US students staging Dancing at Lughnasa travel to Donegal to perfect accent

Group from LaGrange College, Georgia, is scheduled to put on Friel’s creation next month

The portrayal of Irish characters in US film and television productions has a long, and often complicated, history.

Attempts at the Irish accent – think Tom Cruise in Far and Away, Julia Roberts in Michael Collins and Brad Pitt in The Devil’s Own – have been panned for getting it so badly wrong.

Performing arts students from America are so keen to get it right for an upcoming staging of Brian Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa that they recently crossed the Atlantic and travelled to Co Donegal.

The group from LaGrange College, Georgia, is scheduled to put on Friel’s creation next month following the 12,000km round trip to where the play is set.


Their week-long visit to Glenties, which featured in the 1998 screen version of Dancing at Lughnasa starring Meryl Streep, saw the group receive a warm welcome from locals as they sought to immerse themselves in local culture.

Hosted by the Bundoran-based Institute of Study Abroad Ireland (ISAI), the students went to Siopa Lúghnasa where fresh scones were served, and then to The Laurels, Friel’s family cottage, to get a sense of the play’s setting.

There was a performance by Helen Power from Friel’s play Faith Healer at the Lughnasa Creative Art Centre and a call to St Connell’s Museum for a chat with curator Anne McLoone.

Director and playwright Maura Logue, founder of Dark Daughter Productions and Costume Hire, connected with the group in advance of the trip and prepared workshops, interviews and other experiences for them.

Logue and ISAI instructor Aidan Given worked with the students on local history, cultural context, dialect and accent among other things.

Kim Barber Knoll, programme chairwoman of the LaGrange College theatre department and director of the Dancing at Lughnasa production, said the visit was something the group would never forget.

“This experience in Donegal has not only prepared us for our performance in February, but it has also changed all of us,” she said.

“Donegal is more beautiful and friendly and rich in culture than we could have imagined and being guided so masterfully by Maura through the text was an enrichment our students will never forget.”

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