Irish Penal Reform Trust

Full house and rapturous applause for celebration of arts in prison

27th February 2012

Some of Ireland’s best-known musicians, poets and story-tellers performed to a full house in the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national stage, yesterday evening (Sunday, 26th February, 2012) in support of progressive reform of penal policy in Ireland, and a fairer and more just society for all. ‘The Old Triangle’, a celebration for the benefit of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, shined a spotlight on both the engagement of artists with prisons and the artwork created by prisoners in Ireland, whilst making a collective call for change in the way we respond to the social exclusion that underlies much crime.

Almost 500 people gathered in the Abbey Theatre to listen to Shaz Oye, Tony Curtis, GREENSHINE, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Karan Casey & Niall Vallely, Peter Sheridan, Leanne O’Sullivan and Christy Moore. The work of artist Eddie Cahill was introduced by Brian Maguire, who made a powerful case for the power of art education in prison.  The evening finished with a resounding version of ‘The Old Triangle’ by Jimmy Kelly, Tom Crean and Brian McCarthy, before all the performers were invited back on stage for an encore of ‘The Parting Glass’.

The event was hosted by Paula Meehan, patron of IPRT, and Theo Dorgan who masterfully steered the evening's proceedings. President Michael D. Higgins attended the event as guest of honour.

Speaking at the event, Dr Mary Rogan, Chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said:

“We are delighted and humbled by the generous and open-hearted responses of the artists participating in tonight’s celebration. That almost 500 people are gathering tonight for this event is a tribute to both the artists who are performing and the important work of artists and art teachers in prisons, but it also demonstrates the wider public support for a more humane and more effective penal system. Just as the arts act to unlock potential and facilitate change each day in our prisons, IPRT believes real change is possible in terms of progressive penal reform.”

Hosts of the evening, Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan had this to say:

"Now that all the systems of the state are coming under intense pressure it is a very good time to bring common sense reforms and fresh thinking to bear on the penal system. The arts have a vital contribution to make to this process and a practical role to play within the education service of the prisons. We are profoundly grateful to our fellow artists for putting their gifts at the service of penal reform tonight."

Speaking in advance of the event, Senator Fiach MacConghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre said:

The Abbey Theatre is at the heart of Ireland’s national life, a hub and an asset in the ongoing national conversation. We are delighted to welcome under our roof our President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina, some of our most distinguished artists, and the Irish Penal Reform Trust who have done so much to promote and facilitate the larger debate on justice issues in our society. The old motto of ‘Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine’ has a particular resonance on this occasion.

The Abbey Theatre is delighted to be the setting for this evening’s event. This type of event is very important to the Abbey Theatre in its role at the centre of the national debate on critical social issues, and it is a testimony to the power and commitment of the arts to advance social justice in society.”

IPRT is very grateful to Poetry Ireland and Sheehan & Partners for their support of this event.

Images and clips from the event will shortly be available on For more information, please contact Fíona on 087 181 2990


1. The Old Triangle: a Celebration for the Benefit of the Irish Penal Reform Trust’

This event took place on Sunday 26th February, 2012 at 8pm in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin 1. Many of the artists who took part in the celebration have worked in prisons, and the event highlighted the important role the arts and artists have to play in the life of our prisons. President Michael D. Higgins attended as guest of honour.

The featured musicians and writers, all of whom waived their fees for the night, were: Christy Moore, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Peter Sheridan (patron of IPRT), Karan Casey and Niall Vallely, Tony Curtis, Shaz Oye, GREENSHINE (Noel Shine, Mary Greene and Ellie Shine), Leanne O’Sullivan, and Jimmy Kelly & Tom Crean & Brian McCarthy. The work of artist Eddie Cahill was introduced by Brian Maguire.

The event was organised by Paula Meehan, who is a patron of IPRT, and Theo Dorgan to raise awareness of both the urgent need for the progressive reform of penal policy in Ireland, and to highlight the work of IPRT in this area. More details about ‘The Old Triangle’ are available here:

Paula Meehan has been patron of IPRT since May 2010. IPRT previously collaborated with Paula in 1999, when the Irish Penal Reform Trust provided contextual programme notes for the Calypso Productions presentation of Paula’s play ‘Cell’, which is set in a women’s prison in Ireland, and which premiered at the City Arts Centre, Dublin in September 1999.

2. Patrons of IPRT

IPRT is delighted to have the support of patrons who champion our work in the area of prisoners’ rights and penal reform. Prior to his election as President in October 2011, Michael D Higgins was also a patron of IPRT. Each of our patrons has a strong connection with arts in prisons and/or advocacy for the human rights of prisoners. They are:

  • Paula Meehan, poet
  • Peter Sheridan, author and director
  • Senator Ivana Bacik
  • John Lonergan, former governor of Mountjoy Prison

3. Artist Biographies

Christy, as he is universally known, was named as Ireland's greatest living musician in RTÉ's People of the Year Awards 2007. His voice and passion and his songwriting gift have placed him firmly in the heart of the people. In the words of our hosts tonight, “he is tirelessly generous and compassionate, a giving and loving soul, a great artist”. His most recent album is FOLK TALE.

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill received the 1988 O'Shaughnessy Award for Poetry and the 1991 American Ireland Fund Literary Award. She served as visiting professor of Irish Studies at NYU and Boston College in 1999. She was named Ireland Professor of Poetry from 2002 - 2004. Her most recent publication is THE FIFTY MINUTE MERMAID (Bilingual, translations by Paul Muldoon) from Gallery Press in 2007.

Dublin born singer & songwriter Shaz Oye has been described by Jackie Hayden as “one of the finest vocalists ever to come out of Ireland”. Her debut album, TRUTH ACCORDING TO SHAZ OYE was nominated as one of the top Irish Albums of the year in HOT PRESS. Her next album will be released later this year.

Peter is the recipient of the Rooney Prize for Literature, two Arts Council Bursaries, and has been writer in residence at the Abbey Theatre. Among his plays for the stage are DOWN ALL THE DAYS (from the novel by Christy Brown), and MOTHER OF ALL THE BEHANS (from the book by Brian Behan). His 44: A DUBLIN MEMOIR was nominated for an Irish Times Literature Prize.

Tony Curtis is one of Ireland’s best-loved poets. He has worked for many years in the prison system, and in the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum. His most recent works are a collection of poems, FOLK (Arc Publications, 2011) and a set of 45 haiku in SANDWORKS (with the Irish photographer Liam Blake).

Noel Shine has been teaching music in Cork Prison for the past thirty years. In 2009 Noel’s work in the prison was the subject of one of the award winning series of radio documentaries on RTE 1 entitled  SONGS FROM THE INSIDE. He has recorded with many musicians, from the Clancy Brothers to, more recently, The Republic of Loose.

Mary Greene, in a duo with Noel Shine, has released 3 critically acclaimed albums to date including SEA OF HEARTS. Mary has had her songs recorded by Sean Keane and Kate Purcell, and has sung on the recordings of many fine artists including Christy Moore, John Spillane, Frances Black and Dr. Strangely Strange. 

Ellie Shine has grown up surrounded by music and has been performing in concerts since the age of 13. She currently forms part of the trio GREENSHINE with her parents Noel Shine & Mary Greene. In spite of her tender years (she is 15), Ellie has featured on three CDs to date including most recently her grandfather's debut recording PADDY GREENE'S FAMILY ALBUM. 

Eddie Cahill is a self taught Dublin based artist. He has had numerous exhibitions at home and abroad. His work is concerned with social and human conditions. Aidan Dunne of THE IRISH TIMES said of his portraits:  “They move inwards instead of out, the head itself is turned inside out, the magic box of tricks opens to reveal a dark, intense realm, a world stranger than we might have imagined, but also strangely familiar.” 

Brian Maguire’s deeply felt social and political commitments have led to lengthy periods as artist-in-residence in many of Ireland's prisons. During 2001 and 2002 Maguire collaborated with the women of two Correctional Institutes in New York. In November 2002 the artist had an exhibition of his own and the prisoners' work in the White Box gallery in Chelsea in the heart of the New York art world. 

Karan Casey has long been one of the most innovative, provocative and admired voices in Irish traditional and folk music. Karan released her first album with the group Solas, which quickly became the most celebrated Irish band in the U.S. Karan has released 5 solo albums as well as an album for children, a duet album with John Doyle and numerous contributions to other artists' projects. 

Concertina player Niall Vallely has established himself worldwide as one of Ireland’s most significant musicians. He has recorded two albums with Nomos, a solo album, BEYOND WORDS and a duet album with his brother Cillian, as well as two albums with his newest band Buille. In more recent years he has been expanding the scope of his compositions to embrace larger scale forms and instrumentation.  

Leanne O’Sullivan, born in 1983, has published two collections of poetry with Bloodaxe Books: WAITING FOR MY CLOTHES (2004) and CAILLEACH: THE HAG OF BEARA (2009). The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature 2010 was awarded to Leanne in recognition of her achievement and outstanding promise as a poet. 

Jimmy Kelly is proud to be brother to that genius of Irish song, Luke. Jimmy himself is loved and admired by the great community of Irish singers. Known to many as “the troubadour of the left”, he is a passionate fighter for justice and a gifted singer. 

Like Jimmy Kelly and Brian McCarthy a member of The People’s College Choir, Tom Crean is a stalwart of the Góilín Singers Club and is fondly known to many from his days with the unsurpassed Press Gang. 

As well as being a fine singer, Brian McCarthy is also a fine banjo player, perhaps best known from his work with the John Kelly group. He is also possibly the only contemporary singer who has been a lecturer in psychology.

3. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT):

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort. Please visit:

February 2012
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Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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