Shane Connaughton in The Pitch Image Name: Shane Connaughton in The Pitch Description: Shane Connaughton in The Pitch - the play at the heart of Documentary on One: The Undiscovered Country. Photo by Des McMahon Copyright: Photo by Des McMahon
Shane Connaughton Image Name: Shane Connaughton

Shane Connaughton has lived the high life, as a playwright on the West End of London and an Oscar-nominated scriptwriter (for My Left Foot). But when writer and producer Colin Murphy went to interview him on the occasion of his most recent play, The Pitch, they found themselves talking about an event that had happened over 60 years earlier.

In the quiet of the backstage room at the New Theatre in Temple Bar, Shane recalled how his family had moved home when he was ten, from the small town of Kingscourt in Cavan to the border village of Redhills, because his father, a garda, had been promoted and assigned to a new station – and as he told Colin about the story, he broke down.

The “wrench” had haunted him ever since, he said; the sense of loss if left him with had fueled his career as an actor and writer. The play he was promoting, The Pitch, was about the village of Redhills, and it turned out that he was bringing the play to Redhills shortly afterwards. Intrigued to learn more about that childhood trauma, Colin went along.

Towing the set in an old trailer behind us, the duo drove slowly up through Cavan, and as they did, Shane travelled back to his childhood. His father was the sergeant, and so he grew up in a barracks – and a barracks is a strange place to grow up. His stories of his childhood recalled those of John McGahern, another son of a garda in a border county. His father was a hard man, reared on hard land, from which the Garda Síochána was the only escape. His people had been evicted during the famine, and eked out a living in a hut on the bog. His mother had heard Parnell speak at a mass meeting, and when Parnell said that one day the people would own their own land, she thought he was mad. Shane’s father joined the guards in 1923, in the wake of the Civil War, and these experiences made him; a man of great strength and inner reserves, but a hard man, and distant.

Colin and Shane put up the set, and visited some local friends, Shane staged the play and they visited the barracks where Shane grew up. Colin began to see that Shane was haunted not so much by the loss of his first childhood home, as by his father.

This is a simple, human story, about fathers and sons, and death and memory. And, through it all, the desire to get up on a stage in a parish hall and tell a story.