Documentary on One: A Very Brief Encounter

Documentary on One: A Very Brief Encounter

"Do you intend to marry me?"

100 years ago this year, Miss Emily Sheeran took Mr Patrick Duignan to court in Dublin,  in an action for Breach of Promise to Marry. 

(Listen here)

The story was found by chance: another Emily Sheerin, a Dubliner, was looking through old newspaper articles about two great-grandfathers.  Combined errors - mismatching names and the newspapers' incorrect spelling of her surname - uncovered a whole series of articles about this court case from February 1913, involving the eldest daughter of a Daniel Sheerin (sic), a farmer in Co. Longford.  Emily Sheerin?  The name's not that common - could she have been a distant relation? (Sadly, she turned out to be a SheerAn.)

The newspapers drip-fed descriptions to readers at the time - the story even reached the Wanganui Chronicle of New Zealand.

How to retell a story like this? You round up the brilliant "Tribunal" actors:  Joe Taylor and Malcolm Douglas are joined by the excellent Cathy Belton and Barry Barnes, to re-enact the courtroom scenes.
But who was Emily Sheeran, and why did her family risk going to court?  Longford County Library's Archivist, Martin Morris  uncovers more information and The Longford Leader's reports.  He also arranges a little odyssey, with visits to the Sheeran's former farm in Clondra, to Clondra graveyard and to Mr James Cox in Roscommon, a relative of the family, who does know what happened Emily later... 
The documentary mixes a not-too-serious look at Emily's story, with just what a "Breach of Promise" action entailed.  Professor Maria Luddy, an historian and Breach of Promise enthusiast, rounds out the story, describing the world in which these cases could happen, the significance of newspaper reporting - and the barristers'  "theatrical"  leanings.
Oh, and there is a scene on a train platform....you'd have to.

This programme will be broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 at 1pm on Saturday 24th August. To search for other programmes in the Documentary on One series, please click here.


Narrated and produced by  Emily Sheerin
Production Supervision by  Sarah Blake
Sound Supervision by   Mark Mc Grath

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.