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'The fields are gone, hence the hares are gone': These Dublin locals will perform the stories of their lives on stage

Ghost Hares is a participatory theatre work that sees people from South Dublin County telling their own stories on stage.

Image: Shutterstock/Mario Lisovski

WHAT IS IT to make your life in a particular landscape and community – to raise your children there, to watch them grow, until eventually it is your time to move on?

“Generations come, generations go… It’s about the passage of time,” says writer-director Veronica Coburn of her new theatrical work Ghost Hares.

The project is a public art commission from South Dublin County. Through spoken word and song, it sees local people (most who have never performed before) taking over the Civic Theatre stage for three nights in May.

The catch? They are performing their own stories.

“I’m working with a chorus of people,” she says. “And our opening proposition was: what is it to be from South Dublin County, to make your life in this territory, in this landscape both urban and natural?”

Most of the group of 27 participants are female, in their 50s, and have been living in the South Dublin County area for decades or more – each with their own story to tell.

Committing to Saturday practice since September, Coburn says they have been “working their socks off” and are passionate about the project.

She says when most people think of places like Tallaght and Clondalkin, the first thing that comes into your mind is motorways, roundabouts and the M50.

She says it was then interesting that many of people of the community spoke about the parks and mountains instead – as well as the fading of those green areas during their decades or more of living there.

The title – Ghost Hares – comes from a story one participant told during the early periods of shaping the performance.

“We were talking about where people walk,” Coburn says. “She says before the M50 was built there was all fields… She used to walk out there – it was all country lanes – and stand at the edge of the fields and just watch and wait.”

Because if you stood at the edge of the fields and watched, you would see the hares run… she then said, ‘but they’re not there anymore’. The fields are gone, hence the hares are gone.

The image struck, and became the first song the group worked on, as well as the title.

“What that encapsulates is the centre of the whole piece,” Coburn says. “Which is about the passing of time… what has gone before, what is here now.”

The piece is about the landscape, past and present… and really it’s also about people… people’s past.

Coburn says one song lyric states: “We’ve lived here all our lives… all our married lives. We’ve raised our kids here, buried our dead here… watched those we love come and go.”

She says it’s that thread of life being lived – from birth to death – that runs through the piece. 

“That comes back to the sense that people have stories to tell, and that those stories are interesting.”

Opening Up

“Every time we meet, something happens that makes us feel okay,” says Elaine Peden (53), one of the participants in the project.

A working nurse and textile artist, and originally from Co Mayo, she had moved to Clondalkin over 20 years ago to raise her family.

She says, like many of the others, she is both nervous and excited. But she says the end result isn’t what matters most to her – it’s the process.

“As time went on, and we started to open up, a few things came out,” says Peden about the early stages of putting the work together.

Some people were every open and honest, it allowed other people who normally wouldn’t share to share.

“Nobody laughed,” she says. “Everybody received openly and respectfully and I think that helped people to trust. If there wasn’t trust and respect, I don’t think we could have done the project.”

She says she doesn’t care what happens on the nights of the performance – she knows that they will be okay.

“Five years ago I would have thought ‘oh my god, this is going to be so embarrassing, to be standing up there’ and really we’re not fantastic singers… none of us are not hugely talented. We’re just ordinary people.”

She says now she isn’t worried though. She trusts the process.

Barbara Kelly (57) is also a fan of Coburn’s, and her musical collaborator Debra Salem’s, way of doing things.

“I suffer from depression and when I said that out loud in the group… someone was listening and she said it really helped her understand people with depression and how they feel.”

She says you’ll be surprised what you’ll say in a group of people open and willing to listen. She says doing the project has made her a bit braver.

“There’s no way I could have spoken to you on the phone before,” she says. “To other people it might not mean much, but to me it means a lot.”

Ghost Hares was commission under In Context 4 – In Our Time and will be performed 1-3 May at the The Civic Theatre, 8pm. 

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