Rough Magic Takes 'The Train' From Dublin To Belfast

Bill Whelan's musical ‘The Train’ will travel to The Mac in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, following its run this Easter at the Abbey Theatre.

The critically acclaimed musical ‘The Train’ is inspired by a remarkable true story involving a former Hot Press writer and has a score composed by Bill Whelan of Riverdance fame. The musical is a "fictional celebration" of actual events surrounding the legendary so-called “contraceptive train” way back in 1971. Determined to challenge the restrictive laws of the Irish State at the time – which prohibited the sale of condoms over the counter in the Republic – a group of 47 trailblazing women took the train to Belfast and returned to Dublin with the forbidden contraceptives.

One of the 12 founding members of the Irish Woman’s Liberation Movement involved in the “contraceptive train” was our very own Nell McCafferty, who wrote a column for Hot Press for many years.

There was chants of “let them through” from the public in the packed train station as bewildered custom officials at Connolly Station didn’t know what to make of the situation.

“The first item on our agenda was to legalise contraception in Ireland, which at that time was forbidden. And if you were caught in possession of them you faced a jail sentence or a large fine, ” recalled Nell in an interview with the BBC.

It’s now looked upon today as a remarkable media coup orchestrated by the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, which helped to change the social landscape of Ireland.

It was announced last year that the show would put on at The Abbey, but Rough magic confirmed yesterday that it will now also be staged in Belfast.

“We are thrilled that The Train, our celebration of the pioneering 1970s generation of Irish feminists will form part of the inaugural programme of the Abbey Theatre’s new directors,” said the show's director, Lynne Parker. “To take The Train – literally - to Belfast is a hugely exciting prospect, mirroring the original journey and giving us a tremendous platform to raise awareness of the issues in the piece. It was a time, as the women of ‘71 said, ‘when the world turned on its axis’. We are living through such a time now and this history has real currency.”

Rough Magic Theatre Company’s production of the musical based on the historical train journey originally premiered in Ireland in 2015 with successful seasons in Limerick and at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Speaking about the new production at the Abbey, Bill Whelan says: “When Arthur Riordan and I began working on the Train for Rough Magic some years ago, it seemed that the issues raised in 1971 were still startlingly relevant. Given recent political upheavals, it would now appear that the further we move from the actual historical event, the more relevant and urgent those issues have become. I am so pleased and grateful that we are able to present this work on the Abbey stage.”

The infamous short journey, which marked the beginning of a modern odyssey, is a watershed moment in Irish social and political life that is joyously captured by Arthur Riordan’s wit and Bill Whelan’s dynamic score.

The cast includes Clare Barrett, Danielle Galligan, Kate Gilmore, Darragh Kelly, Lisa Lambe, Karen McCartney and Sophie Jo Wasson, Louis Lovett and Ross Gaynor. Cathal Synnott The show will also feature a live band under the musical direction of Cathal Synnott.

“We wanted to start our first season on the Abbey stage by inviting in Irish artists, companies and shows we have long admired,” said Neil Murray and Graham McLaren, Directors of the Abbey Theatre.

“From a revolutionary stance 45 years ago, this story still has an amazing urgency and potency in the context of issues still affecting today. If you haven’t seen Rough Magic’s The Train yet, you should, and if you have seen it you should see it again.”

The critics have been full of praise for the musical, with the Irish Independent saying it “hits the emotional hot spot” and the Irish Times describing it as “a ball of energy, the pace enhanced by a quintet of live musicians... this kinetic production reminds us how far women have come."

A preview of the show will be staged at the Abbey Theatre on 6 April, 7.30pm, with the musical running between 7-15 April, 7.30pm. It will be shown on Mondays to Saturday at 7.30pm, with matinees on Saturdays at 2pm

Tickets for the Dubin shows cost €13 – €45, with concession tickets priced at. €13 – €25 Bookings can be made on

The show will run at The Mac from 19-23 April, with tickets priced between £12.50-£25.00. For further information log onto


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