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wowing audiences Dublin playwright battles through Covid to stage New York production from the comfort of home

'Unsung Hero' will finish its New York run on Sunday night after a week of wowing audiences


Filmmaker and playwright David Gilna

Filmmaker and playwright David Gilna

Filmmaker and playwright David Gilna

Dublin filmmaker and playwright David Gilna has managed to span the Atlantic by remarkably staging his first production in New York from the comfort of his own home.

The Swords man’s self-penned 'Unsung Hero' will finish its New York run on Sunday night after a week of wowing audiences.

And it’s all the more remarkable that David has seen through the project as he has bravely came through battling against Covid in recent weeks.

“The play is about Michael Joseph O'Rahilly, he was the co-founder of the Irish Volunteers and my American Godmother, Iseult O'Rahilly, she's the granddaughter,” he explains.

“So as a kid her father, Aodhogan O'Rahilly, used to sit and tell me stories about his father, and that's where my love of history came from. Decades later I rang Iseult and asked her, look could I write a play about your grandfather?”

He always wanted to tell the story as there’s has been so much historical anecdotes about the famous patriot.

“There's not that much about him yet he'd done so much, him and his wife, Nancy,” he adds.

"So I started to research and got al,” he adds “Aodhogan's notes and diary accounts and letters that they wrote to each other.

"The play was staged in 2016 during the Easter commemorations and it did really well, people really enjoyed it because they didn't know too much about these two historical leaders, their passion for Ireland and they were both willing to die for the vision of a free Ireland..”

The O'Rahilly is the inspiration for the play, as David explains.

“'He's originally from Kerry, in a place called Ballylongford and they owned a shop, and she (Nancy) had an Irish mother but with an American connection.

'She grew up in New York and Philadelphia, and she was over visiting her relatives in Kerry and they met, the O'Rahilly and Nancy met at a farm and they fell in love and started to write each other love letters.

'That was the summer of 1893. So they were writing love letters to each other and she had written him a letter to say that she was going to get engaged in New York, and so he flew over, and had never been to America before and he asked her to marry him, and she said yes.

'They got married, fell in love, had children and decided to go back to Ireland in 1909 for the vision of a United Ireland.

'They bought 40 Herbert Park in 1909 and established the Irish volunteers. She was six months' pregnant when he got the knock on the door on Easter Monday to say that the Rising was happening, because he went around the country calling it off.

'He said goodbye to his wife and said goodbye to his kids, and he went in his car with his sister to Liberty Hall to meet Connolly and Pearse and from there they went to the GPO.

'They wrote each other letters every day from the GPO, which was fascinating, he even wrote his kids letters.

'I fell in love with the human aspect of a man who had it all, wife, children, businessman, but yet he had this vision of Ireland being free from British rule.

'He died for it, and he died off Moore Street, he was shot by the British army and he bled out on a doorway and wrote a letter to his wife that's on the back of Moore Street right now.

'He just had this passion for Ireland and the Irish language, he wrote articles, he loved journalism, he loved the spoken word, he loved music, but they both had this passion of a vision of a free Ireland and she continued and became the vice president of Cumann na mBan , just fascinating people who sacrificed so much for this vision.

'It's all factually based, I just wanted to tell their story because not that many people know about them, how they got their wealth, where they travelled. So basically they were avid writers, so I go to actually witness first-hand how they spoke to each other and got a sense of their tone and their passions, through the letters they wrote each other.”

'The end of the story is ultimately that Connolly was injured and needed to escape the GPO and O'Rahilly took 12 brave men and led a rush against the British barricade at the end of Moore Street, took refuge to let Connolly escape and he was shot a few times and he ran into a doorway and then they left him to die on the street. He dipped his finger in his own blood and wrote his initials on the wall where he died. '

David is delighted that Micheal Mellamphy has taken on the role of the O' Rahilly in this New York production.

The play also features musical performances from Rob Vickers ( Olivier Award winner for his performance in the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables in London's West End). Dancing and choreography from world renowned Nawal Elabdri ( Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance, Riverdance, Prodijig & Dear Fingal) and lead female vocalist Rebecca Murphy ( Irish Dreams, The Unsung Hero, Taylor's Tree Rock Irish Caberet).

It also includes the talents of dancer Nawal ElBadri from Swords.

The play was commissioned by Dublin City Council for the 2016 Easter Rising Centenary Commemorations to critical acclaim having its world premiere at The Theatre Upstairs.

The play is available to stream tonight and tomorrow (Sunday) on any device or tablet for €15. See http://www.thepigeontheatre.com

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