‘The Daughters of Róisín’ inspired by study of feminist protest theatre at Magee

The harrowing history of church and State-sanctioned abuse of unmarried women and their babies in Ireland is explored in Aoibh Johnson’s play, The Daughters of Róisín.

The one-woman show first saw its debut in Aoibh’s hometown of Coalisland, in Craic Theatre and Arts Centre in 2019.

Directed by Cahal Clarke and written and performed by Aoibh, the production received rave reviews, which inspired the duo to bring the work across the globe to the Adelaide Fringe Festival, South Australia in 2020.

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Aoibh shared that she wrote this piece while studying Feminist Protest Theatre during her Master's degree at Ulster University, Magee in Derry.

A promotional poster for 'The Daughters of Róisín'.

Aoibh commented: “I was studying Feminist Protest Theatre and I started to consider what I had to protest about as a young Irish woman. I was passionate about the use of historical archives and retelling stories that have been forgotten or overlooked.”

The play begins with a passionate recital of the poem, The Sons of Róisín, made famous by Dubliner, Luke Kelly.

However, we soon realise this ghostly figure is more concerned with Ireland’s daughters.

Through broken dialogue, song, poetry and ghostly silence, Aoibh Johnson takes us on a deeply emotional journey as we watch the demise of a young, pregnant woman forced to hide from society.

Theatre critic Marianna Meloni stated that the show was ‘excellent’ and wrote, ‘The Daughters of Róisín is a heart-wrenching metaphorical drama. It’s a silent accusation at Irish society, with its Catholic backbone, for neglecting to look after its women, to pick them up when they’ve fallen. Seeing it just once might not be enough’.

Director Cahal Clarke said: “Aoibh’s performance is a thrilling theatrical experience. Myself and Aoibh both understand that at times it can feel incredibly uncomfortable and unnerving for the viewer, however, it’s beautifully balanced with moments of tenderness and humour.”

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Civil activist and leader, Bernadette McAliskey attended a recent performance of The Daughters of Róisín in early September of this year.

She said the play and performance were, ‘powerfully and brilliantly executed’.

Bernadette also commented: “Believe me. This is more than special. This is inspired genius at every level. Don’t miss it.”

Sole Purpose Productions are producing two performances of the play, which will be shown on December 1 at The Playhouse, Derry and December 2 at The Glens Centre, Leitrim.

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Sole Purpose Productions have recently celebrated 25 years of Theatre for Social Change.

Artistic Director Patricia Bryne said: “We are committed to raising awareness of social issues that are important and matter in the lives of local and national communities. We are delighted to be working in association with Wee Yarn Productions to bring this magnificent play to Derry and Leitrim.”

Sole Purpose is core funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Noirin McKinney, Director of Arts Development, commented: “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has supported Sole Purpose in presenting The Daughters of Róisín.

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"Sole Purpose excel at bringing us challenging theatre productions which shine a light on the important social issues of our time and which demonstrate the power of the arts as a tool to create open discussion and stimulate social change.”