Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Label: The Casement Project

February 08, 2016

The skeleton of Dublin – Filming Allagóirí Chumhachta (and The Casement Project)

Photo Tom Flanagan

Photo Tom Flanagan

The quarry where we’re filming has provided, in the words of one of the four brothers whose family has run it for generations, the skeleton of Dublin. Granite from this quarry near Blessington has been used in state buildings and statues throughout the city. Its the connection to statues that has brought me there, invited by artists Megs Morley and Tom Flanagan to perform in a short film they’re making for TG4’s Splanc commissions. Called Allagóirí Chumhachta (Allegories of Power), it will explore the significance of stone statues found throughout Ireland and their relationship to political history and collective memory.


Ostensibly, I’m on a break from The Casement Project. Though I researched The Casement Project through my own dancing (on my own and with Aoife McAtamney, thanks to an Arts Council Bursary), I’m not expecting to dance in the work as it develops. However, as I encourage other people to experience and extend the potential of their bodies, it would be ironic if I lost touch with my own body, so I’ve been saying yes to opportunities that come up for me to dance and to perform. I don’t want to lose touch with the challenge and with the pleasure of those connections that happen in the special circumstances of performing. For that reason, I was quick to accept the invitation from Megs and Tom to be in their film.

Photo Tom Flanagan

Photo Tom Flanagan

And of course, it’s not really a break from The Casement Project: the focus on commemoration in Allagóirí Chumhachta and the place of the body in it is absolutely my concern, particularly as we prepare for the Bodies Politic Symposium at Maynooth this month. Tom and Megs are linking stone as a raw material, the carving process, the commemorative statues around Ireland and, in me, the living body. I feel I’m processing a legacy of statuary – male and female, heroic and abject, triumphant and serene – a seeing what those figurative images become when re-experienced in a contemporary body.

Because it’s about the materiality of stone and the materiality of flesh, I’m naked when we shoot. The rain and cold make me aware of my limits, what I can tolerate only to a certain point in conditions that statues are made to endure. I’ve been frozen, my teeth chattering, my consciousness contracting in a knot of neck and upper-back tension that the cold provokes. Fortunately there’s a camper-van in I can get warm again, release the tension, relax and open my narrowed, hunched physicality beyond its primary survival state.

Photo Tom Flanagan

Photo Tom Flanagan

And, I must stress, I don’t hate this experience. It’s not something I’m forced to do but something I choose. Like so often when I’ve worked in challenging environments, I feel a particular aliveness, a sensitivity heightened by my exposed body, by open skies and by the demanding textures of the varied surfaces on which I’m moving.

I’ve agreed to this shoot because I want to stay alive to my own dancing body and that energises me to encourage others to find their own dancing this year of The Casement Project. I’m happy to create more hospitable environments for others in the first steps of that dance but don’t mind celebrating the resilience of bodies in challenging circumstances too.

Photo Tom Flanagan

Photo Tom Flanagan

December 17, 2015

Research at the National Archives – The Casement Project

Extract from Irish Times 1960 Maurice O'Gorman on The Black DiariesI’ve gotten closer to Casement’s diaries. Having read them first a few years ago in an edition by Roger Sawyer, and more recently in Jeffrey Dudgeon‘s gay-friendly edition, I’ve been approaching them and Casement through archive material in the British Library and in the National Archives in Kew. In Kew, there is the letter from the Dr Percy Mander, the duty prison medical officer at Pentonville Prison who examined Casement’s body after his hanging to probe whether he could have had the sex he wrote about.

I made the examination which was the subject of our conversation at the Home Office on Tuesday, after the conclusion of the inquest today, and found unmistakable evidence of the practices to which it was alleged the prisoner in question had been addicted. The anus was at a glance seen to be dilated and on making a digital examination (rubber gloves) I found that the lower part of the bowel was dilated as far as the fingers could reach.

There’s a letter from Harley Street psychiatrists, R Percy Smith and Maurice Craig who affirm that ‘ in our opinion that the writer [Casement] must be regarded undoubtedly as mentally abnormal individual.’ There are sworn affidavits from hotel staff in Norway where Casement stayed with his valet and lover Adler Christensen that the pair were having sex together.

I hearby declare that Sir Roger Casement was seen by me on Karl Johan’s street, Kristiania [modern Oslo] October 29th 1914 in the company of a well-known “sodomite” from Bergen, the German teacher of languages BAUREMEISTER.
I have also made thorough investigation with regard to Sir Roger Casement’s conduct during his stay in Kristiania . He came there from America together with a Norwegian named Adler Christensen, a native of MOSS. Both men lived for several days in the Grand Hotel in KRISTIANIA where they provided sure proof that they were “sodomites”. This opinion was general among the staff of the Grand Hotel which came into contact with Casement and Christensen.
It is beyond all doubt that it is Sir Roger Casement who has caused Christensen to become a homosexualist and so ruined him, and this is the general opinion among those people who knew Adler Christensen before he made Casement’s acquaintance.
(Signed) H. DEGERUD

Many, many pages of writing have been generated on account of Casement and that’s not inappropriate given what a prolific writer of official and unofficial documents, poems, diaries and reports that he was. I wanted to get closer to the materiality of that writing, to see it as a labour of his body, as vigorous and ambitious as the sex he describes. He wrote late into the night, it takes energy, it develops a particular musculature and physical coordination. I wanted to see the body expressed in his writing.

Casement’s 1903, 1910 and 1911 journals and diaries have been in the public domain only since 1994 (before that they were available for vetted scholarly inspection and of course they were strategically distributed in 1916 to discredit Casement and stymie an appeal for clemency – the National Archives contain a letter from ). At the National Archives, they are accessible now on microfilm, Reference HO 161 (indicating that they were Home Office files).
Diaries on Microfilm National Archives
There’s a still a light, democratic vetting process involved in registering as a reader at the National Archives, and a negotiation of the computer catalogue, the storing system and then the microfilm reader. You have to acquire some knowledge before you get to see the diaries. In the transfer to microfilm, the original white pages and dark writing has been inverted so they’ve literally become the Black Diaries that they were names in 1959 in Singleton and Girodias’ book about them. I found it a challenge to decipher all the handwriting but I can read much of it. The sexual content exists alongside details of his travels, his meals, his expenditure, his research:

‘X Deep to hilt’ ‘Deep screw and to hilt’

See it coming’! In Dublin. To Belfast, John McGonegal X 4/6. Huge & curved. Up by Cregagh Road met by chance near clock tower & off on tram – it was huge & curved & he awfully keen.

Turned in together at 10.30 to 11 after watching billiards. Not a word said till – “Wait – I’ll untie it” & then “Grand” X Told many tales & pulled it off on top grandly. First time after so many years & so deep mutual longing. Rode gloriously – splendid steed. Huge – told of many – “Grand”.

Caught three splendid butterflies on road. O’D & Sealy in fingers. Beauties.

Much of the content is already familiar to me but seeing it in his handwriting, sometimes packed on the page, sometimes loosely trailed across it, brings a new sense of him. I’m also struck by the pages opposite the entries that bear the ink blot traces of his writing. They seem like a code of their own, a transposition linked to the original but mysteriously beautiful in their own right, perhaps as I imagine the choreography will be.

Casement diaries blotter

September 07, 2015

Choreodrome Week One – The Casement Project

11988386_1474174952909459_7902436948999785562_nIt was a relief to get in to the studio this week with some of The Casement Project dancers and to begin to explore in such articulate and creative bodies some of the ideas that I’ve been storing over the past two years. Fortunately an Arts Council Bursary two years ago and a residency at Dancehouse in Dublin meant that I’d been able to test some of the Casement ideas with Aoife McAtamney before I started writing the Ireland 2016 National Project application. That physical testing meant that I could trust that the ideas could make sense in bodies. However, it feels like a lot of words and intellectual brain processing were required to make the application a success. Now, it’s important to bring that processing back to bodies and to the particular knowledge and wisdom they possess.

It turns out Roger Casement was born on the September 1st, so it was an appropriate day to start rehearsals at The Place as part of this year’s Choreodrome. For the first week I was joined four of the six dancers who will be in the piece: Bernadette Iglich, Matthew Morris and Mikel Aristegui have danced in a number of my projects as well as choreographing Cure. I’ve danced with Philip Connaughton in work by Adrienne Browne and by Ríonach Ní Néill, as well as seeing him in the work of other Irish choreographers and more recently, his own magnificent Tardigrade. Having such a talented and experienced group of performers in the room is a privilege. However, it’s not just their creativity and skill that I rely on to create the work, but also their generosity of spirit.


That generosity and openness was particularly evident on Thursday when a group of LGBT refugees from Micro-Rainbow International joined us in the studio for a movement workshop. I’ve been singing in the Micro-Rainbow choir over the summer and getting to know the group. I wanted to invite them to experience something of my work and see what kind of community we could build from the exchange. On the day when the heart-breaking photograph of the drowned Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, appeared in newspapers around the world, it felt good to share joy, care and creativity with these refugees. Opening the rehearsal studio is a gift for us, helping us see the studio and our work from the perspective of people who are not jaded by over-familiarity with the art form. And their visit reminded us of the importance of joy. We’re looking back to the next workshop on Tuesday.

On Thursday, we went out of the studio, on a research visit to the British Library. With the help of Ellie Beedham, Senior Producer at The Place, I’ve been working with Dr Eva Del Rey (Curator, Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance) to find ways of connecting The Casement Project to The British Library’s holdings and archives. Her colleagues Joanna Norledge (Curator, Contemporary Performance and Creative Archives,) and Helen Melody, sourced original material for us about Casement and about David Rudkin, whose play Cries from Casement as his Bones are brought to Dublin, I’m using in the work. They showed us Cabinet Papers from July 1916, prepared to discuss whether Casement’s death sentence might be commuted. Also correspondence and papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Clement K. Shorter, concerning their petition to the government to reprieve Casement, with responses from people like Yeats and HG Wells (whose answer to the request for help was ‘Absolutely not!’). We also saw David Rudkin’s notebooks containing his notes on reading The Black Diaries, as well as the script used in the original studio recording of his radio play at the BBC. Seeing Casement being interpreted in these official and artistic documents is very useful in my own project of engagement with his life and after-life.

As the year goes on, we’ll find ways to distill all of this rich material, but for now we will keep on gathering and dancing with the material we gather.