Local woman writes play about living with a blind father

Anna Shiels-McNamee pictured with her father John
Anna Shiels-McNamee pictured with her father John

A Derry woman whose father lost his sight weeks after she was born has written a play about her experience.

‘My Dad’s Blind’, written by and starring local actor and writer Anna Shiels-McNamee, will premiere at the Dublin Fringe Fest later this month.

According to Anna, the play is a dark comedy, examining what happens when a parent goes blind ‘while his family lose their minds’.

“Growing up people told me my dad was ‘amazing’, which didn’t make any sense to me. I thought he was pretty boring, he works a nine to five job and watches Coronation Street in the evenings.

“I soon realised they were only saying this because he was blind and I wrote this play in response to that.”

Anna was born in Derry and grew up in here. She was a pupil at Oakgrove Integrated College. She is now based between London and Dublin, while her family is still based in the city.

Her dad John had a degenerative eye condition and he lost his sight weeks after Anna was born.

“My dad was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) before I was born. It is an inherited condition, passed onto him by his parents. It is a condition that gradually gets worse and is quite a slow process.

“By the time I was born, when he was around 31, he had lost a good bit of his sight and soon after he went totally blind. I have never known him with sight.”

Anna said when she was younger she never had much sympathy for her father’s blindness because it was ‘just part of life’.

“At times it was awkward and embarassing and I found that if you don’t laugh about these things life can be really hard.”

As she got older, Anna realised how difficult it must have been for her dad to lose his sight.

She is looking forward to her father attending one of the performances of the play in Dublin.

“I have read the early drafts of the play to my dad, very early drafts and he has an idea of what is involved.

“He knows my sense of humour, but I’m sure it will be weird for him as the play is pretty much about him.”

Anna hopes the play will raise awareness of people living with disabilities and start a different kind of conversation.

“The play will examine misguided pity in all it’s guises. I hope to show that people with disablities are human and have the same faults and flaws as everyone else.”

‘My Dad’s Blind’, by Anna Shiels-McNammee is co-produced with Pan Pan Theatre and funded by The Arts Council/An Chomairle Ealaíon.

The play, which is directed by Gemma Aked Priestly, will run at the Dublin Fringe Festival between September 8 and September 22.