I was around 11 or 12 years old when the name Tom Murphy’s name was first mentioned to me, by my then Irish teacher, Miss Greaney. I had just developed my love affair with theatre. That summer on holidays in Mayo, I bought a Tom Murphy collection of plays. It nearly cost me all my holiday money but I didn’t care. I had ‘A Whistle in the Dark’ and ‘A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant’, in my hands.
I read ‘A Whistle in the Dark’ over and over again. I cannot say I understood it completely. I know I didn’t, but I knew it was brilliant. It was the best thing I ever had read in my life.
Around this time ‘Bailiegangaire’, was getting its first production by Druid, which I never got to see. I hadn’t even read it; but I knew I loved it anyway. I loved the title. I loved the word. ‘Bailiegangaire’. I loved the sound of it. I loved how it looked written down. I loved what it meant. ‘The Town without Laughter’. When eventually I did read it, I wasn’t disappointed. Now ‘Bailiegangaire’, replaced ‘Whistle’, as the best thing I ever read. Again I didn’t understand it all but I knew something truly amazing was going on. I think I have vague recollections of seeing it on RTE Television one night with Siobhan McKenna in the bed… I don’t know…Maybe I didn’t.
Some years ago I had the privilege of directing ‘Conversations on a Homecoming’, by Tom Murphy for NOMAD/Livin Dred and sat with Tom in his study discussing the play. My Theatrical hero, my playwriting idol, sitting before me. And Tom like his plays didn’t disappoint. He was funny, witty, intelligent, sharp, abrasive, contrary and very very generous.
A couple of years later I was invited to be assistant director on Tom’s new play ‘The Last Days of A Reluctant Tyrant’, at The Abbey Theatre. I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time in Tom’s presence and working closely with him and we got on extremely well. Maybe it was the culchies in us.
And now to ‘Bailiegangaire’, again, the play I have been obsessed with for years. A play about, family, place, home and dependence. A play about, love, hate, grief and historical trauma. A play about, the past, the present and the future. About the sham of De Valera’s romantic Ireland and the legacy of Lemass’ multi-national economic policy. A play where modernism and traditionalism clash. A play set in 1984, not by chance, but because 1984 is a watermark year in the social conscience of our little country. It’s the year of Ann Lovett in Granard, the Kerry Babies, the year after the toxic abortion referendum. Murphy through his genius captures perfectly the temperature of an entire nation at this time, in this play set in a cottage kitchen in Mayo. Murphy knows and achieves in this symphony, that in order to decipher our identity whether that is national, local or personal we have to come to grips with our own story or (hi)story. A story that is more often than not intertwined with family and a place called ‘home’. We have sometimes to deal with our historic trauma in order to become familiar with the here and now. That is all Mary, Mommo and Dolly is trying to do.
On opening night of ‘The Last Days of A Reluctant Tyrant’, at The Abbey, Tom Murphy gave me a copy of the published play. The inscription inside read:
To Padraic, My Friend and Collaborator, Tom Murphy.
In this game it doesn’t get much better than that!
BAILEGANGAIRE, Wed 14th – Thurs 15th September, 8pm, Civic Theatre Tallaght.
Starring Joan Sheehy, Clare Monnelly and Maeve Fitzgerald