‘Animals’ - Ballyfermot playwright heads to Smock Alley

By Tiana Binns

Ballyfermot playwright, Dylan Henvey, will feature his stand-alone piece, ‘Animals’, at the Scene and Heard festival on Sunday, February 23 in Smock Alley.

The play was accepted into the festival last November and is based around the history of the working class in Dublin.

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Ballyfermot native Dylan Henvey

Based on the animal gangs that involved violent rivalries between Dublin youth from opposite sides of the city, starting in the thirties and going well into the fifties, ‘Animals’ follows the protagonist and newsboy, Francis Lawless, in a gruelling journey to get himself and his family out of poverty by whatever means necessary.

In an interview with The Echo, Dylan Henvey explains how this play came to be, its importance and the future projects he is working on.

Where are you from and when did you start writing?

I’m from Ballyfermot, but I went to school in Clondalkin and lived there for ten years. I also studied media in Ballyfermot College in 2005 to 2006, but didn’t finish the degree. I’ve always had an interest in writing though.

In May 2017 I joined the Ballyfermot Writers Group. It’s a very warm and welcoming group for anyone interested in writing. It was founded and is run by Rodney Olgsby. He goes by the pen name Camilus John.

What is your past experience with writing?

I stay active in the Ballyfermot writer’s group, but since joining I’ve jumped around between strengths. I’ve done multiple readings in the Pearse Street Library and many spoken-word nights around Dublin.

I’ve done spoken-word poetry at the monthly open-mic event that takes place in the Laurels in Clondalkin called Dolcáin’s Cellar. More recently, in 2019 I had my play ‘Once Upon a Time in West Dublin’ accepted into the History Festival and then there’s ‘Animals’, my stand-alone piece that got accepted into the Scene and Heard festival last November. That one will be featured at the festival in February in Smock Alley.

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Some of the cast from the play ‘Animals’

Why did you write the play ‘Animals’?

We have so much history in this city, but 90 per cent of history goes undocumented and unnoticed. It just gets lost. I find this especially true with working class history. In the end, right or wrong, good or bad, I want that history known. I want it heard.

The working class have a history. They were there every second of the way and they had lives that mattered. They had adventures.

They deserve to be heard and remembered, not forgotten. That’s why I wrote ‘Animals’. Animal gangs in Ireland were the Irish Peaky Blinders, the working-class youth and gang members. They are legendary in Dublin folklore. I felt it was about time that their legend was told and brought to life.

What is the play about and based on?

The play is based on Dublin’s animal gangs primarily. The animals were real Dublin street gangs who first appear in news stories in the thirties and continued to make headlines into the forties.

The first piece of the story is a prelude. It’s the animal gang’s origin story. It’s set around the printer’s strike that took place in Dublin in September 1934. The protagonist of the story is an innocent newsboy named Francis Lawless.

He struggles with the desire to free himself and his family from the grinding poverty and squalor of the tenements. After the printer’s strike breaks out, newspaper boys like Francis do not receive strike pay like the printers do.

As newsboys are already among the most vulnerable of the city’s poor, Francis ends up becoming the founder of the legendary Animal gang and head of the Dublin underground in an attempt to break out of poverty.

After his baby sister dies of disease, he loses faith in his socialist ideals and comes to the realisation that he alone can change his circumstances and that he is going to by any means necessary.

The story continues with Francis meeting a young but worldly prostitute named Molly Malone with whom he is besotted. Molly, however, cannot be with him without the promise of material security for herself and her family, so Francis’s incentive to escape poverty intensifies.

The play ‘Animals’ also features famous Irish and Dublin figures such as Eoin O’Duffy, leader of the Blueshirts, Lugs Branigan, Dublin city’s most legendary garda, George Herbert Simms, Molly Malone and Leo Burdock. The story also touches on Frank Ryan, the famous Socialist and Irish Republican, whom Christy Moore sung of in ‘Viva la Quinta Brigada’.

What future projects do you have underway?

I have several projects underway at the moment. I am working on another play for next Halloween that’s set around the legends of the Hell Fire Club, originally called Mountpelier Hill.

There are legends of occult practices and demonic manifestations that would take place here that have become part of local lore.

Buck Whaley and all of those lads are great characters. They have a great local history and are legends.

I’m looking to title the play, ‘The 40 Steps to Hell’, after a medieval shortcut around St Audeon’s church. It is said that the shortcut was all it took for the faithful of Dublin to descend all the way to hell. It only took 40 steps for the 18th century citizens to descend to a squalid pocket of brothels, taverns and laneways known as ‘Hell’, so I am looking for that to be what my next play is named after.

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