This new play tackles women’s rebellion against arranged marriages in Ireland in the 1950s.
“I came to my marriage with a dowry and cows and you’ve come to yours with nothing.” My Irish grandmother delivered this barb to my mother when she got engaged to my father in 1960. My mother was also Irish but her marriage wasn’t an arranged one. My grandmother’s was and many more were in Ireland at that time. They continued to be well into the 1970s.
My mother never forgot her mother-in-law’s dig, and I never forgot her telling me about it.
So when the founder of Green Curtain Theatre, Anne Curtis, asked me to write a play about life in Ireland over the past 100 years, I was immediately drawn to the idea of writing a play about arranged marriages in Ireland. Not just because my grandmother had one, but because Anne’s festival of plays marked the centenary of the Easter Rising so the theme of rebellion runs through all the plays. I’d always wondered what would have happened if the women had refused to sacrifice themselves for these ‘matches’.
Marriages were arranged by matchmakers and the girls were often taken to the altar against their will. The girls were matched from the age of 15 onwards and their dowries were balanced against the land and livestock of the men they were matched with. Irish farmers often deferred marriage until they were well on in years so they needed much younger wives to bear them sons to inherit the land and keep the family name alive.
Once married, the girls often found themselves living on remote farms faced with animals to be fed, bread to be baked, bacon to be boiled, cattle to be milked, and turf to be carried. All amidst the driving rain and – if you’re living on the side of the mountain as the characters are in my play Body and Blood – the relentless rolling mist.
This cultural background formed the early lives of the characters in Body and Blood but the story begins when they come to London as part of a major wave of Irish immigration in 1956. Will the characters make the sacrifices required to stay true to their cultural roots or – infused with their new-found freedom in London – break free to control their individual destinies? Which of them will have their own Easter Risings and will they be rewarded for doing so?