Archive | February, 2014

A Night at the Abbey: Review of Keane’s “Sive”

24 Feb


John B. Keane’s Sive was first performed by the Listowel Drama Group and won the All-Ireland Drama Festival in 1959. It was a huge success and after seeing the play for myself, I can see why. Keane expertly draws the audience into a age-old story of unrequited love. His characters aren’t especially dynamic; most of them (with the exception of the Uncle perhaps) are either all good or all bad. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I found myself wanting to call out to the actors on stage on multiple occasions because I was so invested in the story. The matchmaker and Mena are so expertly evil and greedy. I couldn’t help myself!

The plot line isn’t particularly impressive. It’s a Romeo and Juliet kind of play. Been there, seen that.

What makes Keane’s play exceptional is his ability to elicit such a strong response from the audience and the underlying Irish spin to the story. To elaborate on my second point, I thought the play showed the harshness of a typical Irish work men and women of the time. Life is about survival and there is little time for luxuries like love and sex. That is the tale of Mena and Mike. It’s a tragic and sad sort of life from my perspective, and I imagine many people faced the same harsh reality during the time. It raises the question, would Mena had been so self serving if she had not been born into such a world, is that even an excuse? Sive is the ray of light, but as the play goes on her light is slowly but surely diminished by suffocating surroundings. It’s heart breaking. The most powerful scene of the play is the last. When the grandmother is faced with the death of her only granddaughter. This is something no individual should have to endure.

Another Irish-specific part of the play is the role of the two travelers. Personally, I love these guys. They are good men and I think Keane was playing on certain contemporary perceptions of travelers by painting them as the heroes. They are kind, gentle, intelligent and ask for things in a respectable way. Thus, that are the stark juxtaposition to the greed that the “good working people” of the play portray in every instance of the play: Mena, the matchmaker, and even the uncle. This turns the traveler’s stereotype on its head, and I think it was done subtly and gracefully. Not to mention the travelers are hilarious!

Ultimately, the play wasn’t really about lovers or creepy old men. I think the play is first about greed and the evil power of it. Everyone’s heart breaks a little when Sive breaks. Second, I think the play is meant to show the hard life that Ireland’s working class faced. And further the toll it took on people. I found the Uncle’s character to be particularly disappointing because he knew full and well in his heart he was destroying something beautiful, but he was blinded by greed, and I think his hard life added to his moral weakness.

John B. Keane definitely knows how to depress a room, but regardless I thoroughly enjoyed the play. I think it resonates with people. Plus, there were some pretty hilarious parts that can’t go without mention. The grandmother y’all. So great.


I hope I get the chance to see more of Keane’s work in the future!

Brooke Ballengee


The Cross of Cong

10 Feb

This past week on a class excursion to the National Museum of Ireland I was able to view artifacts that date back to prehistoric Ireland. However, the treasury room within the museum particularly caught my eye.  Housed within this room are some of Ireland’s most valuable and historic treasures.  While observing and studying the contents of the room, I noticed more than a few crosses encased in glass displays.  One particular artifact interested me the most, the ornate Cross of Cong.

The Cross of Cong was made in the early 12th century in County Galway in the west of Ireland at the instruction of the King of Connacht who was the leading King within Ireland at the time. Its intended purpose was to be used as a processional cross and it is beautifully decorated with gold leaf, silver and glass. Legend states that the True Cross of Christ was brought to Ireland in 1123 and a fragment was kept from the True Cross. The Cross of Cong was built as a shrine for this fragment and would have held the fragment of the True Cross in its center. The cross itself is actually made of oak wood and is encased in brass, silver and gold. Surprisingly, the oak portion beneath all of the precious metal is still in one piece and only has a few minor fractures.

Being the centerpiece of the treasury, it is a magnificent sight to see. The metal inscriptions and celtic design show remarkable craftsmanship for the time period and reflect on the Catholic Church’s influence over the island of Ireland. 


By: Ryan Waetjen

National Museum – GOLD COLLARS or “GORGETS”

5 Feb

This first thing that caught my attention when walking into the National Museum of Ireland were all the gold artifacts located in the center of the first floor, specifically the large gold neck collars or gorgets. The thing that fascinated me the most about them was how large and heavy they looked. It could not have been comfortable to have worn these collars for more then hour. These golden artifacts were dated back to the time of 800-600 BC. In the Bronze Age, goldsmiths excelled in products made from goldsheet, specifically these golden collars and golden ear-spools. The gold collar shown below was one of the collars I found to be in the best shape. Many of the other collars, although still nice to look at, are tarnished or have unwanted indents, which makes the collar look as if it has been crushed or almost destroyed. These golden collars were made from at least five to seven pieces of gold. This collar in specific has two circular discs located on the end of each side with more circular design on the inside. From those two circle discs, a golden crescent shaped piece of gold is fastened. There are indentations, which provide a design throughout the collar. The most well known collar was found in Glenisheen, Co. Clare in 1932 in a rock crevice. There are only 9 known collars that survived, the rest have either been lost or destroyed. It is said that at the time collars were either worn as a protection from the dangers of life or show a certain status or rank. It was discovered that gold and other valued artifacts were buried with the dead. The golden collars found in the tombs were discovered to have been folded in half as part of the burial ritual. Seeing that these artifacts were buried, that could be the reason as to why there are not many left to existence. Image

The Faddan More Psalter

5 Feb

Faddan More Psalter CoverOn Saturday we toured the National Museum of Ireland. The artifact that caught my attention was the cover of a The Faddan More Psalter from the 8th century. Although I am not an English major, I have always been interested in the writing styles of different cultures and the importance that is placed in preserving written texts. This cover was made out of leather and had a papyrus binding. Three large buttons adorned the front of the cover. These may have been used with leather straps to close the book, although there did not seem to be any straps present. I attempted to take a picture of the cover, but was informed fairly quickly by security that “the use of photography is not allowed in this exhibit”. Luckily, I was able to find a photo on the internet.

The leather of the cover appeared to have some stains from its years of use. The book was also originally discovered in poor condition. The museum treated the book with a technique involving refrigeration of the text. One historically important aspect of this artifact is the papyrus lining on the cover. The lining demonstrates that there was direct contact between the people of Ireland and the Mediterranean around 800 AD.

The text, which this cover originally held is being preserved in the Long Hall of Trinity College. Although I did not see many other manuscript covers at The National museum, I have seen similar manuscript covers in Trinity’s collection. One particular manuscript is The Book of Kells, which was also determined to be from around 800 A.D. This manuscript is filled with intricate illustrations. Both of these texts, The Book of Kells and Fadden More Psalms, have allowed for the early study of medieval Christianity. A similar writing style and use of binding materials can be seen in both manuscripts.

The Story of the Tully Lough Cross

4 Feb

Irish alter crosses were at one point a prized possession for the churches across the entire island. Many of these crosses, now considered national treasures, were constructed and put to use in the Dark Ages and Early Middle Ages. The Tully Lough Cross is not any different. The cross is a wooden cross that is encased in iron and covered in symbolic designs, portraying Jesus and the story of “Daniel in the Den of Lions.” It is estimated to be from the 8th or 9th century, associated with the Church of Kilmore in the northern county of Roscommon. In this county, lies a body of water known as the Tully Lough. The discovery of the cross in this lake gives the cross its name, while also telling much more about the history of Ireland.

In 1986, a diver found the cross lying at the bottom of the Tully Lough and it was finally put in possession of the museum in 1990. Many of the designs were missing from the cross and it was damaged long before it was lost (or thrown) in the water. This story of the cross is incredible for a few reasons. First, we really do not know much about such a historic item – who used it, what it originally looked like, or how it came to be at the bottom of a lake. Moreover, it is incredible microcosm of Irish history – the religious divide, the pillaging and destruction of valuable artifacts, and the relatively new discovery of the history.

The Tully Lough Cross would have been shown off and used in special ceremonies and religious occasions. It is believed that it was lost along with other valuable items in the waves of Viking attacks. It was lost at a time when the relationship between church and state was extremely contentious. Now it is held and displayed in the National History Museum for all to appreciate, which, again in symbolic fashion, shows the modern wave of Irish history.