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The true tale of the Irish rugby players killed in World War I

Pals – The Irish at Gallipoli tells their story.

New An Post stamps to commemorate Gallipoli
New An Post stamps to commemorate Gallipoli

WHEN THEY LEFT Ireland, they were poised to enter the trenches during the Great War.

To Gallipoli they were bound, to wade ashore on the peninsula on behalf of the Allies.

Their attempt ended in defeat, with 3,000 Irish among the Allies’ dead. They included pals from the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF), Irish Rugby Union volunteers who swapped the rugby field for the battlefield.

Now their story is explored in a play that proved so popular first time around, it’s back for another round of performances.

Collins Barracks

Pals – The Irish At Gallipoli isn’t just a play, it’s an experience, where the site is as important as the story. It’s based in the north block in the original dorm billet in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks.

Louise Lowe of Anu Productions spoke to us about the production. ”It’s so human, to be honest,” she said. “We can really connect and appreciate the suffering that the soldiers went through.”

Anu Productions was approached by a military curator at the museum about doing the piece two years ago. An “extraordinary” team of historians gathered the information and stories.

Much of the inspiration came from a book called The Pals of Suvla Bay, which was a record of the 7th RDF at Gallipoli. The members of the 7th RDF trained in 1915, sailing from Holyhead on 30 April of that year.

By 7 August, they had reached their destination.

Forgotten voices

The aim is to bring forward the forgotten voices of the men from the 7th RDF. “We are not trying to make an exhibition or a play,” said Lowe. “It’s almost like we were summoning them back.”

Pals is returning to the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks due to phenomenal demand.

Anu has chosen to focus on four of the soldiers who left the barracks, and during the performance, the actors – as soldiers – sit and chat in their rooms with the audience. “The show is moving through time and space,” said Lowe.

Rugby is used as a way to demonstrate the horror that the men were to experience and how their lives were changed by war, said Lowe.

We tried to use rugby and the skill they had as sportsmen – they were all members of rugby teams - to highlight the breakdown of the body in wartime. We didn’t try to recreate battles.

“Pals couldn’t be about just nostalgia… we wanted to try and create a piece of theatre different from anything we’ve done before,” she added.

Human stories

It’s about human stories, the men’s stories and lives. The “ambitious” production included the actors learning from members of the defence forces how to do a drill march and use a gun. “It became a nexus of experimentation and research,” said Lowe.

They use the story of one man, Ernest Hamilton, to introduce the tale – he was court martialled for being drunk and disorderly, and left without war hero status. His story shows the consequence of the war on one young man.

“He was telling really unfunny jokes about war in his dorm – we use that to springboard back, and then [push] them towards Gallipoli. ”

Raghnall Ó Floinn, Director of the National Museum said:

This highly-charged performance based on the authentic experiences of those who left this very site 100 years ago has touched and moved everyone who has seen it. We look forward to welcoming new visitors to share this experience with us and to view the accompanying exhibition on the Irishmen and women who fought in the First World War.

Pals – The Irish at Gallipoli will run from 4 August until 6 September, from Tuesday to Sunday each week. Tickets are available from www.pals-theirishatgallipoli.com priced €10.

Read: The disastrous WWI Gallipoli campaign, and the brutality of war>

Read: One hundred years ago – 3,000 Irish lives were lost in Turkey>

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