Joe Crilly was a rare character, talented beyond words and now his creativity has been enshrined in a trilogy of his work - aptly named the Crilly Trilogy.
The Lurgan writer sadly passed away in France last year - crippling episodes of depression had peppered his life.
Such was his talent that old friend Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy compiled three of Joe’s plays, On McQuillan’s Hill, Second-Hand Thunder and Kitty & Damnation into this newly published book.
Indeed another old friend actor Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame) penned a heartfelt tribute. They had met at the National Youth Theatre and remained friends.
His plays drew from his early life on the shores of Lough Neagh near Derrymacash and in Lurgan.
Joe had worked at the London-based housing charity Peabody where a plaque was unveiled in his memory last week.
“I was blown away by the tumbling, lyrical flow of language and the relish of telling a tale”Actor Hugh Bonneville
He worked as the befriending co-ordinator for Peabody from 2008 until his untimely death. Prior to that, he was arts editor of The Irish Post from 1999 to 2001 and a regular contributor to the paper after that.
He joined Peabody as a befriending project co-ordinator and held the position until his death. His role was to help Peabody’s tenants who were in danger of social isolation and had difficulties accessing public services.
“It was an absolute pleasure working with Joe and learning from him,” recalled Peabody volunteers’ services manager Sarah Feleppa.
“One of the most endearing things about him was that he was genuinely interested in people, their experiences and the stories they had to tell. This is probably why he was so good at telling stories himself. He is genuinely missed.”
Volunteer development partner Jeanette Manu also spoke highly of Joe’s interest in other people. “He was such a free spirit zipping around London on his bike visiting the most venerable of our residents and linking them up with befrienders. His work made a huge difference to the life of our residents
The plaque unveiling at Peabody headquarters as merged with the launch of the book The Crilly Trilogy.
The book has tributes from Joe’s son Redmond.
Bonneville and Joe were friends from their National Youth Theatre of Great Britain in the early 1980s. Bonneville added a narrative voiceover to Kitty & Damnation which was first staged in London in 2009.
He said: “I was blown away by the tumbling, lyrical flow of language and the relish of telling a tale. The sheer energy of the dialogue: raw and piercing, adventurous and full of mischievous glee. Taste the writing, savour the man.”
The Crilly Trilogy includes introductions from Dr Mark Phelan of Queen’s University, Belfast, the television producer Stephen Wright and the actor Ruairi Conaghan.
The Crilly Trilogy editor Ronan McGreevy said the purpose of the book is both to pay tribute to Joe and to bring his plays back into circulation.
“We, his friends and family, hope that by bringing out this trilogy, we will be fostering the revival of these marvellous plays. I hope theatre companies embrace and stage these works.
“Few playwrights wrote with such authenticity about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Joe did so with humour and insight. He spent 30 years in London, but his heart and sensibility never strayed far from the shores of Lough Neagh where he grew up.”
Joe’s son Redmond said: “Sadly I didn’t get to see the first production of my father’s breakthrough play Second-Hand Thunder although I was in the audience for the press night, albeit as a five month old foetus. My father loved what he would call “a good old yarn” and spent most of my childhood spinning together cracking stories with the most amazing understanding of language, more specifically the language of his hometown, Derrymacash, which he viewed with a mixture of fondness and horror, having lived through his share of the tension of the time of his upbringing, the 1970s. Much of his joy of language and darkness of theme can be seen in these three stand-out plays and since we lost him so shockingly in May 2017 I am forever grateful that he poured so much of his soul into these plays and therefore something of him remains.”
Hugh Bonneville wrote the introduction to the Crilly Trilogy, saying: “I’m looking at a photograph of Joe, taken in a school playground in North London one summer’s afternoon. Aged maybe 18, sword in hand, he’s crouched en garde, preparing to rehearse a sword fight with Nat Parker. They’re playing Malcolm and Macbeth respectively. We’re all members of the National Youth Theatre and it is 1982. Summers of our youth are often painted sunnier by the passage of time but I remember an awful lot of laughs with Joe: his acid wit flattening a pompous comment here; there, his deadpan stare buckling into a wry grin and a head shake, conceding with a smirk - but also with a double take that had a whiff of danger - that maybe life needn’t be taken too seriously after all. But he took theatre seriously and he took his writing seriously. In Kitty & Damnation, to which he asked me to contribute a recorded voice over as the Judge, I was blown away by the tumbling, lyrical flow of language and the relish of telling a tale. The sheer energy of the dialogue: raw and piercing, adventurous and full of mischievous glee. Taste the writing, savour the man. Rest in peace, my friend.”