Belfast Telegraph

Playwright Rosemary Jenkinson reveals own experience of sectarianism

By Staff Reporter

The writer behind a play about Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster has revealed how she experienced sectarianism from Catholic boys as a Co Down schoolgirl.

Rosemary Jenkinson, artist-in-residence at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, said she was doing her A-levels at the time.

"My two friends and I missed our bus from Downpatrick and decided to hop on the Catholic school bus. The boys began booing us and singing The Soldier's Song," she told the Irish Times.

"The bus driver was so fearful of what could happen he stopped on a country road and told me and my friends to get off. We made light of it afterwards, but we were glad that we'd all soon be leaving."

Inspired by the Hollywood hit Thelma And Louise, Ms Jenkinson's new play Rapid Response: Michelle And Arlene, explores our fast-moving political landscape though the characters of its two most powerful women.

In an interview dealing with identity and the perception others had of her in other parts of the UK and Ireland, Ms Jenkinson said she grew up culturally British in east Belfast, before moving aged 11 to Dundrum, Co Down.

Later, studying at Durham University, "my Northern Irish vowels were frequently mimicked".

"I remember an English girl once saying that I had no right to be in Ireland. 'It's their country, get out of it'," she told me.

Of course, the only response was to ask her if she told every immigrant who arrived in England to get out of her country too." She moved later to Dundee, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gillingham and Keele, "but I couldn't identify with anywhere".

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Rosemary Jenkinson

"That's why I escaped abroad to teach and, after all that drifting, I knew I had to go back to Belfast," she said. "The difficulty in Northern Ireland then, and even more so now, was the lack of arts funding and, while that's partially down to the British Government, it's also down to the Ulster Protestant ethos.

"The culture of industry here has always revered a shipyard hammer more than any pen; the DUP would far rather construct buildings than plays."

The playwright said that "Northern Protestants envy how Irish Catholics are loved and accepted throughout the world".

"We're like the problem child of Europe, feeling disowned and unloved by England and Ireland, yet at the same time we're incredibly proud to have survived," she added.

However, she said she'd like to be considered "an Irish writer".

Rapid Response: Michelle And Arlene will premiere on August 24 at the Accidental Theatre in Shaftesbury Square, Belfast.

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