Arts & Human Rights Festival“She managed to persuade them that she had no contact with her husband and this was despite the fact that she was 7 months pregnant at the time.” 

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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Writer and director Mary Moynihan’s chat with Oliver Callan on The Ryan Tubridy Show is a reminder of how artists can inspire hope, through their lives as well as through their art. Mary was speaking about poets and performers, like Tyrone man Charlie Donnelly, who fought and died in the Spanish Civil War and choreographer and Dublin native Margaret Kelly, who kept her Jewish husband hidden from the Nazis in wartime Paris. Both artists feature in Mary’s new work, Artists against Fascism.

The cabaret-style show is part of the upcoming Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival, organised by Smashing Times (Mary is their artistic director) and Frontline Defenders, in partnership with a range of arts and human rights organisations. Mary says she’s been working on the online event for the past year, and she explained some of the background to Oliver:

“We were asked to use the arts to look at the Spanish Civil War and World War II and remember stories of artists who stood up to fascism.” 

As well as big names like Federico García Lorca, Mary features Charlie Donnelly, the anti-fascist poet who is said to have died uttering the famous words “Even the olives are bleeding”, words that became synonymous with the Spanish Civil War:

“Charlie was only 23 when he was killed in the battle of Jarama. Somebody overheard him, they were fighting on the front line and there was a counter attack by the fascists and Donnelly was in the shade of an olive tree and somebody overheard him saying, ‘Even the olives are bleeding’. This was shortly before he died. ” 

A Dublin-born dancer and choreographer with a glittering career in pre-war Paris also features in the film. Margaret Kelly became a professional dancer in her teens, working in the Folies Bergère in Paris, before branching out to found her own hugely successful dance troupe The Bluebell Girls at the age of 22. In 1939, she married Romanian pianist Marcel Leibovici, but their careers and lives were to be threatened only months later with the German occupation of Paris.  

At the beginning of the Nazi occupation, Margaret was arrested because she held a British passport, but she talked her way to freedom with the help of an Irish diplomat. Then in 1942, Margaret had a two-year-old son and was pregnant with her second child when her husband Marcel was interned in a prison camp. Marcel escaped, but the family’s attempt to leave France failed and they had to return to Paris, where Marcel went into hiding.

Mary describes how Margaret Kelly kept a calm exterior, whilst maintaining the constant vigilance needed to keep her husband hidden for the entirety of the war:

“She hid him in an apartment away from where she was living, and apparently the concierge discovered he was there and she bribed the concierge in order to keep him safe.” 

Margaret and Marcel’s cover could have been blown at any time, Mary says:

“There were daily announcements that anyone found harbouring Jewish people would be immediately executed and their families would be executed.” 

It took nerves of steel to keep her family safe between 1942 and the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Mary Moynihan describes one occasion when Margaret was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo about her husband’s whereabouts, but brazened it out and was let go:

“She managed to persuade them that she had no contact with her husband and this was despite the fact that she was 7 months pregnant at the time.” 

The themes of the Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival are ‘Hope, Courage and Resilience’. It runs from the 16th to the 25th of October 2020 and you can find out more information on all the events here.

If you want to hear more about Charlie Donnelly, Margaret Kelly and other brave Irish ex-pats, including the story of Margaret Carney-Taylor, who served tea to fascists in Madrid, while running a safe-house for people escaping the Nazis; you can listen back to Mary Moynihan’s full chat with Oliver Callan here.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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