‘Magpies on the Pylon’, a one-man play written and performed by well-known actor/playwright Michael Collins, will be staged on February 28 in St Mary’s Hall. Hosted by GMIT, in conjunction with Exhange House, the play is set in a tiny bedroom belonging to ‘Jim’, a Traveller father who struggles to cope with the suicide of his 23-year-old son.
After his son’s death, Jim has become isolated from other family members and is misusing alcohol. The audience accompanies Jim on an emotional roller-coaster ride as he articulates loving memories of his son, his fears for the well-being of his other three children, the turmoil that has developed in his relationship with his wife, his anger at God, and his agonising questions about whether there was something he could have done to prevent his son’s death.
Michael Collins, who is a Traveller, wrote the play as a means of breaking the taboo about suicide that pervades Irish society. “One of the most important messages that I hope people walk away with, whether Traveller or settled, is that they’re not on their own, there is help out there, and one of the most important things they need to do is talk to somebody,” he said.
Ken Hogan, Head of Department of Nursing, Health Sciences and Social Care at GMIT, believes there isn’t a more important time to bring awareness to Mental Health and Suicide. “It is reported that Travellers are seven times more likely to die by suicide,” he explained. “We have enjoyed working closely with Exchange House on bringing this issue to the forefront and invite as many people as possible to attend.”
The play has received high praise whereever it has been staged, from Dublin to Donegal. “I think it was very touching and so real, he played the part so well,” said Patrick McGinley, who is a Community Health Worker at the Donegal Travellers’ Project. “It’s reality, in that it’s what’s happening in the Travelling community at the minute. It’s become serious in the last few years. It’s affecting young Traveller men, who are experiencing a lot of pressure points, maybe because they have lost ways of making their own living.
“Travellers years ago kept his country going through their work with scrap and metal. They weren’t making a pile of money, but they were able to make a life for themselves. With so many boundaries now, their lifestyle has been upset, and that’s putting the pressure on.”
The Castlebar performance has been made possible by James McArdle, a student at GMIT, Castlebar, who had the idea to host the play at the college.
Michael Collins has been an advocate of Traveller human rights for over 20 years. He has acted on stage in the Abbey and Olympia Theatres in Dublin, and is instantly recognisable as Johnny Connors in RTÉ’s Glenroe, who he played for over ten years. He has also been in numerous films, including ‘Trojan Eddie’ and ‘Man about Dog’, and has written and performed a number of plays, including ‘It’s A Cultural Thing, Or Is It?’, ‘Mobile’ and ‘Same Difference’.
‘Magpies on the Pylon’ will be staged on at 7pm on February 28 in St Mary’s Hall, GMIT Castlebar. Please note, this play is not suitable for under-15s.