, ‘shivering through a black winter, go to a private-owned bog, and take from it the turf they needed.’ Already we have an inkling that clerical intolerance is not the only, nor even the main, butt of this ‘Mickrocosm of Ireland’.

‘No man has the right to be proud of an institution, though there’s many an institution has the right to be proud of a man’, said O’Casey once, after a visit to Cambridge University. In this play he returns to this very important theme, already developed in the Bishop’s Bonfire, his last play but one. The fact that he chooses a half-truth for a theme does not detract from the play: it is an important half of the truth, and one that is given added bite by the fact that the play which tells it has already been savaged by the forces it condemns. O’Casey’s new play, while certainly not his best, is one which far outshines most of the things currently running in the West End, including some of the supposed ‘new theatre’, upon whose bandwagon more than one drivel-gusher rides his craven way. But we haven’t seen it there yet. Come to that, how many of O’Casey’s other plays have been given competent performances in England in the last twenty years? Not the least of the sins of omission of British socialists is the way that we have allowed this great talent to go neglected, struggling on in lonely exile even from his chosen place of exile.

People should read this play, and ask to see it staged. But they should also lobby for an O’Casey revival in general: in the theatre, and, why not, the cinema? Will they? Or are we to allow this great old man to die amongst us, in the same callous indifference that we have accorded him throughout his life? The loss would be ours, and there is no need for it. Small use to complain of dearth of socialist art, while O’Casey is left to the Academics or, worse, the Bishops.

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