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Jilly Morgan’s Birthday Party

A NEW play entitled Jilly Morgan’s Birthday Party will be at the Belltable in Limerick, from May 2 to 11.
Set against the backdrop of 1980’s Limerick City, Jilly Morgan’s Birthday Party follows the story of Jack, whose life is forever changed by a brief, passionate kiss at a party.
This moment becomes Jack’s lifelong fixation, leading him on a journey of self-discovery across decades.
It is written by Limerick playwright Liam McCarthy.
“I’m in my early thirties so I’m a little younger than the characters, they’d be of my parents generation,” he says.
Of the story, Liam says it starts in the early 80s, when things are going well for the man at the centre of the story.
“What happens to Jack is that the old electricity meter runs out of 50ps, and it goes dark. At the downstairs toilet he has a kiss with a woman, and it’s a case of mistaken identity, Jilly Morgan didn’t know who she was kissing and it was Jack,” he said.
“Jack is delighted with this, it starts off as something joyful and innocent and as the play goes on it becomes more obsessive as he becomes very preoccupied.”
It goes from there and continues right up to the present day.
“There are five scenes and each scene is in a new decade,” he said.
“It goes through 40 years, scene one is in the early eighties, then we join Jack in the 90s, the early 2000s, 2010 and then 2024. It goes all the way up, and it’s about him becoming obsessed with Jilly Morgan.”
While Jack might be somewhat delusional, there is another more common sense presence in the play, who provides a contrasting realism.
“There’s Jack and Jack’s friend Kate. Jack is such an unreliable narrator, but Kate is a real person who represents real opportunities that he has let pass him by,” he says.
Some of the inspiration came from Chekhov.
“There’s a short story by Chekhov called The Kiss who is at a party in Russia in the 1800s, he has a mistaken kiss as well, but he doesn’t become as obsessive as Jack,” he said.
“That’s where the idea comes from, but it’s not in Russia, it’s in Limerick in the 80s.”
Liam is too young to remember the 80s, and he was aware of a folk memory of it as a time of misery, but writing the play showed him a fuller picture.
“I did a lot of research, and something I found confusing was to know exactly where the pubs and clubs were, there were loads of them in the city centre. Everyone talks about the 80s like it was the worst time every, emigration, recession, how conservative it was, but through doing the research there was an awful lot of craic too. There was a lot of joy, a lot of craic and a lot of possibilities. Hopefully I’ve injected a bit of that into the play too,” he says.
The play has got backing from the Arts Council, which makes a big difference.
“I had a residency the Belltable in 2021, during Covid, and I had another big play that we thought would get funding, but it didn’t, weirdly. I got onto Joan (Sheehy, the play’s director), who is a friend of mine, said I had this idea, and we were thinking of just a small scale project, we’d just try and raise the money ourselves. But this is the one that hit, that got the funding and backing,” he said.
He is delighted that it is being staged at one of the region’s top venues. “The team in the Belltable are brilliant. There aren’t a lot of independent theatre companies any more, and the Belltable is really filling a gap, making homegrown stuff, original plays. It’s incredible that they are doing that,” he said.

Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

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