Emma Donoghue is one of the most talented living writers, now holding dual citizenship as an Irish-Canadian. She is best known worldwide for her 2010 novel Room, which was a finalist for the Booker Prize, won the Irish Book Award, and became an international best seller.

The novel was later adapted by Donoghue into a film of the same name, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. In 2017, Donoghue also adapted it into a play, after which it was performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

Donoghue’s novel The Pull of the Stars was published in 2020, earlier than originally planned as it was set in the 1918 influenza pandemic in Dublin. All the characters are fictional with the exception of Dr Kathleen Lynn. She was an Irish Sinn Féin politician, activist and medical doctor, and was so affected by the poverty and disease among the poor in the west of Ireland that, at the age of 16, she decided to study medicine.

After a decade spent working in the United States, she came back to Ireland and was the first female doctor at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin, after which she founded Saint Ultan’s Children’s Hospital in 1919. Named in honour of the patron saint of paediatricians, Saint Ultan’s closed in 1984 after its services transferred to the National Children’s Hospital in Harcourt Street.

A gut-wrenching read, the novel The Pull of the Stars received very positive reviews from critics, and deservedly so. Now transferred to the stage, and adapted by Donoghue, the present run of the play ends on 12 May at Dublin’s Gate Theatre, and if you fail to get a ticket this time, you can be sure it will be staged again.

Featuring an all-female cast, The Pull of the Stars is set over three days in a Dublin maternity hospital during the Spanish influenza outbreak over a century ago. The only downside of this production is that there are so many themes to be crammed into the play, and some of these don’t quite work. That apart, this is a play in which the quality of the ensemble is faultless, and you will leave with a mix of feelings, having been entertained, educated and had your heart ripped out.

The central role is that of the nurse Julia, played so compellingly by Sarah Morris, as she deals with the grim realities of three very different characters giving birth. She also develops a loving bond with Bridie, a victim of the Magdalene Laundry regime who has escaped their tyranny. India Mullen, who starred with Paul Mescal of Normal People, is outstanding as Della, as too is Úna Kavanagh in the part of Honor.

From every point of view – staging, costume, lighting and acting, The Pull of the Stars shines under the direction of Louise Lowe. This is play that will become a favourite, and it could not be more highly recommended.


Opera treats in stunning locations around Ireland

The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival is a summer delight, 27 May - 3 June in Lismore.

With some events already sold out, you will need to act now for what remains available at the upcoming Blackwater Valley Opera Festival. This eight-day extravaganza runs from 27 May to 3 June at Lismore, Youghal, Dungarvan, and Castlemartyr.

In addition to 75 hours of live music from 100 international and Irish performers, across 22 events in 11 venues, visitors can enjoy bespoke dining experiences and stunning historic venues. This is a real treat for everyone.

Anchoring the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival is Giulio Cesare by George Frideric Handel, and this will be performed in the breathtaking grounds of Lismore Castle, Waterford. Conductor Nicholas McGegan leads the Irish Baroque Orchestra and a cast directed by Tom Creed in a truly unmissable interpretation of Handel’s masterpiece.

The 2024 Blackwater Valley Opera Festival concert series at Dromore Yard will feature performances such as a bel canto operatic concert, Of Emperors, Kings, and Queens, starring Serenad Uyar, Leonardo Galeazzi, and Dearbhla Collins; the Clara Haskil piano competition concert presented by Finghin Collins, featuring Magdalene Ho with Marc Coppey; and the festival finale, the Antonio Vivaldi concert with the Irish Baroque Orchestra, all staged in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East.

The ever-popular free, open-air lunchtime recitals return to Waterford (Lismore and Dungarvan) and Cork (Youghal and Castlemartyr). These musical events are the perfect opportunity to experience classical and operatic music in a welcoming and relaxed environment.

• The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival is a summer delight, 27 May - 3 June in Lismore blackwatervalleyopera.ie

Artistry in wood proves popular

One of the 40 works on show at The Hunt Museum, Limerick.

Due to end on 10 May, The Hunt Museum in Limerick is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Irish Woodturners Guild with a curated exhibition featuring 40 exceptionally turned wood forms that demonstrate excellence in craftsmanship and design. The exhibition is free for all to attend.

‘Turning Turns 40’ shows the skills of artists who were challenged to create works to a certain scale and size. Guild members were required to work from a uniform sized block of Ash which presents a set of its own technical and design challenges. Some 360 cubes of Ash were distributed, from which 40 final pieces were selected. The pieces on show demonstrate the creativity and wood-turning expertise of members, as well as highlighting the critical issue of Ash dieback disease, which threatens the future of one of Ireland’s finest native trees.

• huntmuseum.com

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