By Molly Shoulta ‘13
GC News Bureau Intern
Theatre professor George McGee, left, and Georgetown College Maskrafters Amanda Kachler, Stu Perry and Michael McCord, rested on the steps of Kilkenny Castle last fall.
Little did Georgetown College professor George McGee dream that in the pursuit of his family heritage, the rolling hills of Ireland would somehow work their way back to the bluegrass of Kentucky. With a wee bit of luck of the Irish, not only was his heritage revealed and embraced, but a connection important to Georgetown College students and possibly the surrounding community was also sparked.
In the Fall of 2009, the Georgetown Maskrafters took McGee’s original play, “A Fence for Martin Maher,” to present in the historic Rothe House in Kilkenny, Ireland at the Ireland National Heritage Festival. The Moondharrig Players, who have a family connection with McGee, were their hosts.
Returning the favor March 31 through April 10, the Maskrafters will have as guests the very same troupe that welcomed the College’s contingent to Ireland. The Moondharrig Players will perform “The Country Boy” on April 6, 7, and 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Ruth Pearce Wilson Lab Theatre. “The chance to hear and see an Irish play by Irish actors doesn’t come by often,” McGee said.
The Irish play tells the story of Eddie Maher (no relation to Martin), who immigrated to the United States in hopes of finding the fame and fortune it promised during the 1950’s. Upon writing home, he only speaks of positive experiences and even lies to family members about his success. He soon returns home, however, and before long the truths of the hardship, alcoholism, and regrets come out. Eddie’s brother, Curly, also has dreams of leaving everything behind to pursue the same dreams in the states.
Eddie convinces him otherwise, reminding him that it’s not the pursuit of riches that matter, but the time spent with family. The drama-comedy is set partly in County Mayo and partly in the U.S., and shows the immense social differences and problems faced by immigrants even through the mid-Twentieth century.
After the first two performances, Barbara Burch, Chair of Georgetown College’s English department, and former Berea College Theatre professor Al DeGiacomo, now pastor at the University of Kentucky’s Newman Center, will lead the audience in a discussion of the play, Irish heritage and the intersection of cultures.
The journey of bringing this Irish troupe to Georgetown began long before the Maskrafters participation in last fall’s heritage festival in Kilkenny. What would evolve into this unique relationship began over two decades ago.
In 1986, George McGee dealt with the passing of his father. What was a mourning period for his family also brought questions. After the death of his father, McGee realized that his heritage and ancestry were unbeknownst to him. The worst thing he could do was let it go – “If I didn’t find out about my Irish heritage,” he explained, “my kids would know even less.”
The following year he started with family trees, which eventually led him to a small village in Ireland. On a twist of fate, he walked right past his relatives in Mooncoin until he was directed back to them.
McGee kept searching for more answers. When seeking out the ancestry of his family, he corresponded with some distant relatives via letter, and upon a later visit to Ireland was asked his profession. When he told them he was a Theater professor at a small college in Kentucky, “their eyes lit up.” His Irish family was part of a theater company, he discovered, and the connection only grew stronger – setting the stage for the reciprocal visits during this school year.
During the Maskrafters’ fall trip, both McGee and Amanda Kachler, a senior from Maysville, commented over and over again on the warm welcome and genuine hospitality of the Irish people. “We’ll try to mirror their hospitality,” Kachler said. “They always made sure our needs were met, and always had tea ready,” she joked.
The only challenge about hosting them will be to trying to match their hospitality – but picking the generally scenic month of April will help. Among the Irish guests’ excursions are visits to Coolmore Horse Farm in Versailles and the Toyota plant in Georgetown.
Expect these Irish thespians to be looking for “connections” throughout their Bluegrass visit. McGee spoke of the avid determination of the Irish to find ties with everyone they meet, relating back to friends and family in all parts of the world. He says that the Irish even joke about their connections to everyone.
McGee knows that Georgetown, Lexington and the surrounding area are full of folks with Irish heritage. As they emigrated from Ireland to the states, the Irish kept moving westward. When they found the foothills of Kentucky and the Appalachian mountains, they found it so reminiscent of their home that they settled here.
The askrafters gained an added appreciation for what is right here in the Bluegrass on their trip to Ireland and they expect their Irish guests to have similar feelings when they arrive. “It made us appreciate the land,” Kachler reflected. “It made us appreciate the richness of the earth that was so similar to Kentucky and the rural aspect of it all.” The trip has influenced Kachler to travel more and be open-minded to other cultures and customs.
Meanwhile, McGee is hopeful these new bonds will grow. He has also initiated conversations with leaders in Scott County about strengthening the relationship of this area with that of Mooncoin – possibly as Sister Cities. At the very least, he envisions a visit here or there every three to four years.
“It’s funny how life just seems to line up sometimes,” McGee laughed.
“The Country Boy” will run April 6, 7 and 8 starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Ruth Pearce Wilson Lab Theatre. There is the possibility for a follow-up matinee if there is enough interest. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults at the door. Or, they may be reserved and purchased at The Store, (502) 863-8134.br />