A rebel’s granddaughter joins the cast of “The Rising” to tell her grandfather’s role in the Easter Rebellion

by Kathy McAuley

At one of last year’s popular performances of the regionally produced play, “The Rising”, playwright and director Ara Barlieb was in for a surprise: Fiona Sweeney, granddaughter of Peter Paul Galligan, one of the key Irish rebels, was in the audience and told Barlieb she loved the show. FIONA

This year, it was Sweeney who got the surprise: Barlieb wrote her into the play as one of the women who attached themselves to the cause.

For the second year, Crowded Kitchen Players will recount the story of the spirited men and women who stood up to fight. This reprise of their 2022 production if “The Rising: The Irish Rebellion in Song and Verse” runs March 16-19, 2023, in The Charles A. Brown IceHouse in Bethlehem, PA.

On Easter Monday, 1916, the small band of Irish nationalists who stormed Dublin had little more than a slim hope that they would actually win their freedom from centuries of British rule. They were outnumbered: a few hundred rebels versus a British fighting force of 30,000. Many Irish died in the streets, their leaders were summarily executed, and hundreds of civilians were rounded up and shipped off to lengthy prison sentences abroad.

All that was left after seven days of fighting and dying was the telling, and the re-telling, of their story.

Galligan 2Yet despite the rebels’ defeat, “The Rising” became a glorious symbol of the resolve of Irish people to win their freedom and independence.

Sweeney says when she saw last year’s production of “The Rising,” she had no idea that within the year she would join the troupe and be re-enacting a bit of her family’s history.

Sweeney came to the states in 1987 and holds dual citizenship. She married an American and in 2004 became a naturalized citizen herself. But with a wealth of photographs, news clippings, letters and other original research, she brought her priceless family lore to the cast. (She also brought her friend and compatriot, Mary Pat Lemass, who performs a small role in the play. )

“I was blown away last year when I saw the play,” Sweeney said recently. “It’s historically perfectly accurate -- it’s incredible what they’ve done.” Sweeney portrays a medley of women who may have been members of Cumann na mBan, a women’s auxiliary to the Irish volunteers. “If it wasn’t for these great men and women, we’d still be under British control,” Sweeney says.

In 2012, Sweeney’s brother Kevin Galligan published “Peter Paul Galligan: One of the Most Dangerous Men in the Rebel Movement,” that details the role his grandfather played in the uprising. Though he’s seldom named among the major rebels, he played a critical role in the fighting -- and he went one better: While Patrick and William Pearse, James Connolly, John MacBride, and 12 others were executed by the British, Galligan lived a long, successful life afterwards. His grandchildren are proud to tell people about his contributions.

Barlieb’s interests in the story have relevance to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of Washington. “I think we all have it in mind that we’re telling the story of what real patriots looked like in the Dublin of 1916, and what they sacrificed to gain the kinds of freedoms and home-grown government we have here. Perversely, our own home-grown traitors and conspirators tried hard to overthrow and destroy what the Irish patriots fought so hard for.”

In “The Rising,” members of the CKP troupe take turns telling about the fateful week of war using letters, clippings and dialog, all punctuated with songs of the period. Throughout the play, singer-guitarist Joey Mutis of the band Electric Farm, performs plaintive and traditional Irish songs including “Ireland’s Call,” “Banna Strand,” and “The Row in the Town” and the popular “The Foggy Dew.”

Other performers include Trish Cipoletti who also did considerable research for the production. She plays Moira Regan, who took an active role in the battle and later was interviewed for The New York Times by the noted poet and journalist Joyce Kilmer, played by Bruce Brown.

Also performing are Drew Adamczak, Sharon Ferry, Colleen Popper, Carla Hadley, Michael Sheridan, and Pamela McLean Wallace.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. March 16-18 and 2 p.m. March 19. For information and tickets, call 610-704-6974 or visit All tickets are $18, online or phone by credit card; at the door for cash or check only.