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Higgins stands by Shell stance

Lorna Siggins
Galway poet Rita Ann Higgins says she has "no regrets" about the stance she took at this year's Féile Iorrais, an international arts festival in north Mayo, in spite of the severe heckling she received from supporters of the Corrib gas project during her reading last weekend, writes Lorna Siggins.
Higgins was one of several participants in the festival who refused to accept any payment linked to Shell E&P Ireland sponsorship of the event. Higgins, Donegal poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh and musician Andy Irvine, formerly of Planxty, had told this newspaper recently that they were very disappointed they weren't informed beforehand of the sponsorship deal with Shell, worth €2,000 to the festival, in the light of the company's role as developer of the controversial Corrib gas project.
Several of the artists had considered withdrawing, but had been assured by local Shell to Sea supporters that they did not expect them to take this step. Féile Iorrais is a significant annual event in the isolated Gaeltacht area, and, as musician Vincent McGrath of the so-called Rossport Five had pointed out, any cancellation, albeit on ethical grounds, might cause further divisions. He also understood that artists might be tied to contractual arrangements.
Higgins wrote to the festival committee to inform them she would not be taking any fee, because of Shell's involvement. On taking the stage in Belmullet last Saturday, she tried to read from her letter by way of introduction, but was interrupted by persistent heckling from the audience. She continued with her poetry, but as she finished reading Ciontach, about feeling guilty as a child, a woman from the audience interrupted her. "Agus tá tú ciontach go fóill (and you are still guilty)," the woman said.
Higgins was shaken by the experience, but says she received a number of kind comments afterwards from members of the audience who, she believes, were intimidated by a vociferous minority clearly in favour of the Corrib gas project. "If showing solidarity for a group of people who put the interest and safety of their community and the environment before themselves [makes me guilty], then yes, I am guilty," Higgins told ArtScape. Seán Ó Coisdealbha, a member of the festival's organising committee, has said there was no deliberate attempt to omit mention of Shell's sponsorship from the programme. Shell's name had been "on the website for the past five years", he said.
As well as a return visit to the Abbey stage, Sam Shepard's one-hander for Stephen Rea is to get an outing in New York next year. Kicking a Dead Horse, which had its world premiere in the Peacock in March, will have its American premiere as a co-production between the Abbey and the Public Theater in New York next June. Rea will reprise his role, which was written for him by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright.
Meanwhile, for those who failed to get a seat when it played in the Peacock, a revival of the production will open in the Abbey on September 13th. Fiach Mac Conghail, the Abbey's director, said he was delighted the production had been invited to New York.
Shepard's plays, he said, "with their themes of family, identity and consumerism, speak clearly to a contemporary Irish audience. Equally, Shepard's voice remains an authentic American one and, with this in mind, it's fitting that American audiences get the chance to enjoy this wonderful addition to his body of work." One of Shepard's earlier plays, True West, was produced in the Peacock last year and the bond between the National Theatre and the American playwright is set to continue, with a production of Fool for Love planned for next year, and Buried Child in 2009.
© 2007 The Irish Times

Posted Date: 
10 August 2007 - 2:24pm