Any person who spends 16 years incarcerated in prison and 70 days on a hunger strike for a political and social ideal they passionately believe in has to be admired.
Even more so when that same person later achieves a Doctorate in sociology (with a thesis creatively entitled ‘Unrepentant Fenian Bastards’) and becomes a well-respected playwright, author, screen-writer and co-founder of a national film festival.
That rare caliber of person is Antrim-born, Dundalk-based Laurence McKeownwhose latest play, directed by Paula McFetridge of Belfast-based Kabosh, ‘Green & Blue’ has gone on national tour, including a performance as part of the Earagail Arts Festival at the Amharclann Ghaoth Dobhair and at the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh.
The play focuses on two policemen – one based in Northern Ireland and the other in the Republic of Ireland – who’s role is to patrol the sensitive border between the two countries during the height of the decades-long civil disturbances colloquially termed, ‘The Troubles.’ The play deals with many facets of life, including self-understanding and individuality.
“It’s a simple question really: why do we keep doing what we are doing, should we all not be exploring options in our lives? This question even came up in prison. We all went through a process of ‘unlearning,’ unlearning what we’d been brought up to believe by various authorities such as the state and the church. Initially in prison, republican political structures were rigid, conservative and Catholic. Then we started questioning why it should be so, and it started to change.” He added that ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed,’ written by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, had a profound effect on him.
McKeown’s achievements have been impressive. Aside from co-founding the Belfast Film Festival, he has co-written two books about Irish Republican prisoners in the Maze, ‘Nor Meekly Serve My Time: The H-Block Struggle 1976–1981’ (with Brian Campbell and Felim O’Hagan) in 1994 and ‘Out Of Time: Irish Republican Prisoners, Long Kesh, 1972–2000’ in 2001. With Campbell, he also wrote a film about the 1981 hunger strike entitled ‘H3’ and two plays, ‘The Laughter of Our Children’ in 2001 and ‘A Cold House’ in 2003, as well as his own play, ‘The Official Version’ in 2006.
Plays with Kabosh have included ‘Johanna Monahan,’ ‘It’s In The Streets,’ ‘Two Roads West’ as well as ‘Those You Pass On The Street,’ which producer, McFetridge, said was performed before 3,000 people at an open-air venue at the Genocide Memorial in Rwanda as part of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali, and at the National Arts Festival in South Africa. McKeown also works as a development officer for Coiste na n-Iarchimí, an umbrella organization of republican ex-prisoner groups.