© By Stewart Parker
After the ‘botched birth’ of the 1798 rebellion, Henry Joy McCracken struggles to compose his last address to the people of Belfast before he hangs, and recalls the seven ages of his life, from youthful idealism to disillusionment and despair. Each age is presented in the style of a famous Irish writer, including Boucicault, Behan and Beckett. In the end, his last words are drowned out by the thump of a Lambeg drum.
(Henry Joy McCracken’s final speech)
Why would one place break your heart more than any other? A place the like of that? Brain-damaged and dangerous, continuously violating itself, a place of perpetual breakdown, incompatible voices, screeching obscenely through the smoky dark wet. Burnt out and still burning. Nerve damaged, pitiable. Frightening. As maddening and tiresome as any other poor cripple. And yet what would this poor fool not give to be able to walk freely again from Stranmillis down to Ann Street… cut through Pottinger’s Entry and down across the road for a drink in Peggy’s…to dander on down Waring Street……we can’t love it for what it is, only for what it might have been, if we’d got it right, if we’d made it whole.
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As the Troubles’ relentless cycle of killings continued throughout the 1980s, ‘playing out the same demented comedy of terrors from generation to generation’, Stewart Parker turned to the ‘malignant legends’ of history in which he believed the North was trapped.
This play returns to the ‘Golden Age’ of late 18th century Belfast, when the city had been a harbinger of radical thought.
Parker wanted to challenge loyalist and nationalist notions of the past: to reveal how the origins of militant republicanism - in one of those ironies of Irish history - lay in the same protestant community that now adamantly opposed Irish sovereignty in the North.
Lyric Theatre Belfast , 7 November 1984
Field Day & Tinderbox Theatre Companies, Belfast 1998
‘...theatrical highlight of the Festival is a revival of Stewart Parker’s Northern Star, jointly produced by the Field Day and Tinderbox companies and directed by Stephen Rea. Parker’s play, which focuses on the role of Belfast dissenter Henry Joy McCracken (Conleth Hill) in the United Irishmen’s uprising of 1798, gains in power by being staged in that rising’s bicentennial year and in that same First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street where McCracken and several of his fellows worshipped.’
Ian Shuttleworth - Financial Times.