Eating Seals and Seagulls’ Eggs is performer and writer Caitríona Ní Mhurchú’s first original production for the Irish stage. It stands as a valiant attempt to reclaim the reputation of Peig Sayers, the Irish author whose works once tormented so many an Irish secondary school student, and examine the greater ramifications of urbanisation and progress on the culture and language of an almost forgotten Ireland. The piece sieves through archived footage and recordings, interviews and soundbites from the modern day and the stories of Sayers to try and find a way back to the Ireland from whence she came, and give some humanity to the woman who has become little more than a dead weight in schoolbags and a question on tests for the past half-century.
Ní Mhurchú delights in her caustic rendition of Sayers from beyond the grave, taking pride in the misery her work has inflicted across the generations. As a matter of fact, the play is strongest in those moments of irreverent warmth that both disrespect and honour the memory of both Peig Sayers and the cultural consciousness of an entire generation of Irish people who remember her less than fondly. Unfortunately, the further the play drifts into Sayers’ world, the more it is lost on us. Retellings and musings in a collection of languages are often inaccessible or meandering, with little cohesion to bring them to a satisfying whole. Much of the piece is as insubstantial as the Blasket Island breeze which blows it to us, with audience members drifting in and out of the narrative – or lack there of, perhaps – as it unfolds.
Eating Seals and Seagulls’ Eggs has a nobility to it – a deep-rooted passion for the faded culture that still throbs through our veins. Unfortunately, in one final twist of irony, Ní Murchú fails just where Peig Sayers did – the dull wandering and ceaseless misery of the work drives us all but miles away. We appreciate it’s importance but we are unmoved, and so, we never learn.