In Each Other’s Shadow is a play I wrote for the dissertation of my Master of Arts in Irish Studies degree at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. It gained a distinction as Saints and Scholars, but I’ve since renamed and rewritten it with the advantage of time, changing political events and some excellent, if at times brutal, honest brokers.
It’s May 2018 and a distinguished historian returns to her hometown in Donegal for a talk on the discovery of a lost film featuring a controversial politician who’d been elected to the first Irish parliament in 1918. She has not been home in 30 years, for a few good reasons it transpires. Although it is a lightning visit, she is obliged to defend not just the politician’s apparent shortcomings, but also her own. Set against the backdrop of the 2018 Irish referendum on women’s rights to abortion where only Donegal rejected it, her home place has more than a few of its own shortcomings.
It is in effect two plays in one. The first act is topical, coming one hundred years on from Ireland’s first steps to independence and looks at the stance and subsequent reputation of the controversial politician from 100 years ago. What do you do with your revolution once you’ve had it? The play asks if the Irish were sold a ‘pup’ after their revolution and questions the lofty status of Ireland’s so-called heroes, right back to St. Patrick.
Act Two is the showdown developed on from Act One. It’s a play where the ‘tall poppy’ is clipped, where the themes of enforced exile, lingering animosities and petty jealousies are exposed. At the heart of the play is the fact that no matter how well you may do in the world, in your hometown, you’ll be brought down to size very quickly and reminded in no uncertain terms, that ‘it was far from that you were reared’.
It’s a play full of black, savage humour, where each party gives as they good as they get and where scores are settled by all parties, but at whose expense? It asks if a person’s history is destined to haunt them. Repressed memories, latent resentments, home truths and putdowns fly from all quarters. It is a night for picking a variety of bones with each other. In short, it’s war.
Rural vs. urban divide
Conservative vs. liberal viewpoints
Street smart vs. intellectual perspectives
Repression vs. endeavour
Staidness vs. innovation
Town ‘royalty’ vs. blow ins
Lost love, lost hope, lost dreams
NB: please note that Act One Scene One below and is published as a sample for arts funders. No part of it may be used or replicated without the express permission of the author.
Kate McHugh – history professor
Seamie Doherty – local farmer
Majella Durkan – bar owner
Benjy McNamee – bar manager
Paddy Brogan – returned emigrant
Bridie Quinlan – local history teacher
Amanda Gilfeather – local reporter
Dan Keeney – cattle dealer
Frank Tyler – historical figure
Acting note: Keeney doubles up as Tyler.
© John Ward, 2016-2018, All rights reserved.
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE
The play is set in the village of Kilderg in south Donegal, right on the Fermanagh border. Stage setting: a small rural bar, The Redemption Inn, early evening on the 1st May 2018.
A counter right, with three taps. The spirits are mostly mounted. There are five high stools at the counter.
There is a fireplace, front left, with a stove built into it. Near this is a low table with some small stools and a sign on the table saying ‘Reserved’, nearest the fire. There are two more tables, with a stool or two – one by the reserved table and the other to the right of the stage.
On the wall, back, are some faded photographs of Donegal icons; Daniel O’Donnell with a blacked out tooth, the 2012 All Ireland winners and Enya (with a moustache drawn in), below it is a long bench from stage left to the back door. There is a poster for a history lecture to be held that night by the back door. The walls also have a variety of images of St. Patrick and Lough Derg, both with the same wag’s doodles over them.
A flat screen television festooned in Donegal colours is mounted up in a corner. The room is festooned in Donegal GAA colours of green and gold and a variety of yellow May flowers. Over the back door is a May Bush being a thorn bush decorated with flowers, ribbons and bright shells in honour of Bealtaine. Though slightly jaded, the pub is immaculately clean.
A door, left, is the main entrance to the bar. A back door leads to the toilets and a smokers’ yard. A door right marked ‘B&B’ leads to the main house.
This bar is part of a house with a B&B upstairs.
MAJELLA, a well turned out svelte woman with bobbed blonde hair in her mid 40s, is behind the counter going through a list of action points with her pen. She moves around the place with great efficiency to see that everything is in order and that the fire is stoked. There are a lot of May flowers on the counter in vases. She takes a plate of covered sandwiches and a covered salad out of the fridge. She leaves the sandwiches on the bar counter and places the salad with a knife and fork wrapped up in a serviette on the reserved table sign. She looks at the reserved sign, sniggers for a second and blows on it giving it a clean with a duster.
The door, right opens. PADDY comes in and sees MAJELLA – he smiles and bows ostentatiously to her. She smiles and bows back. He is upbeat and is looking forward to a drink. He is mid 70s (but doesn’t look or act it) and is dressed in a Bohemian manner for such parts; he has an American twang with traces of an Irish accent.
Intro song: ‘This is my Homeland’s chorus plays then fades as PADDY appears.
PADDY: (Arms opened triumphantly.) The shaman has returned from his sunrise salutations! Haven’t you spruced this place up nicely for Bealtaine – all for your favourite pagan patron?
MAJELLA: I always observe the 1st of May and well you know it – plus it’s a pleasant change from all those ‘Vote No’ campaign posters clogging up the village. The sooner May 25th comes and goes, the better.(PADDY hands her a small bag which she opens.) Ah, you wee pet, you brought me some ragwort – you’re not just a bad influence! (MAJELLA places the ragwort above the back door’s May Bush)
PADDY: (Looking left) The reserved sign no less? Surely there won’t be a more august patron than me here tonight?
MAJELLA: Never you mind Paddy Brogan – I’ve loads to be at so make yourself useful and pour yourself a stout there! I’ve just changed the keg.
(PADDY goes behind the bar counter.)
PADDY: With my usual discount for self-service?
MAJELLA: There’s a thick ear going a begging if you’re not careful.
PADDY: (Pausing and playfully responding as he pours his pint.) You know, it’s the Céad Mile Fáilte and the recurring threat of violence that’ll keep the punters and pilgrims coming to The Redemption Inn.
MAJELLA: (Busy preparing the place) Less mouth, more elbow.
PADDY: Self-service in pubs is the way to go I reckon – may well get a bit hairy to police it as the night progressed though.
MAJELLA: (Half listening) Retirement sure keeps that brain of yours busy – up early for sun worshiping, then annoying me as the sun goes down. Ever get the feeling it’s going to be one of those nights?
PADDY: Eh? First Tuesdays in Kilderg are usually fairly tame events, unless you count Bridie Quinlan’s monthly history lecture as an occasion!
MAJELLA: Believe me, it’s not just those Bealtaine pagan vibes you talk about, there’s something not quite right.
(Majella finishes tidying and festooning the bar with May flowers and ragwort and goes back to the bar, washes her hands.)
PADDY: A keen sixth sense avoids surprises.
MAJELLA: (Nodding towards the poster.) There’s a little surprise I’ve kept back from you – a last minute change of plan from Bridie’s usual dross.
PADDY: (Walking over towards it and reading its contents aloud.) ‘Kilderg Historical Society proudly presents Kilderg native Professor K.T. Norrington discussing the legacy of Frank Tyler, T.D for South Donegal, 1918-1923’ before the screening of his last interview.’ Your famous schoolmate is doing a favour for Bridie ahead of her posher do in Enniskillen? Bet she’s still reluctant to set her foot around here?
MAJELLA: It’s easier to go see Kate in London (Handing PADDY his completed pint of settled stout before looking into the middle distance.) – the boutiques and galleries of Kilderg just never could compete! (BAR.)
PADDY: (He is lifting his stout in the air and admiring it.) To the eternal flame of life!
MAJELLA: I think that early sun went to your head.
PADDY: (Sipping his pint pensively.) Deputy Frank Tyler, eh? A controversial choice for steady old Bridie and her cohorts!
MAJELLA: Kate only agreed to present if the topic was hers to choose. (MAJELLA gets a text alert and takes the mobile phone out to read it.)
PADDY: Your ominous forecast might come to pass.
MAJELLA: Keep an eye on things; I’m going to ring that useless husband of mine on the landline. He just texted to say he has to do an urgent truck run to France tonight.
PADDY: (Bowing slowly and heading behind the bar counter.) Sort out your affairs with Dessie, this temple of ragwort and May flowers is safe from any supernatural attack!
MAJELLA: Fear not there Sun God, Benjy starts work in a few minutes so you’ll be off duty soon enough.
(MAJELLA walks out the right door leading to the B&B and a few seconds later, in walks BENJY stage left. He is stocky with a mop of hair, a blue jacket under his arm and a well ironed chequered shirt with its sleeves rolled up. He walks with his arms dangling a bit and with pronounced steps – he goes behind the counter and PADDY comes out in a move that they’ve clearly done before.)
BENJY: ‘Evening Paddy – running The Redemption Inn again?
PADDY: And all for the price of a complimentary pint.
BENJY: (Hanging up his jacket then looking around the pub.) Jeez, some colour in here hey, Bealtaine sure comes fast – suppose you were off lighting bonfires at the crack of dawn with your crusty mates then?
PADDY: (Going back to his usual corner stool.) Just back about an hour or so, we made a day of it what with the good weather and the free lovin’ (BENJY looks startled.)– ha, I wish! Time’s the big difference between the pagan and the Catholic. We take our time to celebrate and connect with the cosmos. Now with the Catholics, it’s all ‘eat pray shove off’, the faster the better; quick masses, drive-by ash for Lent, one day pilgrimages. Says it all really!
BENJY: One mouthful of stout and you’re banging on about time and the cosmos!
PADDY: Time’s a great teacher, but she kills all her pupils.
BENJY: You’re in rare form I can see – those days away always leave you wired. (BENJY puts his hand out to say ‘stop!’) Don’t even think about giving me one of your funny blessings!
PADDY: On your head may it be. (PADDY shakes his head ruefully. Nodding at the poster) In other news, we’re getting Professor Katherine Norrington from the telly tonight.
BENJY: Talking about that politician Frank Tyler I see.
PADDY: You’d have known her at school as plain old Kate McHugh, right?
BENJY: Known by all as ‘Kick’ McHugh. Nothing was ever ‘plain old’ about that one.
PADDY: (Nodding at the poster.) Getting her to Kilderg for Bridie’s monthly history lecture is quite the coup.
BENJY: (Looking serious.) Some might regard that as one night too many…
PADDY: (Looking bemused.) Easy! We’re lucky to have Kilderg’s only living celebrity gracing us with her presence!
BENJY: The last time she ‘graced us with her presence’ was at Big Seamie’s wedding in ’95. And she didn’t even attend it.
PADDY: How do you mean?
BENJY: (Standing up and walking towards the front of the stage, cleaning a water jug with a towel.) Seamie and her had been an item throughout secondary school, both destined for university, but by the end of the summer we all did our Leaving Cert in 1988, it was over.
PADDY: ‘First love is only a little foolishness and a lot of curiosity’.
BENJY: That’s right Wordsworth. Anyway, you were still Stateside I guess – Seamie never quite got over that summer’s events. Years later, he was doing a line with a girl from Tyrone. I couldn’t believe it when we all met her – she was the spit of Kick McHugh! No one was brave enough to say anything, but Seamie said enough on the day of the wedding in Donegal Town.
PADDY: How so?
BENJY: As was customary, we’d all popped out for a few drinks in McCafferty’s before the speeches. Maybe one too many in truth. When Seamie gets up to speak, doesn’t he go and say that marrying Kate was all he’d ever wanted to do. I wish the ground could have swallowed me up there and then – there was no recovery!
PADDY: I’m assuming his new bride wasn’t also called Kate?
BENJY: Nope, Dolores.
BENJY: The silence after he said that was just dire. Only time I felt pity for that big lug – up there flat-lining on the mike until his father-in-law swiped it off him. I don’t think me arse cheeks declenched for about a month after it!
PADDY: Aye, many’s a man’s mouth broke his heart.
BENJY: They motored on as best they could, even managed somehow to have a honeymoon baby out of it, but the die was cast. It lasted only two years. Such a quare gunk!
PADDY: As clangers go, that takes some beatin’ alright. Hell hath no fury like a woman misnamed! Sheez, Kate best not come within an ass’s roar of Seamie then so.
BENJY: Well ye know the big fella at the best of times – like a Tenessee tornado so he is. That girl’s name alone gives him a fierce scunder. I mentioned Kick in passing late one night years ago and he didn’t speak to me for nearly a month solid. (Going closer in a near whisper.) I think it is all tied in to his brother Pauric dying that summer. Losing his big idol and his true love was all a bit much for him – for any of us come to think about it. You heard about how Pauric died, right?
PADDY: That news went to Philadelphia and beyond. And now that you put it in context, yeah, Kate made other headlines around about the same time. Best we ensure he doesn’t come in here tonight then so!
BENJY: It’s unlikely – he was off shooting with some Gun Club buddies this morning and has the mart on tomorrow. He usually takes it handy before then, but I might just give him a call and check that he is staying put tonight. And yeah, young Kick, she ruffled plenty of feathers back then…
PADDY: Less of the ‘Kick’ – her stock has gone up considerably since then let me tell you.
BENJY: Don’t worry, I’m house-trained – it’s Kate, not Kick!
PADDY: (Shaking his head and swiping his hand at BENJY.) Good, now call Seamie and keep him the hell outta here then so. Majella was right – it’s gonna be one of those nights if we don’t look out.
BENJY: Majella said that? Of course (Pointing above.) – Kate’ll be staying above in the B&B then so.
PADDY: And why I’m attuning you to her 21st century moniker – that fancy reserved sign over there is for the imminent arrival of Kate.
BENJY: This is not good! I’ll go see where Seamie is now to make sure he’s staying put!
PADDY: Grand so, I’ll mind the fort over a smoke.
BENJY: That’s it, let me do the hard work and you take it handy!
PADDY: (Stepping out the back door.) Pah. Handy? It’s been a 50/50 work/drink ratio since I came in here and me up since 4am!
(MAJELLA comes in via right door and goes behind the bar, a few seconds later KATE comes in with a full size cardboard cut out of Frank Tyler under her arm, a dress in a hanger and dry cleaning plastic sheet and a small wheelie case.) KATE is toned with dark shoulder length hair and has a natural beauty to her – when we see her, she is in jeans, a crisp white shirt and a designer jacket, all impeccably cut. In her mid forties, she is sharp, but guarded, leaving her warm demeanour mainly for friends. She has a proper Home Counties accent that gives way to a soft neutral Irish lilt from time to time.
KATE: Excuse me, is this where one might find redemption in these parts?
MAJELLA: Ah Kate, at long last! The Homecoming Queen herself! You’ve just won me €100 off Dessie! Come on in pet! (Leaning out to PADDY) I’ve got this covered Paddy – no thanks to you, eh?
KATE: (Doing mock offence and grimacing.) It is the Queen herself – Hell has officially frozen over!
(MAJELLA goes up to relieve KATE of some items taking the dry cleaning and wheelie bag.)
MAJELLA: As I live and breathe, a real life TV ‘star’ in my humble pub! Who in Gawd’s name is that poor creature under your arm?
(KATE places the card board cut out in the middle of the bar putting its bases on then walks around the pub. MAJELLA puts the bag past the door marked ‘B&B’. MAJELLA hangs the dress on the door’s hook before resting against the bar counter, arms folded.)
KATE: This fine fellow is a cardboard cut out of Frank Tyler from 1966 – he’s my date for the week! Now let me give my oldest friend a proper hug. (Looking around the place.) Ragwort and all to ward off trouble at Bealtaine I see? Just assure me Seamus Doherty won’t be coming in here?
MAJELLA: (In a calming fashion and coming over to put her hands on KATE’s shoulders.) That big galoot has the mart tomorrow and never drinks in here, nor elsewhere, the night before it.
(MAJELLA goes behind the counter and gets KATE a glass of water from the jug BENJY had cleaned – she fills it with ice, lemon and a large bottle of mineral water.)
KATE: Good. No change on which way County Donegal is going to vote in this referendum. I must have counted two hundred ‘No to Abortion’ posters on the way here. (Looking around the place.) My God, where on Earth did you get that monstrous TV screen – NASA? Anyway, how come you’re up €100 from my arrival?
(MAJELLA serves the water to KATE who salutes her with her glass and starts sipping it.)
MAJELLA: That disgrace of a screen is for the GAA fans and as for the money, Dessie bet me €100 some time back that you would never set foot in this village again (Bar.) alive…
KATE: That man still doesn’t ‘get’ women, does he? You could have just upped the stakes and taken the winnings with me 50/50, no?
(KATE goes to sit in the corner seat that PADDY usually sits in.)
MAJELLA: Ha. That canny lad knows we are just too honest for that sort of lark!
KATE: Speak for yourself – honesty gets you nowhere around here. Remember the hulabaloo from that debating final I won back in ‘88? Demonised for saying a few home truths!
MAJELLA: That was a long long time ago – look at you now!
KATE: Yeah, still blacklisted no doubt! (KATE jumps up at this point in mock disgust before winking and starts to walk around again.) Am I really only worth a hundred euro?
MAJELLA: Ha, well you’re priceless to me, if that helps!
(KATE is slowly looking around the pub – she puts her hand up to an old black and white picture on the wall.)
KATE: Coming back sure stirs up some ghosts.
MAJELLA: What ghosts would they be?
KATE: (Holding up the Reserved sign and pointing to herself in a playful silent gesture, she smiles. MAJELLA smiles and nods while pretending to genuflect.) Seeing just how cold and conservative this place will always be, what with those ‘Vote No’ posters! Don’t mind me, just some hometown blues, that’s all.
MAJELLA: Spit it out – it’s me for God’s sake.
(KATE slowly moves back to the bar and stops to answer the question.)
KATE: Leaving your hometown is like breaking up with a lover that you still need to deal with on a regular basis. Any affection either of you had slowly dissipates into loathing with each further encounter. Everything you hated about each other becomes magnified over time until you almost wish you’d never met that person in the first place. (Bar. She reflects and then picks up the tempo.) Oh, and if any intrepid soul dares venture back, they’d better be on their guard. Approach with maximum caution and whatever you do, do not become successful!
MAJELLA: You are a funny one professor! So by your own prodigious success, I must really resent you, yes? (Laughs)
(KATE makes her way back to the corner seat and sits down again laughing)
KATE: Well you should – since I haven’t shown my face in years, you’ve had to come to London and have a ball away from here. (holding up a brochure on the counter and pointing to it) Tell you what, let’s do Bundoran next year to even things up!
MAJELLA: Ha, no chance – you’re my escape route! (MAJELLA holds up the jug of iced water, but before pouring asks.) Fancy something stiff to ease those hometown blues? I’ve got Green Bush for you (she sees KATE looking preoccupied) – he won’t appear, believe me.
(KATE salutes MAJELLA with the glass and gets up again going over to the Tyler cut out.)
KATE: Oh, I’ll take it easy and be a good girl until after the talk. I’ll need it then once Bridie starts doing her ‘on behalf of the village’ routine. No doubt she’s running this ‘Vote No’ campaign around these parts, right? Is it okay to leave Frank Tyler here – I’ve just picked him up from the printers for my ‘proper talk’ on him in Enniskillen. It seemed wrong leaving a great fellow like him in the car looking like he was, oh what’s that terms the kids use – ‘planking’ across the headrests. (KATE gestures to do the plank – they both laugh.)
MAJELLA: There are enough planks around here without him joining in!