Tale of love, loss and bravery returns to Festival of Chichester

Danielle Morgan and John Merrigan
Danielle Morgan and John Merrigan

After a great response at last year’s Festival of Chichester, musicians and composers Danielle Morgan and John Merrigan bring Love In The Harbour back again this year.

A moving dramatisation of the lives of real-life Irish heroes in the original Royal Flying Corps set near the end of World War One, the piece is a play by Eddie Alford, to which Danielle and John have added incidental music.

Set in Shannon Harbour, Co Offaly and northern France between 1916-1918, it offers a mix of fact and fiction woven around the life and death of real-life flying ace George McElroy known as McIrish in the Royal Flying Corps. To George’s story has been added a fictional love story between George and Grace, the receptionist in The Grand Canal Hotel in Shannon Harbour. Performances are on Tuesday, July 2 at 7.30pm and Wednesday, July 3 at 7.30pm in the Oxmarket Gallery, off East Street.

John and Danielle are promising a heart-warming story, in words and music, about comradery, bravery, humour and heartbreak.

“In real life, George McElroy was born in Dublin,” John said. “At the start of World War One, he enlisted and went down to the front as an infantry officer. He was gassed in 1916 and he returned home to Dublin to convalesce. At Easter 1916, the Irish uprising took place and he was hauled away from his hospital bed to quell the uprising, but he refused to fire on his fellow Irishmen. Usually the punishment for that would have been to be shot, but killing officers would have been bad for business and so they sent him to a rural garrison in Ireland.

“After he recovered he went to Woolwich in London for artillery officer training and ended up on the front line again. But immediately he volunteered to go for the Royal Flying Corps because he wanted more action. He quickly established himself as a brilliant airman, notching up many, many kills. He ended up being one of the top air aces, but he was killed in action in July 1918, aged 25. He packed a lot into his life.

“He could have been any nationality really, but the point is that he represents to us heroism and bravery and sacrifice and love. His love story is just an examplar of how most young men fought for their country, what they sacrificed and what they packed into lives so short. .

“The starting point was this play written by Eddie Alford. He asked us if we would be interested in putting music to the play to enhance the action. Last year we did it at the Brighton Fringe and the Festival of Chichester and also in London, and we are bringing it back here again. This is a new cast, and there are new scenes written into the play. The clear message is about the futility of war. The message is what it means to be a hero which is a word that is so easily used now. It is a play highlighting the sacrifice.

“The cast are all experienced actors that have performed around London and the south-east. They are very, very committed. They are putting their all into the roles. Some of them have been to visit the war graves in France and Belgium where the real characters are buried. And we have done everything we can to make sure that the costumes are authentic.”

Tickets £15; seniors £12; students (15 years and up) £10.

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