Dancing the Bones of Archaic Irish Stories

Celtic Club March 2015 Niki na MeadhraAn account of a theatrical performance by Niki na Meadhra

Celtic Club, 29 March 2015.

Niki na Meadhra performed her one-woman show, Dancing the Bones of Irish Myth and Legend, to a mixed audience of Celtophiles, Narrato-philes, and some enthralled adults and children, at the Celtic Club on Sunday 29 March. It was storytelling taken to the next level -Art, a melding of fine acting and fine story-telling. She is an experienced actor, who is passionate about her Irish heritage, and relishes its extravagance, comedy and craftiness.

This was a high energy performance, but at the same time created the impression that it was unforced. It built to an electric climax in the second half. Cú Chulainn, with whom the show climaxed, was the very epitome of a lad who was comically unselfconscious about his prodigious physical prowess, and his comeliness, and his warp-spasm was a thing of great ferocity. Never has erotic pin-up seemed so unbecoming!

The material was very carefully researched and structured, drawing from the Fiannaidheacht, the legendary tales of Fionn MacCumhaill and the Fianna, then moving via tales of Niki’s grandmother, and her defence of her handbag, to stories of the Cailleach. From Meath after interval, we travelled to Leinster and thence to Ulster with Cú Chulainn. These were the tales that were full of ferocity, but also grand hyperbole and humour and eroticism.  It’s always good to remember how different Irish heroes are from Greek and Roman and even British ones.

One had to admire the way in which Niki’s scrupulous research, the shaping and scripting of complex material, the digesting of it fully, resulted in making it coherent and comprehensible to new hearers of it. There was a young boy in my line of sight and his relish in the stories was visceral. He could not help whooping at the end of the Cú Chulainn sequence. The stories were, of course, originally told to mixed age audiences. One of the Joyceans in the audience commented on how much light it cast for her on the Cyclops episode of Ulysses. Others loved the fun of the pieces.

The choice of material and welding of it together was mistress-ful, and structurally very satisfying, beginning with fantasy, moving into gentle feminism, and ending up with the mad OTT hero. It is not easy to find a pathway through conflicting and multiple versions, but Niki did just that, and made it look easy, which it emphatically is not.

Niki is very conscious of the legacy her great grandmother, a Belfast Famine Orphan who arrived in Victoria in 1859, and grateful for it. Her grandfather it was who encouraged her acting in an era when it was not a desirable ambition; her female ancestors taught her feistiness.

Having visited Ireland just once, and quite recently, and having spent the last few years immersing herself in the storytelling lore of her ancestors, she is about to return to Ireland with the show she developed for Bloomsday. We wish her well and look forward to her traveller’s tales, and hope to see her work again in this genre.


Frances Devlin-Glass

Frances is a member of the editorial team of Tinteán.