Michael P. Harding


Life
1953- [latterly Michael Harding]; b. Co. Cavan; ed. Maynooth seminary, first for the priesthood and then as lay student; taught for two years and afterwards became social worker, returning to Maynooth to resume studies for the priesthood; ord. 1980 and appt. to a parish in Fermanagh; left church in 1985, after the election of Pope John Pau II; winner of Hennessy Literary Award for stories, 1980, and an Arts Council/Chomhairle Ealaíon bursary, 1985 [var. 1986]; issued novel, Priest (1987), begun in 1971, and based on his clerical experience; quickly followed into print with The Trouble with Sarah Gullion (1988), inspired by the suffering Fermanagh women in the Troubles;
 
his plays include Strawboys (Peacock 1987), nominated for two Harvey awards; Una Pooka (Peacock 1989), set during the Papal visit of John Paul II to Ireland, winner of RTE/Bank of Ireland Award, for which a BBC broadcast version was planned 1990; The Waking of Brian Boru (Ennis 1989); Misogynist (Dublin Theatre Fest. 1990), winner of RTE/Bank of Ireland Award, was revived as solo performance with Tom Hickey, and toured successfully in Ireland; winner of the first Stewart Parker New Playwright’s Bursary, 1990; issued Hubert Murray’s Widow (1993); also a stage-version of Priest (Abbey ?1993); wrote Where the Heart Is (1994), a one-act piece produced by Passion Machine Th. Co. at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin;
 
his play Backside to the Wind was produced by Red Kettle Theatre (Andrews Lane Th., 30 March 1995); also Amazing Grace (Peacock 1998), and Sour Grapes (1997), a play about paedophilia and homosexuality in clerical life; received award for Best Male Performer at Dublin Fringe Festival, 2003; wrote The Tinker's Curse (2007), a play concerning a road-side death; issued Bird in the Snow (2008), a novel relating 24 hours in the life of an elderly widow [“Birdie”] as she buries her son Gussie whose sexual deviance is glimpsed through her life-long memories of sorrow; Harding has acted with the Abbey Theatre Co., Gare St. Lazare, Theatre du Radeau and Blue Raincoats, and worked with drama groups in Cavan, Sligo, Roscommon, Donegal and Dublin; travelled to Mongolia and has practiced Buddhism for seventeen years; he lives in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath; member of Aosdána.

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Works
Fiction, Priest (Blackstaff 1987); The Trouble with Sarah Gullion (Blackstaff 1988), 128pp.; Bird in the Snow (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2008), 220pp.

Plays, “Una Pooka”, in First Run 2 (London: Nick Hern Books 1990); “Hubert Murray’s Widow”, in New Plays from the Abbey Theatre, Vol. 1: 1993-1995, ed. Christopher Fitz-Simon & Sanford Sternlicht [Irish Studies] (Syracuse UP 1996), xxiv, 315pp., ill.; “Sour Grapes”, in New Plays from the Abbey Theatre, Vol 2: 1996-1998, ed. Judy Friel & Sanford Sternlicht (Syracuse UP 2001).

Chronology of First Performances

Strawboys (Peacock / Abbey Theatre, 1987)
Una Pooka (Peacock / Abbey Theatre 1989)
Misogynist (Abbey Theatre, 1990)
Burying Brian Boru (Theatre Omnibus, 1990)
Where the Heart Is (Project Arts Centre, 199[4]) [Passion Machine]
Hubert Murrays Widow (Peacock Abbey Theatre, 1993)
The Kiss (Project Arts Centre, 1994)
Ceacht Houdini (Amharclann de hIde, 1994)
Backsides to the Wind (Red Kettle, 1995)
Sour Grapes (Peacock - Abbey Theatre, 1997)
Amazing Grace ( Peacock Abbey Theatre, 1998)
Bog Dances (Steve Wickham & Shake the Spear Theatre, Dunamaise Arts Centre 2000)
Sleeping a Lovesong (Project Arts Centre 2002)
Talking Through His Hat (Dublin Fringe Festival, The Focus, 2002)
Swallow (Gare St Lazare at Dublin Fringe Festival 2003)
Birdie Birdie, for Blue Raincoat Theatre, (2004)
Tearmann (Siamsa Tire, The National Folk Theatre of Ireland, 2006)
The Tinker's Curse (Livin Dred Theatre Co., 2007)
Is There Balm in Gilead? (Pavillion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, 2007)
Moriarty (Siamsa Tire, 2009)

Source: All Souls’ Day Theatre Co. (Mullingar) [online; 2006.2009.]

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Memoir, Staring at Lakes: A Memoir of Love, Melancholy and Magical Thinking (Dublin: Hachette Ireland 2013).

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Criticism
The Irish Times, 19 Nov. 1994) - notice: John Banville, Seachange, and Michael Harding, Kiss, at the Focus Theatre, Dublin; Harding’s play Ceacht Houdini, dir. Bairbre Ní Chaoimh, presented by Amharclann de hÍde, at Peacock. Sue Leonard, review of Bird in the Snow, in Books Ireland (Freb. 2009), p.16.

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Commentary
‘Misogynist’, in David Grant, sel. and intro., The Crack in the Emerald, New Irish Play (Nick Hern Books 1990, 1994), noticed by Brian Fallon (Irish Times 14.1.95) and evoked in terms of ‘rantings of Harding’s “feminist”.’

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Quotations
[Shirley Kelly,] ‘A Long Shadow’, interview-article, in Books Ireland (Dec. 2008), quotes: ‘For me, theatre is much more immediate and much more collaborative [...] There’s an active engagement with other people. It’s a full life, whereas I would find sitting at home writing novels very lonely, very driven. I was always going to the theatre when I was younger, I loved the work of Tom McIntyre and corresponded with him over the years. I kept sending scripts to the Abbey but it was only after I’d published Priest that my first play was accepted. Since then I’ve been lucky to have worked steadily in the theatre. When other people are involved and there's a deadline, you have to deliver the script, and that’s a good discipline. With the novels, bits and pieces, notes and ideas, come together over a long period until a story, a character emerges. There’s no plan, it just evolves.’ Received typewriter on 15th birthday; entered seminary and stayed on as lay student; taught for two years on graduation; worked as social worker; returned to Maynooth was ordained after four years; appt. to Fermanagh parish; attended funeral of UDR man killed in the area; broke with Church in 1985: ‘Liberation theology was still gaining ground. Then a Polish pope was elected and we began to see signs of a restoration papacy. I knew then I had to leave.’ Started writing Bird in the Snow in c.1990, working as writer-in-residence in Roscommon. (Biographical details as supra.)

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I wrote a sweet little affirmative note, as people do on Facebook’, in The Irish Times (28 May 2013), “Life & Style” [sect.]: ‘I know a woman west of the Shannon who doesn’t smile any more. She came from some big city, and her face used to radiate, like ripe apples, but now when she drives her car she chews gum, raises her hand in salute like all the other locals, and keeps her eyes on the road. She has been hardened by dark winters in a world where men don’t flirt. [...] Her husband has forgotten who she was when she arrived first from the glittering city. She moves around his house with cleaning liquids in squirting bottles, tripping over the children’s toys, cleaning up the wine bottles and ashes from last night’s war. / Especially the ashes, the remains of big doobies, because he’s a heavy drinker, and a stoner, but she’s too busy negotiating her path through each day to find the big picture, and leave him. [...]’ (Available online; accessed 28 May 2013.)

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References
Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares & Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: G&M 1994), selects ‘Misogynist’.

There is a list of his plays with performance details at Doollee.com - online;
see also his Wikipedia page.

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Notes
The Trouble with Sarah Gullion (1988), a novel concerned with the plight of contemporary Irish women in an Ireland of hard men and gunmen; Sarah, married to James Gullion, lives in a frightening closed world of brutality and humiliation; harshly conservative neighburs and in-laws turn a blind eye on her subjection, driving her deeper and deeper into an inner life that loses touch with external reality; called by New Nation reviewer a ‘vision of a hsyterical province of sexual violence, mental disintegration, and sectarian conspiracy’ (Blackstaff Catalogue, 1988).

Where the Heart Is (1994), a play in which a returned emigrant tells his story of love, and the chaos that every life descends into at the end of it all; based upon the author’s casual encounter with a man waiting for a bus in Blacklion.

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Bird in the Snow (2008): “Birdie” mourns her son Gussie, recently dead, who was dismissed from his teaching post on account of undue attention to school-girls (‘there were odd moments, as the years went by, when her unconditional love could not mask an unbearable revulsion’). She recalls her empty marriage to ‘the vet’ whom she caught because she could dance better than the other girls, but who actually preferred boys. (Derived from review in Books Ireland, Feb. 2009.)

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Misogynist (1990), a play concerning women left to carry the horror of the time, and based on ‘obsessive male voice at once guilty, arrogant, and sexually fearful’ [see Patrick Burke, revew of David Grant, ed., The Crack in the Emerald (2nd edn. 1994).

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Poorhouse, a screen version of his story on the famine, was broadcast on RTE (3 April 1996), dir. Frank Stapleton.

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