Over the past couple of months the pupils in the Senior Room have been exploring local, national and international history from the 1920s to 1940s with a particular focus on World War II. This play is about William Joyce who was born in America in 1906 but brought up in Ballinrobe from the age of three. His family owned a pub called ‘Joyce’s’ in Ballinrobe and were pro-British.
The play outlines the story of how William Joyce went from acting as a courier for the Black and Tans during the War of Independence to being awarded a Cross of War medal by Hitler. Joyce had a show on Nazi radio called Germany Calling which was listened to by over 6 million people in Ireland and the UK. After World War II Joyce was captured.
The first scene of our play is set at his trial in the Old Bailey Court, London, 1945. He was tried as a traitor to the British Crown. The lawyer charged with his defence is Mr. Slade and the lawyer for the prosecution is Mr. Byrne. Some lines used in the play are from actual court transcripts.
Through a series of ‘exhibits’ or flash-backs, the play depicts the swing era – roughly from the late 1920s to mid 40s – which was the time in which William Joyce grew up. While the teenage Swedish climate advocate, Greta Thunberg, was announced Time Person of the Year in 2019, the Time Man of the Year in 1938 was Adolf Hitler.
The following scene depicts the rise of the German Army in the 1930s (Erika was a famous marching song of the wehrmacht) leading eventually to the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, declaring war on Germany following the invasion of Poland in September, 1939.
Next, the prosecution introduces an actual recording of William Joyce celebrating the fall of Belgium and Holland on his Nazi radio programme, Germany Calling.
Then, we are taken back to Joyce’s pub in 1939 where talk is all about Ballyglass club, as it was known then, changing its name to Garrymore. This made it possible to field players from Roundfort Parish and Tom Murphy, Alyssa’s (fourth class) and Gavin’s (third class) great-grandfather was the first chairman. By 1939 Mayo have won their sixth league title in a row and have drawn against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final. The replay will be held just over a week after the outbreak of WWII.
Other talk in Joyce’s pub reflects worries about rationing, paraffin and porter! The final scene in a Ballinrobe kitchen hears the announcement on wireless (radio) by the then Taoiseach, Éamonn deValera, that Ireland will stay out of the war and remain neutral.
The judge in the Old Bailey is not impressed with the amount of drink shown in the defence’s flash-back and Mr. Byrne, William Joyce’s defence counsel, moves to safer ground by introducing Delia Murphy, a contemporary of William Joyce, as a character witness. Delia Murphy went to school in Gortskehy and was a singer of international renown. During WWII she helped Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, in the Vatican, save the lives of 6,500 Allied soldiers and Jews, as her husband, Dr. Thomas Kiernan, was the Irish Ambassador in Rome at the time. Delia Murphy and her friends, represented by the pupils, sing the Spinning Wheel as a lament and longing for a loved one away from home.
William Joyce himself leads the final song and most famous of WWII, Lili Marlene. It’s a German love song of the Second World War that was translated into many languages and wherever it was sung the soldiers on both sides loved it.
Will the singing influence the judge in any way? You’ll just have to watch the video below and see!