Gerard Kearns

Gerard Kearns is best known for Shameless but his CV includes some impressive stage credits too. His latest play has connected him to both his Irish and his musical heritage

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The Easter Rising of 1916 was a key moment in Irish history that has been explored in popular culture time and time again. However, To Have To Shoot Irishmen, a new play by Lizzie Nunnery, unearths a lesser-known part of the story, namely that of Francis Sheehy Skeffington.

A writer and a keen advocate of Home Rule, Skeffington was in favour of civil disobedience but he objected to violence and the bearing of arms. When unrest sparked around the General Post Office in Dublin, Skeffington lectured citizens against looting, but for his pains he was arrested by English troops and subsequently executed.

Shameless and The Last Kingdom star Gerard Kearns, who is taking the role of Skeffington, says: “Francis was a pacifist, an atheist, a vegetarian. He took his wife’s surname, Sheehy, because he believed that women played just as an important part as men in this world.

“He was incredible for his time. He didn’t fire a gun, he didn’t attack people. He just stood up for what he believed in.”

Oldham-born Kearns has some Irish roots himself – his grandfather was from Dublin – and as a teenager the subject of the Rising was something he’d learnt about. “I’d only ever heard the narrative of the rebels, though, of them taking over the GPO and fighting the British military. I’d never looked into the narrative of all the people who wanted to go to work that week and couldn’t, of the innocent people who were killed, the children, the elderly.”

Nunnery’s script, which follows the last hours of Skeffington’s life, made an instant impact on Kearns. “It really jumped at me. It was very emotional to read and I just thought: ‘I’ve got to have the opportunity to play this man.’”

Besides being an acclaimed playwright, Nunnery is also a singer-songwriter, and has incorporated songs and music into To Have To Shoot Irishmen. “We’re singing and playing live on stage,” Kearns says. “It’s really enjoyable. It’s not something I’ve had the opportunity to do before but I’m from a musical background – it’s in my family. I think it goes hand in hand for a lot of people, doesn’t it – music, poetry, storytelling and the Irish connection. Music is a huge part of this piece. It really intertwines. It wouldn’t be the same play without it.”

Kearns will be familiar to many from his television work and will be appearing in Mike Leigh’s forthcoming Peterloo film, but his CV includes some impressive stage credits too. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do film, theatre and television,” he says. “With television work, more people see it, more people are aware of it. Film and television seem to be quite equal for me. Theatre less so, but it’s always been there, ticking away. I feel I’ve been very fortunate as an actor to be able to do all three mediums and long may it continue.”

For now, though, Kearns is evidently absorbed by playing Skeffington. “This is a fascinating, powerful piece which raises some really strong questions about how we choose to engage with people and feelings we disagree with, and how that can break down relationships between people from different classes and different backgrounds.”

To Have To Shoot Irishmen is on 25-27 Oct as part of Liverpool Irish Festival at Liverpool Everyman Theatre, then touring (

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