The Last Torch is set in 16th century Ireland, where survivors of a shipwreck from the Spanish Armada have washed ashore, setting the stage for forces of love, liberty, sovereignty, spirituality and magic to collide. With a mixture of Spanish and Irish music, this musical tells of the last clan leader standing against the English. Descended from Irish royalty, he was an extremely learned and handsome clan leader, who makes a last ditch attempt to drive the English from Ireland. Although historical, the musical contains strong mythical and spiritual themes.
In the famous shipwreck of 1588, Brian na Murtha O’Rourke saved many Spaniards from certain death in direct rebellion of Queen Elizabeth I. One of the Spaniards washed ashore was Captain Francisco de Cuellar, who left a detailed report of his adventures in Ireland. O’Rourke and his men have braved a giant storm in the night to save wounded Spaniards, whom they saw not only as fellow Catholics, but also as allies.
On many levels, "The Last Torch" is a love story. It tells of the love of the Irish for their culture and land, the love for their children and their love for each other. It is romance and passion against the backdrop of conflict. This story pays homage to the fallen, to the men and women who have fought for their independence against dire odds and have given their lives in the name of freedom.
Last year we gave birth to "The Last Torch." With only six weeks of rehearsal, it was an intense time, to say the least. The final product was to make decisions regarding plot and music. Some songs had to be cut and others transposed to different keys as getting a coloratura soprano and a rich baritone proved impossible. Within those six weeks, we took the show to stage. I hope you enjoy reading and watching the story of Brian na Murtha O’Rourke, the first Irish rebel, the last torch.
This post contains artwork from John McGinnis and photography from De Leggo. I cannot thank them enough for contributing their talents. It also contains pre-show demos and footage from the show. This was the first time this O’Rourke story was told onstage.
BUAGH! ~Frances O'Neill, Composer
Streedagh Strand, County Sligo, Ireland, 1588.
The witches conjure a great storm.
O'Rourke sees remnants of the fleet of Philip of Spain off the Connacht coast and rides back to gather his men. Eleven Spaniards struggle ashore -- cold and confused among the chaos on the beach. “Twelve torches through the night blown by savage winds, to save us or to end our plight?” O’Rourke and his men are coming to help the Spanish. O’Rourke remains on the beach to find the 12th survivor.
Captain de Cuellar is washed ashore. He is frightened and alone. O’Rourke finds de Cuellar badly injured. He is unable to make an escape with de Cuellar, who is unable to move, so he hides him from oncoming English soldiers.
Captain de Cuellar is found and kidnapped by a blacksmith, who plans to have him "Work for free!' When the smith gets home, his wife is far from impressed. After a loud argument as to whether they keep the Spaniard, O’Rourke arrives with his brother Conn and Murrough MacSweeny. O’Rourke recognises the captain and they are formally introduced, and O’Rourke takes de Cuellar back to the castle.
Later that night, a great feast celebrates O’Rourke’s niece, Erin, coming of age. The clan proudly sing of their defiance to the Crown.
O’Rourke’s wife, Eleanor, who is visibly pregnant, and the clan women amuse themselves with the Spaniards’ attempts at palm reading. Captain de Cuellar is captivated by Erin, while O’Rourke’s ally “one-eyed” MacSweeny lusts after her.
The celebration includes the famous historical event ‘the treason of the image,’ with the clan throwing food at a portrait of the Queen. Brian orders that the painting is dragged through the dirt, and the clan gleefully oblige.
With the clan out destroying the portrait, Brian holds a tactical meeting, where MacSweeny promises him the full support of his Munster soldiers in the North. Captain de Cuellar also promises to arm the growing army with weapons.
The meeting is interrupted by the Queen's governor, Sir Richard Bingham, who orders O’Rourke to hand over the Spaniards in his protection. O’Rourke spits his contempt at this command, and Bingham nervously and quickly leaves the party to take the message back to the Queen.
After the party, de Cuellar and Erin meet in the Great Hall when she comes back for her garland. They then consummate their passion.
Eleanor sees her niece leaving in the arms of the Spaniard and finds herself alone in the great feasting hall. She is tired of war and sings of her fears for her unborn child, whom she believes will be born into servitude and a life of hardship.
That night, witches conduct a pagan ritual in the light of the full moon invoking the Irish goddess trio.
This is interrupted by O’Rourke and his men, who are out scouting. The head witch curses O’Rourke, warning him of his impending doom. She is hanged.
CURTAIN CLOSES, ENDING ACT 1
In the second act, Captain Cuellar, Erin and O’Rourke contemplate their destinies. Will O’Rourke allow Erin to be with de Cuellar? O’Rourke struggles with his decision to continue the fight.
They retire to dreams. Unfortunately, de Cuellar's mind is uneasy, and he experiences nightmares inspired by so many of his men drowning.
A new day dawns. Erin waits for Captain de Cuellar outside the walls of Parkes castle and is met by MacSweeny. McSweeny forces himself on her and disregards her, throwing her a coin for her trouble. Eleanor and de Cuellar find Erin, and de Cuellar vows revenge, with Eleanor begging the Spaniard to leave this to her husband. Eleanor is left alone, and the exhaustion and strain starts to show. She prays for an end to the suffering and leaves in pain.
In London, Queen Elizabeth hears of O'Rourke's rebuff to her request and flies into a rage. “How do I reign the dead? Cease your burn and shred, or I will have your head!” She laments the situation in Ireland and orders the swift end of the conflict.
Eleanor has suffered a miscarriage. O’Rourke, in a rage, confronts MacSweeny about the rape of Erin. MacSweeny escapes after trying to convince O’Rourke that Erin welcomed his overture. O'Rourke sentences him to death, but they are inturrupted by the news of advancing English soldiers. The Spaniards insist on staying behind and defending the castle, while the clan moved to safety.
Spaniards, aided by the weather, manage to hold the castle. "12 Spaniards we are mighty, Faithful till the end! 12 Spaniards fighting the might of England. They have a thousand men!" The clan's spirits are high on the way to the land of Tueth. Seeing her husband's cousin tied and beaten, Tueth's wife protests and orders her husband to have him released. The husband cannot ask such a thing of his rightful King, and so she stands up to O'Rourke. O’Rourke does not comply. He regroups, and in stubborn, prideful O’Rourke fashion plans a surprise attack on the English. The Spaniards arrive back and are welcomed with open arms by O'Rourke, who offers the captain anything. The captain asks to marry his niece, O'Rourke assents, and the marriage arranged immediately. The couple wed in Irish fashion. It is done.
As day turns, the English conduct a surprise attack. Eleanor is murdered and O’Rourke and surviving clan members flee to Scotland to seek protection from King James.
O’Rourke is betrayed by King James and surrendered to the Queen. He is convicted of treason and hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, setting off a riot in London.