Happy days during a residency on Inis Oirr

Happy days during a residency on Inis Oirr

Building the mound for the stunning set of ‘Laethanta Sona’ at the back of Inis Oirr last month. Photograph by Cormac Coyne.

A month-long residency at Áras Éanna at the start of the summer provided the catalyst for director Sara Jane Scaife to come up with the incredible Irish-language version of ‘Happy Days’ by Samuel Beckett which proved to be such a huge hit at last month’s Galway International Arts Festival.

And now Sarah Jane and Company SJ are bringing ‘Laethanta Sona’ to the Dublin Theatre Festival for what should be five sensational shows at the Samuel Beckett Theatre over just three days (October 15 to 17).

The outdoor show at Creig an Staic, at the back of the island, attracted rave reviews and it will be interesting to see how it transfers to an indoor stage in the capital.

Everyone who attended was particularly blown away by the performance of Brid Ní Neachtain in the role of Winnie, with Judy Murphy (Connacht Tribune) describing it as “the likes of which this reviewer has never seen”.

Translated by Micheal O Chongaile from Connemara, this remarkable show came about because Scaife had time to work with the actors and the outdoor set designers during a four week residency here at Áras Éanna.

For Sarah Jane, the show fused her passion for the works of Beckett and for the island of Inis Oirr over many years.


Sarah Jane Scaife with the actors Raymond Keane and Brid Ni Neachtain during her one month residency at Áras Éanna.

She had a clear vision of wanting to stage the first ever Irish language production of the show outdoors on the back of the island, after spending so many years here on both family holidays with her young children and as a visiting artist in residence.

“You couldn’t even begin to describe or pay for what you get when you come. First of all to Inis Oirr. I would always be going to the back of the island. Different people go to different places on the island, but I would always go to the back of the island,” she said recently.

Sarah Jane has loved working at Áras Éanna for many years, taking inspiration from the rocks and the sea around her.

She came up with the idea of translating ‘Happy Days’ and moving it to an outdoor location in the island during walks around Inis Oirr with her late husband and the family dog.

It made perfect sense to her to bring Beckett’s themes of urban alienation and despair right out to the rocks at a site-specific location on the edge of Europe. The performances received standing ovations during the week-long run on Inis Oirr.


The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, and his wife Sabina enjoying a stroll with Sara Jane after witnessing the stunning production of ‘Laethanta Sona’ at the back of the island.

President Michael D. Higgins and his wife, Sabina, were among those who were captivated by the lunchtime shows.

“Beckett talks about the void. Someone who is out of their head, living on the streets, with no connection with society. That’s a symptom of where we have come from in our past. The haunted bodies that are wandering around the streets of Dublin. That’s a void. And then it’s here in the landscape and the stones which have been here way, way, way before people arrived,” she says.

“Inis Oirr is only a little microcosm of the whole of Ireland. It reflects the best and the worst of Ireland. It reflects the pain of our past and the unbelievable beauty of the country. It’s those two things that I find so deeply moving.”

What a remarkable show she produced from her month-long residency at Áras Éanna.

We are sure those who are lucky enough to get tickets for the performances at the Dublin Theatre Festival this month will agree.

It should be remarkable to see this Irish language version of Beckett’s unbearably poignant play return to Dublin where, for both Beckett and Sara Jane, it’s where it all began.

The production is a partnership between Company SJ, the Abbey Theatre, and Áras Éanna. English subtitles are being incorporated into the Dublin Theatre Festival show.

  • Words by Ciaran Tierney. 
    To find out more about residencies for artists at Aras Eanna, please contact Dara McGee via email at araseanna@gmail.com
Meeting up outside Aras Eanna before one of the stunning ‘Laethanta Sona’ shows at the back of the island last month. Photograph by Ciaran Tierney.