While growing up in his native Ireland, Richard Kearney recalls his grandparents describing numerous instances of loved ones, friends, and neighbors caught on opposing sides of Irish-British relations in 1916. In that year, an estimated 485 Irish died in the Easter Rising insurrection to end British rule, while 3,500 Irish soldiers in the British Army were killed at the Battle of the Somme in France during World War I.
Kearney, a resident of Newton and the Charles Seelig Professor in Philosophy at Boston College, believes that the centenary is a cause for commemoration but also reflection toward the future. Both aspects are expressed in the multimedia presentation, “Twinsome Minds: Recovering 1916 in Images and Stories.”
Kearney wrote, co-directs, and performs in “Twinsome Minds,” whose title comes from a phrase in James Joyce’s novel “Finnegans Wake.” The performance incorporates storytelling, animation, music, and poetry to interpret the events of 1916 for a new generation, with moving images by Jamaica Plain multimedia artist Sheila Gallagher who teaches fine arts at Boston College.
Their original work, which is part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, was commissioned and supported by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre where the premiere on Jan. 23 was attended by Ireland President Michael D. Higgins. An international tour, funded by Culture Ireland, will include a stop at Boston’s Tsai Performance Center on April 29.
Kearney said his own family history reflects the dual loyalties portrayed in “Twinsome Minds.” His father, Dr. Kevin Kearney, was a nationalist who believed in Irish independence. Yet, he volunteered — alongside many of his fellow Irishmen — in the British Navy during World War II, enabling Richard Kearney’s education to be paid by a British Navy pension.
Kearney, who returns to Cork, Ireland, for three months each year, said retelling these stories is an important acknowledgement of the struggles and sacrifices on both sides. It also reinforces the 1916 Proclamation of “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 accepting citizens as “Irish or British, or both.”
“The matter of ‘us versus them’ is a recipe for war for all states and nations,” Kearney said. “Moving beyond it, in a world context, is the only way forward.”
For more information, visit twinsomeminds.com.