The Land of Saints and How to Get Out of It
Irish Diaspora on the Irish stage (1904 to 1939)
Leaving aside historical and mythological dramas, a considerable number of plays written for the Abbey Theatre between 1904 and the outbreak of the Second World War represent emigration. They enjoyed varying degrees of success. In 1904 G.B. Shaw portrayed an Irish émigré as one of the two protagonists in John Bull’s Other Island; in the following two years Padraic Colum’s The Land and William Boyle’s The Mineral Workers were enthusiastically received by Abbey Theatre audience, the former with its depiction of young Irish men and women emigrating to America, the latter, an engineer returning to Ireland from overseas; 1907 saw three plays presenting emigration as one of the great Irish issues, both politically and economically: J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, George Fitzmaurice’s The Country Dressmaker and Lady Augusta Gregory’s The Jackdaw. They were followed by T.C. Murray’s Birthright, Lennox Robinson’s Harvest and Colum’s Thomas Muskerry. Indeed, it is almost impossible to provide an exhaustive list of all the plays dealing with emigration. The present paper aims to discuss a selection of significant plays intended for or staged at the Abbey Theatre in the first decades of the twentieth century, analysing what emigration stood for, and how it was exploited dramatically. The historical boundaries of this research (1904-1939) provide a provisional limit to an otherwise too vast study for the present paper.