A musical disaster en route to a picturesque island off the coast of Galway may seem an unlikely inspiration for a play, but these elements suited the imagination of long-time local Irish music personality Tommy McCarthy.
A West Clare native, McCarthy is well known as musician, promoter, and organizer, and as the owner of the popular Boston-area Irish pub The Burren in Somerville’s Davis Square and its sister pub, The Skellig in Waltham.
Now, McCarthy has turned his talents to theater, penning “The Fiddlers of Inishbofin,” a play built around comic mishaps, rivalry, intrigue, romance, drama and — of course — Irish music. “The Fiddlers of Inishbofin” will have its premiere at The Burren with performances on March 13-16.
McCarthy’s role in the play isn’t limited to writer and musical director. He’ll be appearing as part of the cast, which also includes Janine Gunning, Brendan Quirke, Michelle Glynn, Desmond Rushe, Joanne O’ Connell, Shane Lally — all staff members of The Burren or Skellig — and McCarthy’s wife, Louise Costello. Singer-songwriter SeanOg will perform the songs, while McCarthy (fiddle, mandolin) and Costello (fiddle, banjo, accordion) join backing vocalists Hugh McGowan (guitar) and Tom Bianchi (double bass) in the play’s musical ensemble.
The play’s major characters are two fiddlers, Liam and Fiona, who wind up at a party being held on a boat en route to the island of Inishbofin. While they may share an interest in Irish traditional music, the two could not be more different: Fiona is a thoroughly urban, professional musician with a Type-A personality; Liam, a former instrument maker of considerable repute, opted for a simpler life and moved to Inishbofin to become an organic herb farmer.
It is at the party where a key plot development involving Liam and Fiona occurs, one that McCarthy took from a true-to-life experience, as he explains: “A couple of years ago, we went to attend a friend’s birthday celebration. The island was full of visiting musicians and friends, and everyone was in fine form — except that one of the local musicians wound up sitting on the fiddle of a female guest from Dublin.”
The play follows Liam and Fiona through the fall-out from this catastrophe, as they warily size up each other and alternate between flirtation and insults in classic romantic comedy fashion (there also is a subplot involving another pair of fiddlers, Enya and Sean, and their own budding relationship). When the two aren’t trading compliments, they’re sniping at each other’s choice of lifestyle, with repartee worthy of a screwball comedy:
Liam: “Don’t worry, I’ll have you on that five o’clock ferry, for sure.”
Fiona: “You have a clock, do you?”
Liam: “Nay, I have a sun-dial outside. But if it’s cloudy it’s always noon.”
Will Liam be able to fix Fiona’s fiddle, so she can get off the island and return to her familiar existence? Will true love, and music, conquer all?
McCarthy isn’t about to aspire to the credentials of a J. M. Synge, but he does trace his interest in the theatrical arts to that playwright’s most celebrated work. When McCarthy was growing up in London, his father, also a musician, often took part in musical plays, including Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World,” along with McCarthy’s sister Marion and legendary Clare fiddler Bobby Casey; McCarthy was able to sit in for Casey during some of the performances, and found it “a great experience.” In fact, McCarthy and his family became friends with one of the leads in the play, Stephen Rea, who would go on to major roles in films like “The Crying Game,” “The Butcher Boy,” and “V for Vendetta.”
McCarthy has great praise for the actors in “Inishbofin” (“I feel they are all perfect for their parts,” he says) and for the play’s director and scriptwriter, Peter Holm.
Although the play has a generally light tone to it, McCarthy notes there is a serious undertone: Proceeds from the performances will go to benefit breast cancer research.
“The Burren and Skellig staff have always been very close,” he explains, “and, unfortunately some staff members or their relatives have been struck with breast cancer. There is great will amongst all the actors who are also staff members to make “The Fiddlers of Inishbofin” the finest play Boston has ever seen, and to raise as much money as we can towards breast cancer research.”
For ticket information and other details on “The Fiddlers of Inishbofin,” see burren.com.