My English Tongue, My Irish Heart

Unique Manchester–Belfast artistic collaboration sees compelling new play hit UK and Irish stages

Martin Lynch with the cast of the play, photographed by Ruth Gonsalves Moore
Martin Lynch with the cast of the play, photographed by Ruth Gonsalves Moore

A newly commissioned research-based play based on a book by a Manchester academic is about to embark on a month-long tour of community arts venues in Ireland and the UK. The tour is jointly sponsored by the University of Manchester and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Entitled My English Tongue, My Irish Heart, this groundbreaking play is based on The Literature of Irish in Britain: Autobiography and Memoir, 1725-2001 (2009), a critically acclaimed study by Dr Liam Harte, Senior Lecturer in Irish and Modern Literature in the Division of English, American Studies and Creative Writing.

Last year, Dr Harte secured a Follow-on Funding Award from the AHRC to collaborate with the esteemed Belfast playwright, Martin Lynch, to transform the research findings of his 2009 book into a lively theatrical show that would promote debate about, and enhance the visibility of, humanities research to those outside the sector.

The resultant play opens in Belfast on Friday, 1 May 2015, after which it will embark on a ten-venue tour, which includes a two-night run at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Cheetham Hill in Manchester on 26 and 27 May. The tour is jointly presented by The University of Manchester and Green Shoot Productions, Lynch's not-for-profit theatre company.

As part of the project's commitment to social responsibility and community outreach, a portion of the tour proceeds will be donated to two emigrant welfare charities, namely, the London-based Aisling Return to Ireland project and the Safe Home Programme in County Mayo.

My English Tongue, My Irish Heart is a powerful and moving drama that tells the story of Irish emigration to England through the generations, exploring the perplexities of living with, and between, two worlds. The play centres on a young, educated Irish couple who take the momentous decision to emigrate to England. Their contemporary story of migration is criss-crossed by the stories of those who have gone before them, from lawyers and labourers to pickpockets, politicians and professional street preachers. This highly innovative production explodes in a fast-paced, in-the-round production featuring a terrific cast, great songs and Lynch’s trademark humour.

Dr Liam Harte said:

Although much has been written about the Irish emigrant experience, this is the first time a play of this kind has ever been staged anywhere in these islands. My English Tongue, My Irish Heart weaves together gripping historical accounts of what it felt like to be Irish in Britain with a very contemporary story of how emigration changes the lives of a modern-day couple.

Playwright Martin Lynch said:

This collaborative project has been a fascinating journey for me right from the start. I’m directing the play in rehearsals at the moment and I can say without doubt that audiences are in for a great night’s entertainment. There’s drama, history, heartbreak, love – plus a fantastic soundtrack of the best of Irish music from Count John McCormick to Paul Brady and The Pogues, sung by five great actor/singers.

Dr Liam Harte said:

Given the high numbers of Irish economic migrants that have been arriving in England since 2008, this play could hardly be more topical. My English Tongue, My Irish Heart shines a powerful light on the dilemmas and challenges that confront the diasporic Irish and provides a focal point for comparing past experiences of emigration with more recent ones. This is an example of research-based theatre at its most provocative and socially relevant.

Watch a video of the playwright discussing the project

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