I’m up on the ninth floor of an ultra-modern office block on Washington’s Massachusetts Avenue and I can really feel Swampoodle coming together. To those of you who know anything about this project, this may seem a strange. After all, Swampoodle is a play inspired by the stories of DC’s forgotten Irish ghetto and staged in an half-abandoned sports arena. But if you were up here with me on the ninth floor you might get the picture.
This is our rehearsal space, but more importantly it’s a rehearsal space with a panoramic view of old Swampoodle – or at least traces and reminders of it. Back in Ireland, my office walls were covered in maps and images of DC and the landmarks of the old Swampoodle neighborhood. Now after all those months of researching and writing the play, it’s exciting to see the geography of the place in real life. Out one window I see the red brick Government Printing Office – a place which employed hundreds of Swampoodlites back in the day. And just down the street, I can see front of Union Station.
The construction of this grandiose terminus also gave work to many Irish laborers, but ironically it helped kill off the neighorhood. The project literally railroaded through the heart of Swampoodle, as hundreds of homes were demolished to make way for the station and its sprawling rail yard. This marked the beginning of the end for Swampoodle as an Irish-American community in the heart of DC. By the mid-20th century, even the name Swampoodle was forgotten.
Out another window, if I crane my neck, I fancy I can see the Uline Arena – a barrel-roofed building that stands on the far side of the Union Station rail yard. Once upon a time the Uline was DC’s sports and entertainment Mecca. These days it’s a parking lot. But in three weeks time, we plan to bring the razzle-dazzle back. That’s where Swampoodle will be performed. And I can feel it coming together!