That’s me. The terrified bright blob in the middle surrounded by the fantastic company of the Abbey Theatre’s current production of James Plunkett’s The Risen People. Last Saturday I was asked to give what they refer to as “The Noble Call” – a 5 minute reaction to the events onstage by someone in the public eye.
To be honest with you it is the most terrifying thing I have ever done in 20 years of being a broadcaster. I’ve stood onstage in front of 100,000 people, been on the Late Late Show, addressed a group in the European Parliament, conducted orchestras in the National Concert Hall, won Mastermind… Nothing prepared me for being in front of a sold out stage in our national theatre…
The story I told was a relatively simple one and pretty much the same one I’m going to tell you here.
In 1913, when the events of the Lockout were taking place, my great-grandmother was living in a tenement in a place called Mark Street. It’s between Pearse Street and the Liffey, about a 2 minute walk from all the events that took place over that autumn and winter.
By 1925, when my granny was born, the family had moved up to another tenement in New Street, just at the end of Clanbrassil Street. Eventually it was my mum, her 3 siblings and my granny and grandad living in one room. It was their kitchen, sitting room and bedroom (their toilet facilities and running water were out in the back yard).
3 other families lived in the same house. Mrs. Gorman upstairs had the “luxury” of two rooms, but that was because she had ten children…
When my mum turned 10 in 1956 the family finally left tenement life forever and moved up to what must have seemed the promised land of a 2 story first floor flat in Drimnagh. They had a separate kitchen, sitting room, a little back balcony, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom all of their own…
That’s where I was born in 1973 – the first of my family ever to be born outside of a Dublin tenement.
The following year my mum and dad moved out and bought a semi-d of their own in Crumlin, thus making my mum the first person on that side of our family ever to own the roof over her own head.
At one stage in The Risen People Fitz says “One day, everything will change.”
My tribute last Saturday night on the stage of the Abbey was to all of those in 1913, all of those who lived in tenements and took part in the lockout. For us, their descendants, everything did change.
They took the word “impossible” out of the vocabulary of those who followed in their path. They started the long, hard road to genuine social mobility in Irish society, to opportunity for poor kids to make *anything* they wanted of their lives, something virtually impossible before the 20th century.
Today, I work for the national broadcaster, hundreds of thousands of people hear my words every day. I met the President on the opening night of the play last year and chatted with him, I was invited to take the stage of our national theatre last Saturday night and address the audience.
I believe, for my children, anything will be possible.
EDIT: The Abbey were recording me! https://soundcloud.com/abbeytheatre/the-risen-people-rick-oshea?in=abbeytheatre/sets/the-risen-people