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Community Development principles in action

‘Island’ children step into shoes of 19th century immigrants By ALLEN MEAGHER A DEEP understanding of immigration has been forged among local children and their families by St. Mary’s CDP in Limerick working with a local theatre company. Island Theatre’s headquarters happens to be located in an old church and graveyard and when it was found that immigrant children were buried in the cemetery, local children were called in to reenact their lives: Imagine being an emigrant child from Norway, docked for two months in Limerick city because your ship needs repairs after being hit by a mid-Atlantic storm. The year is 1868. All of you emigrants come from the same area in Norway and know each other well. The city is strange and new and the first time any of you see a banana is in Limerick. During your stay in Ireland, two of the children among you die, though you manage to continue the voyage after burying your friends and settle successfully in the ‘new’ land of America. Every Monday night for three months, 16 local children from modern times imagined

themselves in the Norwegians’ shoes and acted out how they thought it might have been for the kids who 138 years ago lived and played briefly where they live and play today. Spearheaded by volunteers from St. Mary’s CDP Women’s Group and staff from Island Theatre Company, the historical re-enactment of the visit by the crew and passengers of the ‘Hannah Parr’ has become an international success. In the USA, descendants of those who survived the voyage emailed the group every piece of historical detail they knew, while the Norwegian Ambassador attended in June to officially open an exhibition of photographs of the children in the play. Mayor of Limerick, Diarmuid Scully, also officiated at the opening. The children involved in the drama classes started off with poor listening skills but could now elbow a few characters out of ‘Fair City’ if they tried. At the same time, members of the Women’s Group grew so interested and adept at drama work that they have – in a voluntary capacity – gone on to work backstage with other theatre groups in the city. And as drama tutor, Niamh Bowen, pointed

out, the project also added to the area’s oral history: "There are the 16 children and their families and extended families who now know all about the Hannah Parr and the emigrant children buried in the graveyard. These people are up and down this road every day and they will point to the graveyard and tell the story to others, so it will be passed down as a piece of oral history." The play was largely set in St. Munchin’s Cemetery on King’s Island which is next to St. Mary’s Park, a local authority housing estate which was built beside the cemetery nearly a century after the ‘Hannah-Paar’ departed.

First immigrants

Mayor of Limerick, Diarmuid Scully, said: "We are commemorating some of the first immigrants to come to Limerick, albeit without intending to. There are a lot of new people coming now, many from eastern Europe, so it is interesting to look back at the inter-culturalism of a previous time."

Catholics protested at ‘Hannah Paar’ funerals

Rehearsals going on inside the Church: Kayleigh Cahill, Orla Wallace, Donna-Marie O’Donnell, Tara Henkenbourg and Kelly O’Donoghue.

changing ireland

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THE issues of immigration, interculturalism and discrimination were never discussed openly between the young drama students and the adult tutor and facilitators during the ‘Hannah Paar’ workshops. But since the play was about foreigners of a Protestant denomination seeking refuge in Limerick, the children learnt more than they may realise. "We never mentioned the word racism," said Joan Keehan of St. Mary’s CDP. "The attitude towards people coming into the city was raised only in a subtle way. But the children did learn from their drama and eventually, in their play, they welcomed the people that came on the ship." The historical truth, as Joan discovered, is harsh however. "I read the old Limerick Journal article about their experience and they were rejected, particularly by the Catholics of Limerick. There were protests by them outside the cemetery when the burials took place," said Joan. She said it struck a cord with her because, when she was seven, she was barred by the Catholic church from attending her grandmother’s funeral on the excuse that she came from a mixedreligious family background.

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Profile for CHANGING IRELAND

CHANGING IRELAND ISSUE 18  

Issue 18 Hot in Issue 18 - MAIN STORY: THOUSANDS DROWN ON THE WAY TO WORK (Emigration then and now) - ALSO: - Regeneration (Dublin) - Trave...

CHANGING IRELAND ISSUE 18  

Issue 18 Hot in Issue 18 - MAIN STORY: THOUSANDS DROWN ON THE WAY TO WORK (Emigration then and now) - ALSO: - Regeneration (Dublin) - Trave...

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