Play tells tale of Leitrim farmer ‘deported from own country’

A play, now showing at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, tells the story of a Leitrim farmer described as “the only Irishman deported from his own country.”

‘Jimmy’s Hall’, a new stage adaptation of the critically acclaimed Ken Loach film, had its world premiere in Carrick-on-Shannon.

It tells the true tale of Jimmy Gralton; Jimmy came to notice for building a dance hall where he encouraged the local community to learn, to argue and to dream – but above all to dance and have fun.

As the hall grew in popularity, its free-spirited reputation brought it to the attention of the church and politicians who forced him to flee and the hall to close.

A decade later, at the height of the Depression, he returned from the US. The hall stood abandoned but as he saw the poverty and growing oppression in the village, the leader and activist within him was stirred.

He decided to reopen the hall, and so take on the established authorities of the church and the government.

The production marks director of the Abbey Theatre Graham McLaren’s directorial debut at the theatre. He said: “It was important to me that this would be the first play I would direct at the Abbey Theatre.

“Jimmy Gralton had a vision of Ireland as a fair and equal society, with people’s needs put in front of profit, at the heart of its culture.

He wanted to create a space for people to come and break bread, to sing the old songs, to fall in love, argue about politics and be a community.

“This act was such a threat to the people in power that they villified Jimmy. They burned down the hall, and he was deported.”

The production set out to celebrate his ideals through live music, singing and dancing. “This is a story about the people of Leitrim, told for the people of Leitrim.”

‘Jimmy’s Hall’ can be seen at the Abbey Theatre until August 19.