Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared regularly in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds BS and MS degrees and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside in Connecticut.
Most people have heard of the centuries-old Passion play performed every decade in Oberammergau, Austria.
But this year, the Passion play is being performed in Ireland for the first time with such magnitude. The faithful are heading to the small village of Pallasgreen in Limerick County on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and this moving event.
They are arriving not only from Ireland’s counties, but from several countries on the continent.
“We are re-creating the final hours of Jesus Christ, but in a way never done before,” Dara Fraher explained. She is a spokesperson for the "Passion 2014" performance.
“Our actors have spent the last six months becoming the characters, so that they are not just portraying what happened — they are living it. We are retelling the story in real time, as the events actually happened, and we are taking over the whole village for the various scenes, most of which are outdoors.”
The Passion play begins Holy Thursday night, April 17, at approximately 8:30 pm (Irish Standard Time, which is five hours ahead of U.S. Daylight Savings Time).
The opening scene is in Gethsemane, with Jesus in his agony; then follows his betrayal and arrest.
People will follow the crowd of soldiers taking Jesus for his trial before Caiaphas and the high priests, which will be staged in St. John the Baptist Church in Nicker, Pallasgreen.
Near the church on Nicker Hill is a well-known landmark: a grotto that has a Crucifixion scene atop it. Jesus will be kept prisoner overnight at the grotto, then he will be taken to trail on Friday morning before Pontius Pilate.
The play will go through all the agonies and sufferings Jesus endured.
“The whole event should last around 22 hours,” said Fraser. “It is a huge undertaking, but we will make it happen.”
Huge it is, considering this is a small village between Limerick and Tipperary.
Fraher said around 50 people are involved in this project. Most are residents of Pallasgreen.
“Everyone from the local butcher to a nearby blacksmith has given their time, expertise or financial help,” Fraher told the Register. “We are in awe of how big our project has become.”
They even went to international lengths to achieve authenticity.
“We imported oil lamps from Nazareth and Roman soldier costumes from America,” Fraher explained. “We also have sourced real olive trees for the Garden of Gethsemane to make it more authentic.”
“No stone has been left unturned to make this as authentic as possible,” she said.
The roles have affected everyone in the production.
Garry Fraher, who plays Jesus, “hopes that, as a result of the making of 'Passion 2014,' the community bond that has been reignited will last and that people will have a fresh understanding of what Our Lord endured for us. It has been the greatest journey I have ever taken, an eye-opening experience.”
The producer and director is Eamonn Harty, who is a local, as well as an award-winning professional actor, with many television and movie credits on both sides of the Atlantic, from the United Kingdom to the United States.
"This is going to be beautiful,” Harty reflected. “It will be very raw and intense. It is a very special and unique moment for our village, our county and our country."
Dara Fraher added, “We are expecting thousands. It is going to be an amazing experience — one people will be talking about for years to come.”
See intense highlights from a 90-minute preview perfomed for a small group in February here.
Wishing you a blessed Triduum!