A ‘jury’ made up of citizens from the loyalist Shankill Road heartland has found the Easter Rising leader Padraig Pearse “not guilty” of treason at a mock trial in Belfast.
The shock verdict was announced by the clerk of the jury following an audience participation performance of ‘The Trial of Padraig Pearse’ in the Shankill Library on Wednesday night.
The play has been performed a number of times by the Newpoint Players on both sides of the Irish border and in Canada, with a more predictable outcome.
Its only previous performance in a loyalist area, at the Skainos Centre in east Belfast, found the leading republican – who read the 1916 proclamation of independence in Dublin – guilty as charged by a majority of 60-20.
On the Shankill Road the jury heard evidence that Pearse was “no more guilty of treason” than UVF leader Edward Carson and was swayed to acquit Pearse by a majority of 18-16.
The play’s author Anthony Russell said he was surprised by the verdict.
“We didn’t really expect Pearse to find sympathy to this extent on the Shankill Road. It was a very informed debate, with jury members clearly taking on board the balanced views which I hope the play portrays. It’s intriguing to think that one more vote could have resulted in a 19-16 verdict,” he said.
Tommy Fegan, director of the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School played the court clerk on Wednesday. He said it was worth noting “that people in hard-line loyalist areas have a more open mind than we normally perceive it to be”.
Mr Fegan added: “The next play we are doing is ‘The Trial of the Orange Order’ and we hope to bring that up to do the same rounds – to go back to the Shankill Road – and it will be interesting to see how people react to the accusations that the Orange Order betrayed the Irish people.”