Keeping the ghosts at bay as Carlow present Sebastian Barrys powerful Steward of Christendom

Paul McManus who plays the role of Thomas Dunne in The Steward of Christendom

Carlow Little Theatre Society are delighted to be returning to the stage of the George Bernard Shaw theatre in the coming weeks, with their production of Sebastian Barry’s ‘The Steward of Christendom’, a profoundly moving story of family, love and loss.

Set in 1932 in the Baltinglass county home, Thomas Dunne, the last Chief Superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, looks back on his life as he tries to keep his ghosts at bay with reimagined memories of his daughters, Annie, Maud, and Dolly, and his son, Willie, interspersed by interactions between Dunne and Mrs O’Dea and Smith, two attendants from the home. It is a tale of family running concurrently with Irish history, spanning British colonial rule through to the early days of Irish independence.

The play opens in a county home (an inpatient psychiatric facility) in Baltinglass, Ireland in 1932, some years after Irish independence. In the opening scene, Dunne appears to be raving incoherently, reliving an episode of his childhood. As the play continues, Dunne slips from moments of lucidity to reliving parts of his career as a senior officer in the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), especially the handover of Dublin Castle to Michael Collins in 1922 after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He also relives memories of his family, particularly his daughters, Annie, Maud, and Dolly. Dunne is also visited by the ghost of his son Willie, killed in WWI; Willie’s ghost appears to him in the form a 13-year-old child but dressed in the soldier’s uniform of his 18-year-old self.

These imagined visitations and reveries are interspersed by actual interactions between Dunne and two attendants from the county home, Mrs. O’Dea and Smith, who attempt to wash him and measure him for a new suit of clothes. Smith initially berates Dunne for his role in the DMP, particularly his ordering of the charge against the striking workers during the Dublin Lock-out in 1913 that left four dead; however, he warms up to Dunne after reading a letter written to him by his son from the battlefield. Mrs. O’Dea demonstrates more sympathy to him, eventually sewing some gold thread into Dunne’s suit, as he frequently pleads for.

The play mainly alternates between the dramatized memories of 1922 and Dunne’s present, mentally deteriorated state at the county home in 1932. It does, however, contain one actual visit from Annie and Dunne’s son-in-law, Matthew. It consists largely of monologues from Dunne which serve to explain his past loyalties and decisions, before ending with the depiction of the traumatic event that started Dunne’s downward spiral into madness: he brandished a sword at Annie and destroyed various pieces of furniture in her house after hearing of Michael Collins’s death and the increased violence in the country due to the Irish Civil War. The play concludes with Dunne recounting a story from his childhood about the family sheepdog killing and eating one of the sheep. Dunne’s father initially threatens to kill the dog as punishment, but much to young Dunne’s relief, the father decides ultimately to spare the dog, which suggests that a similar forgiveness can be extended to Dunne despite his personal and public mistakes.

Speaking to The Kilkenny Observer newspaper playwright Sebastian Barry said: “I’m delighted and proud that the distinguished Carlow Little Theatre are tackling The Steward, and bringing it home to Carlow. I do wish them every success and happiness doing the play.”

‘The Steward of Christendom’ will be Directed by Michael Somers and is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. on behalf of Samuel French Ltd.

Performance run from November 22nd to 25th at 7.30 nightly.

Cast includes: Thomas Dunne: Paul McManus, Jim Smith: Richard Duffy, Mrs O’Dea: Georgina Brennan-Stynes, Recruit: Joe Hayden, Willie Dunne: Kevin Tynan, Annie Dunne: Michelle Phelan, Maud Dunne: Emer Peet, Dolly Dunne: Niamh Deay, Matt Kirwin: Julien Jully.


Colin Clifford, Miriam Dowd, Hugh Keenan, Margaret McKenna, Emma O’Brien, Lily-Mae O’Brien, Kate O’Connor, Harry Shorthose, Feargal Ward


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