As part of the Irish state’s “Decade of Centenaries” programme, I was commissioned to write a piece, Volunteer, to commemorate the concluding historical event of the decade 1912-1922, the Civil War. Events explored during this time include the likes of The 1913 Lockout and The 1916 Rising.
I chose the tragic story of Carlow man, Seamus Lillis, who was executed for his activities as an anti-government combatant during the Civil War, which followed the Irish War of Independence.
The story is told from the perspective of a young man, close to Lillis’ age, on the eve of his emigration to America. The narrator sees this new independent Ireland as a country with no place for him, and ponders on the tragedy of men like Lillis dying for something he so readily discards.
I set the story in Duggan’s shop on 59 Dublin Street, Carlow, a premises I grew up in. Over 300 years old, the shop and public house have witnessed all of Ireland’s historical developments from Cromwell’s invasion to The Good Friday Agreement.
In the corner of the shop, which my parents renamed ‘The Wine Tavern’ (and what I have recently been using as the pop-up art space, TBA Pop-Up), stood, an ancient, person-sized, coffee grinder. It fascinated me as a child, especially because we continued to use it to grind customers one pound bags of Bewley’s coffee beans. I was more often than not the monkey doing the grinding. I imagined it being the silent observer of events 100 years ago and so I feature it in the story, Volunteer.
Thanks to County Carlow Arts Office for selecting me to write ‘Volunteer’ and to Christopher Power of Carlow Library for his help in researching it.