The Plough and the Stars

Written by Sean O'Casey
Directed by Gary Wall
Performed in the The Mill Theatre, Dundrum - Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 February 2010 and seven venues on 'The Circuit'

The Plough and the Stars

The Mill Theatre in Dundrum was the venue for the group's production of this Seán O'Casey play that was first performed in 1926 by the Abbey Theatre and which is on the syllabus for this year's Leaving Certificate examinations.

Gary Wall directed 'The Plough and the Stars' at the Mill Theatre in the first week of February 2010. The opening performance was on Tuesday 2 and it was performed each night of that week until Saturday 6 February.

The cast and crew went on to compete in the National Drama Festival later in February and in March 2010.

This was Balally Players' second entry in the festival for plays of more than one act. The group competed with 'The Great Hunger' in the RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival last year.

The play is set in Dublin around the time of the 1916 Easter Rising.

The title is taken from the flag of the Irish Citizen Army, an organisation that was born out of the struggle between workers and employers during the Great Lockout of 1913. Much later in the twentieth century, the 'Starry Plough' flag was used by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). The first two acts of the play cover a period before the Easter Rising and the last two acts take place during the rising. The story is centred on a group of working-class Dubliners as they deal with the turmoil that engulfs them in that period.

A challenging classic

Sean O'Casey

O'Casey (right) explores many aspects of life in Dublin city in the early part of the twentieth century. Behind some great comic elements and wonderful characters, the overall picture painted is the dark, hopeless world that ordinary people experienced in the violent period of Irish history around 1916.


Some of the soaring rhetoric of the time is contrasted against the inability of violence to address the basic needs of the people and to deal with poverty, sickness, loneliness and unhappiness.


There are moments of joy and sorrow, laughter and tears all of which combine to make it a realistic portrayal of life as it was and a very enjoyable evening at the theatre.

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Plough and Stars at Mill Theatre
Fiona Buckley and Claire O'Donovan


in order of appearance
Mrs. Gogan
Fluther Good
The Covey
Nora Clitheroe
Bessie Burgess
Jack Clitheroe
Captain Brennan
Rosie Redmond
Lieutenant Langon
Voice of the Speaker
Corporal Stoddart
Sergeant Tinley
Claire O'Donovan
Dave Walsh
Peter Flood
Oran O'Rua
Aoife King
Fiona Buckley
Robert Webster
Fergal Clery
Aoibhinn Finnegan
Judy McKeever
Brendan Dunne
Oisin Gibson
Declan Brennan
Declan Brennan
Kevin Fahey
Production Manager
Set Design
Stage Manager
Lighting Design
Sound Operator
Set Construction
Musical Director
Make Up
Poster Design and Photography

Gary Wall
Jean Monahan
Mark O’Donoghue
Jean Monahan
Barry Donaldson
Hilary Madigan
Patrick Hand, Mick Behan
Jacqueline Dooley
Teresa Dempsey
Declan Brennan
Izzy Fox, Aoife Walsh, Eithne Brennan, Orla Fitzpatrick, Fiona Walsh
Scene from Plough and Stars at Mill Theatre
Fergal Clery, Robert Webster and Aoife King


The Mill Theatre production programme is available here as a PDF file (620KB).

Picture Gallery

Photographs from productions are stored on the site. The Balally Players SmugMug account allows for the viewing and downloading of images at various sizes if high resolution pictures have been uploaded. The slideshow below can be run and stopped by clicking on the play (>) and pause (¦¦) icons. You can move forward and back by clicking on the right or left of the image. To go to the gallery of these images stored in the Balally Players pages of the SmugMug site, where you can see and download larger copies of the images, visit to see all of the available galleries of images.

Each of these full size images is about 100KB - sufficient for good quality on screen, but not as good for printing.

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The Circuit - on the road to seven venues around the country

Following a week in the Mill Theatre in Dundrum, the group's production of this Seán O'Casey play took to the road for a series of performances in the National Drama Festival between 24 February and 27 March.

The venues on the festival tour were as follows:

  1. Rush - 24 February
  2. Newtownstewart - 28 February
  3. Castleblaney - 13 March
  4. Shercock - 14 March
  5. Cavan - 20 March
  6. Rathangan - 21 March
  7. Newry - 27 March

Audiences enjoyed the performances in the Mill Theatre and in the theatres outside Dublin.

The Adjudicators' reviews resulted in several awards - Best Supporting Actor for Peter Flood in Newtonstewart and nominations for Best Actor for Dave Walsh and Claire O'Donovan in Rush.

At the seventh and final performance, on the last night of the Newry Drama Festival, the adjudicator Garry Lombard, awarded the play second place overall - "The History Boys" by Alan Bennett, performed by Silken Thomas Players was placed first.

"The Plough and the Stars" was nominated for awards in most of the categories in Newry where Aoife King won the Best Actress award for her portrayal of 'Nora' (she also won that award in Rathangan and was nominated for best actress in Castleblayney and Cavan). Best Supporting Actor in Newry was Dave Walsh for his role as 'Fluther', seen here (top right) with his award.

The production was also awarded Best Sound, Best Lighting and Best Stage Manager.

Director Gary Wall (right) accepted the runner-up award - second out of the nine Open Category plays that were performed in the Newry Drama Festival between 19 and 27 March 2010.

Dave Walsh
Gary Wall, Director


The venue for the last Festival performance was Newry Town Hall (right). Throughout its long history it has served as a church, a savings bank and more recently the Town Hall with a wonderful theatre reminiscent of the old music halls of the Victorian era.

A complete contrast to the suitably confined space the previous week in Rathangan, but its high ceiling and 500 seat auditorium was made to feel like the claustrophobic attic space O'Casey created on the page in the fourth act.

Newry Town Hall

The adjudicator remarked on how all elements of "this first class production" made for a most "entertaining evening".

Rathangan Community Hall

The penultimate weekend of the group's seven performances on the festival circuit was spent in Cavan and Rathangan, where audiences and adjudicators enjoyed the shows (picture shows Rathangan Community Hall).

Comments from the adjudicators in both venues included:

"A great night's entertainment ..... strong performances from the lead and supporting characters ..... great energy ..... some wonderful moments of theatre ..... the comedy and tragedy in the script were captured and balanced ..... the audience was with you - and even joined in the singing!"

On stage in stage
Gary Wall (Director) and Dave Walsh (Fluther) preparing for the Cavan performance
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Sean O'Casey


Report in the 'Newry Reporter' local weekly newspaper

Sean O'Casey

Final night at the 58th Newry drama festival took that annual theatre event out with a bang as the rebels of 1916 took to the city stage.


The Balally Players demonstrated some of the talent that has seen them recognised at all Ireland level with a demanding performance of Sean O’Casey’s, The Plough and the Stars. The story of ordinary people in extraordinary times was warmly received at the Town Hall with emotions from the stage running high and low on the streets of Dublin.


Adjudicator, Garry Lombard gave his last summation in Newry with much respect for an Irish playwright genius. "The Plough and the Stars is the third Sean O’Casey play of the famous Dublin trilogy, and these are the plays that made the O’Casey’s with this play being the best known," said Mr Lombard.


"This is a great play that is demanding for the actors, the script needs a good company with talent to bring it to life, and Balally is such a powerful group. There are four sets used on stage and this can present quite a challenge for a company. The designs used were very effective and were changed with minimum of time, and I liked all of the sets represented especially the last scene. The use of only half the stage with excellent lighting in texture and colour portrayed the emotions very well. The first set also had very effective lighting."


"The visual aspects were all good, though I felt that the character of Nora was too well dressed, though in general the props were all very well served," added the Leinster man.


The direction of the play was lauded for being able to command such a long script. Mr Lombard paid particular complements to the director’s ability to show the rise and fall of energy in emotion that O’Casey demands.


"Balally is blessed to have so many fine actors which allowed the audience to see the full scope of O’Casey. I enjoyed the pub scene with the fight, this is contrasted with the quietness of Mollser’s death, a very beautiful moment very good direction, well done.


Jack Clitheroe played by Robert Webster, this character had some very lovely love scenes, especially so when there is conflict with the wife Nora and the making up afterwards. The kissing was very natural, this can be difficult, the actors need to lower their inhibitions and they did this successfully.Nora Clitheroe played by Aoife King, this actress has great emotional range, a really strong character. The love scenes were done with no difficulty at all. This was a complete performance."


"Uncle Peter played by Peter Flood and the Young Convey played by Oran O’Rua these two characters need each other in the play and this interaction was well done.

Bessie Burgess played by Fiona Buckley, this was a good strong performance from this loyalist character. I particularly liked the scene at the window when she told the rebel supporters, you’re all shanghaied now."


"Mrs Gogan played by Claire O’Donovan, I particularly liked the scene with the old styled pram, this was a great prop and I loved how the two characters went to loot the shops and the proclaiming of innocence. Fluther played by Dave Walsh, this is a good comedy performance of a character who is good at heart and a big voice. The actor got the full character of Fluther."


"Rosie Redmond played by Judy McKeever, this character is a lady of the night and this was a good performance by the actress. The presence of this character in the play caused riots from the audience at the time in the 1920s at the Abbey Theatre. Another factor in the play was the display of fear and cowardness from the rebels. The public didn’t like to see their men shown as weak, as well as Nora’s awkward chasing after her husband in to war to take try to take him back."


"All the other minor role were all played very well. This is a company with a lot of talent and directed very well, the actors interpretation of the script is to be congratulated," concluded Mr Lombard.


Donal McMahon


2 April 2010

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RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival Winners

The winners of the All Ireland Festival final in Athlone, announced on Saturday 8 May 2010 in the Dean Crowe Theatre, Chapel Street, Athlone were:

  • 1st - 'The History Boys' by Alan Bennett, performed by Silken Thomas group
  • 2nd - 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck, performed by Ballyduff Drama Group
  • 3rd - 'The Playboy of the Western World', by J M Synge, performed by Ennis Players

Awards presented to the performing groups and individuals included:

  • Festival Perpetual Trophy 'The History Boys' by Silken Thomas Players Miniature
  • Festival Trophy For Best Director Seán Judge - 'The History Boys' by Silken Thomas Players
  • Best Actor (Miniature Festival Trophy) Séamus O'Rourke as John in 'Shining City' by Corn Mill Theatre Company
  • Best Actress (Miniature Festival Trophy) Anne Shiels as Madge in 'Philadelphia, Here I Come' by Lifford Players
  • Best Supporting Actor (Aileen Coughlan Memorial Award) Jackie Scanlan as Shawn Keogh in 'The Playboy of the Western World' by Ennis Players
  • Best Supporting Actress (Joan Walsh Memorial Award) Mary O'Sullivan as Rita in 'The Salvage Shop' by Shoestring Theatre Company
  • Best Stage Setting (Colm Kelly Memorial Award) Jonathan Judge - 'The History Boys' by Silken Thomas Players
  • Best Lighting (ESB Award) James Murphy & Conor O'Connell - 'The History Boys' by Silken Thomas Players
  • Best Stage Management (Brendan O'Brien Memorial Award) Maria Flanagan - 'The History Boys' by Silken Thomas Players John Butler


Sixteen characters in search of analysis
a political and historical perspective from a Socialist point of view

From an article by Joe Conroy in 'RED BANNER', a magazine of socialist ideas, published in July 2004

History, as both Karl Marx and Abba have observed, has a habit of repeating itself, but we have been reminded recently that it rarely repeats itself exactly. In 1926 Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars opened in the Abbey Theatre to critical acclaim and box-office success; recently it was revived in the Abbey to similar acclaim and success. In 1926 a fierce debate raged over the play’s political content; of late, however, such debate is conspicuous mainly by its absence. It seems to be the fate of plays which have attained classic status that, as time goes on and more attention is focussed on the technique of their production, what exactly is being produced gets forgotten.

Dave Walsh
Dave Walsh as Fluther

But The Plough and the Stars cries out for political analysis. It remains the best-known play about the Irish working class; the best-known play about the historical turning point of Easter 1916; and the best-known play—in Ireland, at any rate—about the ideas that motivate people to rebel or not to rebel. Its author was an openly declared socialist. All this, and it is a work that has never lost its established place in the pantheon of the Irish theatre.

Of course, it is a work of art, and needs to be considered artistically. But you wouldn’t be long doing so before breaking beyond the bounds of aesthetics as such, and leaping right into the heart of the play’s politics. To ignore or dismiss this by retreating behind the walls of dramatic licence—something O’Casey himself tried when first criticised—won’t do. The Plough and the Stars is a political play by a political playwright looking to convey a political message. That message has to be defined and questioned. The cast of characters is headed by Jack Clitheroe, who is just after leaving the Irish Citizen Army because he wasn’t made an officer, and because his wife Nora was always at him to jack it in. Just as the couple settle down to domestic bliss Jack learns that he has been appointed a commandant after all, only Nora hid the news from him; he goes off to lead a Citizen Army mobilisation. Later, during the Easter rising, Nora begs him to abandon it; he refuses and is killed in the fighting, while she suffers a miscarriage and a nervous breakdown.

A dramatist is under no obligation whatsoever to stick to the historical facts. But it is fair to ask what kind of an adaptation O’Casey makes of them. He has Clitheroe being appointed commandant by General Jim Connolly, and charged with mobilising the eighth battalion, ICA, with two days’ rations and fifty rounds of ammunition, the order being despatched by Captain Brennan, a butcher. Now, Connolly was never called General: his rank was commandant, one of only two in the Citizen Army. The Army could never dream of having eight battalions, or that amount of supplies for them. And a tradesman was unlikely to be in the Citizen Army at all, let alone a captain in it.

Scene from Plough and Stars
Peter Flood, Aoife King and Oran O'Rua

The difference between the actual Citizen Army and O’Casey’s stage Citizen Army is obvious. He presents it as a full-scale ornamental outfit with tinpot generals and all the tinsel that go with them—the kind of place where merchants and the vainglorious could count on ascending the ranks. These are the people he presents as giving their lives in Easter week: conceited men motivated by self-importance.

Conceited men held back by selfish women, to be exact. Nora Clitheroe has, in the words of a neighbour, “notions of upperosity”, considering herself a cut above the rest of the tenement. During the rising, as Jack tries to get a dying comrade to a doctor, Nora appeals to him to come back to her and let the man die. As far as O’Casey is concerned, this is how women are. “Nora voices not only the feeling of Ireland’s women, but the women of the human race”, he wrote in defence of his play. “The safety of her brood is the true morality of every woman.”

Were there no vain men in the Citizen Army in 1916? Were there no selfish women trying to keep them out of it all? Chances are there were. But the overwhelming majority of the Citizen Army fought out of a determination to end British rule in Ireland and win a better life for their class, wanting nothing in return. The overwhelming majority of their wives, girlfriends and mothers supported the actions of their “brood”, and not a few shouldered a rifle themselves. O’Casey had every right to ignore them and instead construct a story of a vain husband and his selfish wife. But equally, we have every right to ask why, and to answer: because he wanted to belittle the Easter rising and those who fought in it.

O’Casey himself took the view expressed in the play by the Covey, that “There’s only one war worth havin’: th’ war for th’ economic emancipation of th’ proletariat.” He never appreciated that the proletariat can only win that war if it also fights battles against every kind of oppression, national, sexual or whatever—above all, that the Irish working class cannot liberate itself without overthrowing British rule. The Citizen Army did appreciate this, however imperfectly, and this is the fundamental reason that O’Casey holds them up as objects of ridicule.

Judy McKeever
Judy McKeever who played the part of Rosie Redmond

The exact nature of the ridicule owes something to O’Casey’s personal predicament. His disdain for the Easter rising was retrospective: in the years immediately following it, he was part of the mood of romantic nationalist eulogy of ‘the men of 1916’. His refusal to join in the rising itself was partly down to quarrels he had had with its leaders, and partly because his elderly mother (to whom he dedicated The Plough and the Stars) was dependent on him. Just as his own decision was a matter of personal pride, so is Jack Clitheroe’s; just as his own involvement could have meant family tragedy, so does Jack Clitheroe’s.

O’Casey spent Easter week watching and admiring those who seized the opportunity to loot Dublin’s shops. Perhaps that is why The Plough and the Stars’s portrayal of the looters rings truer than its portrayal of the insurgents, people with whom O’Casey had severed his connections. But the heroic admiration it bestows upon the looters, and denies to the rebels, is misplaced. Which is more heroic, and which is better: stealing a bag of flour, or trying to overthrow an empire?

Certainly flour larceny is less problematic to the powers that be, and the latest powers that were certainly appreciated O’Casey’s Dublin plays. The Shadow of a Gunman presented an egotistical man who pretended republicanism in order to win notoriety, resulting in the death of an innocent girl. Juno and the Paycock presented a world in a terrible state of chassis because politics has turned hearts of flesh into hearts of stone. The ruling classes of the young Free State lapped it up: they flocked into the Abbey, saving it from bankruptcy, and the government decided that the theatre now deserved a state subsidy. The Plough and the Stars spun the same line: all that nonsense between 1916 and 1923 was desperate altogether, and wasn’t it time now to put it all behind us?

Which is not to say that the play’s artistic merits didn’t come into it. Where the play attempts to provide a straightforward entertaining night out, it succeeds. The comic wisdom of Fluther, and the Covey’s thwarting of his Uncle Peter are great crack. The way Bessie Burgess turns out to be good-natured towards Nora in the end, only to turn on her in death before proclaiming her faith in Jesus, is superb (even if the way she meets her death does lay it on a bit thick).

The great political strength of the play is that it portrays the looters of Easter week. Here it puts its finger on one of the big ambiguities of 1916, that a large part of Dublin’s working class didn’t support the rising, and if anything frustrated it. O’Casey’s portrayal fumbles the opportunity, however, in its haste to glamorise the looters so as to deprecate the insurgents. Only at the end, when Fluther’s sympathy towards the rebels captures something of the move from contempt to sympathy for the rising, does the play look like getting the point.

But O’Casey went the other way, from sympathy to contempt, and so this is not the only time he gives the wrong answer to the right question. There is a huge tension in the way the working class came out of 1916 as just a tail of the nationalist movement. There is a huge tension between political commitment to revolution and personal commitment to loved ones. There is a huge tension between the use of revolutionary violence and its tragic con-sequences. O’Casey raises these questions, but comes nowhere near to answering them. Perhaps, when the head has finally gone flat on The Plough and the Stars, someone might write a play that does.

- Article written by Joe Conroy in RED BANNER, a magazine of socialist ideas, July 2004

The Plough and the Stars


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