(Reading time: 2 mins.)
The stage production of Tales From the Holywell, written and performed by Damien Dempsey, is currently running at the Abbey until the 18th – and possibly beyond. Once advertised it was booked out for three weeks (with possible access through cancellations).
It was through cancellations that I and a few others faithfully waiting got in to see the performance on the 7th (it was closed on the bank holiday of the 6th). I really enjoyed it and cried laughing at times.
The whole audience gave him a standing ovation at the end and joined in singing one of his songs during his encore.
The stage set was bare and without background, with stage lighting showing Dempsey alone at times and at others, revealing players of keyboard, violin, double bass and percussion. Dempsey accompanied himself, alternating between two guitars.
The production consisted of Dempsey talking about his upbringing, his difficulties with his father but with whom he went to live when his mother left home, childhood and adolescent battles, his struggles and desires as an artist – all interjected with humorous cracks and songs.
He comes across as a man committed to his art and with integrity.
Dempsey was raised in Holywell Crescent, a collection of local authority houses constructed on the site of an ancient holy freshwater well. This was one of probably thousands of wells across Ireland, each thought to be inhabited by a pagan spirit and then given a saint’s name by Christianity.
The well after which Dempsey’s street was named was St. Donagh’s Well (probably misnamed, see Links below) near Killbarrack and as the area became anglicised, called only “the Holy well”, then “Holywell” and the pool itself filled in and built over.
Whether he can speak it or not I have no idea but the Irish language made an appearance from time to time in Dempsey’s narrative, always with respect and, one might say, even reverence. And I was amazed to hear him sing a verse from An Cúlfhionn a capella, totally in Irish.
His song Colony – some might say masterpiece – gives a clear indication of what Dempsey feels about the long colonisation of Ireland and its parallels elsewhere in the world. I hoped he might take the opportunity to comment on the growing racist mobilisations in Ireland but was disappointed.
Conor McPherson directed the production which was written and performed by Damien Dempsey.
Apart from Dempsey’s, other music was provided by Lucia McPartlin (fiddle, vocals), Aura Stone (double bass) and Courtney Cullen (drums, percussion, vocals). I noted no name given in the theatre program for the keyboard and vocals performer.
I’m a great fan of Damo’s lyrics but less so of his singing; a question of musical and cultural taste, I suppose. But still I rose, wholeheartedly with the rest, to applaud his performance.
Whether its run will be extended I don’t know but currently it’s advertised to end on 18th February. If you haven’t booked, it’s well worth getting there early and hoping for a cancellation.
Damien Dempsey discography
- They Don’t Teach This Shit in School (2000)
- Seize the Day (2003)
- Shots (2005)
- To Hell or Barbados (2007)
- The Rocky Road (2008)
- Almighty Love (2012)
- It’s All Good – The Best of Damien Dempsey (2014)
- No Force On Earth (2016)
- Soulsun (2017)
- Union (2018)
St. Donagh’s Well · Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County (omeka.net)