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New tribute to the 1971 contraceptive train which changed Ireland's sexual landscape forever

A musical has been written about the movement.

ONE SATURDAY MORNING in May 1971, 49 Irish women changed the social landscape of Ireland when they took a train from Belfast to Dublin.

The women were part of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement and they made news all over the world when they brought condoms down from Northern Ireland, while contraception was illegal in the Republic.

It was a landmark moment in the Irish women’s movement, which became known as the contraceptive train.

The story is being brought to the stage next month in the form of a musical, The Train.

‘Beginning of the split between Church and State’

While contraception was available in the North, the woman couldn’t get their hands on the pill on the trip as they didn’t have a prescription, so they bought large amounts of condoms.

They also decided to buy hundreds of aspirin tablets and publicly swallow them at the station, as customs officials wouldn’t immediately know the difference.

Director of The Train and Artistic Director of Rough Magic, Lynne Parker said, “The IWLM and The Contraceptive Train marked the beginning of the split between Church and State – a schism that is ongoing.”

Speaking about the movement, writer Arthur Riordan told TheJournal.ie,

The very theatricality of the gesture makes it brilliant, it was very smart, it’s such a fascinating story.

unnamed Actors Karen McCartney, Lisa Lambe and Sophie Jo Wasson on Platform 2 at Connolly Station, the exact place where the train arrived 44 years ago.

He said that one of the challenges of the play was “trying to get across how difficult it was for these women to do what they did at that time in Ireland”.

When you set a play in the past, hopefully people will look at the absurd stuff we took for granted then and wonder if there’s anything still absurd today.

Asked if he thinks the play will link in with the conversation Ireland is currently having about the 8th amendment, Riordan said:

“I think there is never a time in Ireland when reproductive rights aren’t a topical subject.”

00001542 Contraceptives being sold illegally in the Dandelion market in Dublin by the Contraceptive Action Committee in November 1980. Source: Eamonn Farrell via RollingNews.ie

He also pointed out that the movement was supported by many journalists which helped the cause:

Because there were so many journalists involved, they had a good start compared to places where the media were very much against the idea.

Irish journalist and feminist Nell McCafferty was a leading member of the movement.

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NELL Source: Archives via RTÉ

Describing the events of that day, broadcaster Marian Finucane said that half of the women didn’t even know what condoms looked like and “nearly died of embarrassment”.

They were terrified their mammies would see them getting off the train.

Parker described the women and their supporters as “young activists, smart, stylish, impatient with the status quo and ahead of their time”.

00042452 (1) Journalist Mary Kenny in 2002. She was closely involved in the founding of the Irish Women's Liberation movement. Source: Gareth Chaney via RollingNews.ie

She added: “The Train is a piece of contemporary musical theatre with social history and a political edge, the aim is to convey the spirit of the time, the exhilaration and momentum, and the need for change, which has so much to say to modern Ireland.

unnamed (1)

So many young women – and men – have no idea how recent, and how hard won, the graphic social changes in Irish society have been.

“This production wants to connect the passion felt by young people today to the revolutionary spirit of the sixties’ and seventies’ feminists, who laid the foundations of many of the achievements we are now inclined to take for granted. And it will demonstrate, entertainingly, the absurdities of legislation that refuses to acknowledge the realities of women’s lives.”

The Train, with music composed by Bill Whelan and book and lyrics by Arthur Riordan, will premiere at the Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick on October 1, then run as part of Dublin Theatre Festival at Project Arts Centre from Tuesday October 6.

Read: Complaint that Ireland AM showed condom being put onto model of erect penis>

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