The Wife of Michael Cleary: new piece of music theatre in development
For a couple of years I’ve been working on a piece of music theatre based on the true story of Bridget Cleary, who was killed by her family in 1895 in Co. Tipperary because they believed her to be a fairy changeling. Her life is a moving story about an independent, clever, ambitious woman who fell prey to misogynistic gossip and the power of superstition.
When I learned of Bridget’s story, I immediately heard music. The fairies, the nationalist backdrop, the rural 19th-Century Irish community, the free-spirited young woman: these all suggested musical themes to me.
I started writing it in 2017, on my own, in my flat, using Logic Pro. In the Summer of 2018 I took a research trip to Co. Tipperary and spent a fascinating week exploring the area Bridget used to live in. I found the site of her cottage, the shop where she apprenticed to a dressmaker, and many fairy rings in the local area.
Fairies, in Irish folklore, are not sweet or pretty. The gaelic name is the aos sí or the Tuatha Dé Danann, meaning the people of the Goddess Danu. They are amoral, and aligned with nature and the old ways. They were known to take people, especially children and young women, jealous and wanting them for their own. They would replace them with a changeling, who looked exactly like the human they had taken, but was actually a fairy which would bring decay and misfortune to the community.
I kept working on the music when I came back from my trip and in 2020 I received some funding from EFDSS to work with a writer on the script. Dramaturg Alan Flanagan helped me develop a draft of the whole piece, and In September 2020 I was invited to Britten Pears Arts to workshop it with a group of wonderful creative people (2 metres apart of course!) We were filmed and our week’s work was shown as part of the digital Festival of New in February 2021.