EIF 2016: Before the Hudson and the Liffey; James Connolly in Edinburgh and Leith

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Edinburgh International Festival
Ben Harrison (creative associate), Terry Brotherstone (historical consultant), Hilary Horrocks (picture research), Maeve Mackinnon (composer)
Kevin Lennon, Helen Mackay, Maeve Mackinnon (vocals), Brian McAlpine (piano), Aiden O'Rourke (fiddle)
Running time

‘Made in Hong Kong, assembled in Fife’ is how musician Andy Chung describes his background. James Connolly, on the other hand, was very much made in, and by, Edinburgh.

Before the Hudson and the Liffey attempts to put the young James Connolly back where he once belonged, before hagiography attempted to steal him for its own purposes.

Introduced with aplomb and authority by Terry Brotherstone, who gave an appropriately erudite introduction to Connolly’s early life in Edinburgh,Before the Hudson and the Liffey then proceeded by way of extracts from Connolly’s own writings, from The Non-Stop Connolly Show by the late John Arden and Margareta D’Arcy and other material, the whole illustrated by contemporary photographs, to fill in what is often passed over in comparative silence.

Edinburgh made the political and social activist that Connolly was, in some sense merely by its existence as a city of many contrasts, the most glaring of which, in Connolly’s time and now, lies in its social divisions, largely unspoken and discreetly expressed, but nevertheless relentlessly observed.

Kevin Lennon and Helen Mackay both gave measured, thoughtful interpretations from the written sources, Maeve Mackinnon likewise of the selection from the lyrics written by Connolly on various, mainly political, topics, ably accompanied by Brian McAlpine on piano and Aiden O’Rourke on fiddle.

Wisely and appropriately Before the Hudson and the Liffey remained largely concerned with Connolly’s Edinburgh experience, a brief remembrance of the late Ian Bell, of being taken as a child to witness the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in the Cowgate in memory of his great-uncle forming a particularly poignant element of the epilogue to this unique production.

Although his time in Edinburgh had a lasting impact on Connolly – it is said that he never lost his Edinburgh accent – Edinburgh itself has been reluctant to acknowledge its part in his upbringing and formative experiences. Before the Hudson and the Liffey goes some way toward redressing this.

This one-off Edinburgh International Festival event took place 20 August, 11.00 a.m.