THE BEAN A LIANNA BAR, DUNGARVAN – PART TWO
DAY TWENTY-TWO: SATURDAY
Woke at 8 30 in the morning – a really good night’s sleep for once. Made tea, stretched out on the grass and read a book. Lazily constructed breakfast over the primus stove and saw the Belfast fishing party troop off towards town. Lay back and watched a migratory flock of birds gather on the Garda Station’s radio mast.
The mid-day Angelus bell finally stirred me out of lethargy. The next show was due in eight hours and I had done nothing whatsoever towards creating it. Things were getting so laid back it was ridiculous.
Walked down to Grattan Square to try once more to contact the Waterford Arts admin. Again, the only answer was the recorded message about office hours, plus an emergency number. Well, sod it, this was an emergency. Re-dialled and, within ten seconds, a voice replied at the other end:
“Hello. Emergency Fire Brigade.”
Eh? Took a deep breath and said:
“Look, I’m terribly sorry to trouble you but I’m trying to contact the County Waterford Arts Administrator?”
There was a pause, then the sound of suppressed laughter, before the voice came back:
“Well, we’re not too strong on the sculpture, and the poetry’s got a long way to go yet. But we’re very good at putting out fires.”
He continued more normally.
“You won’t get hold of the Corporation offices till 9.30 on Monday morning. Sorry about that now.”
So it was back to square one again. Killorglin aside, I hadn’t been in this situation since Co Donegal. There was no external momentum left. Despite the trail of radio announcements, newspaper articles and friendly word of mouth, I had journeyed beyond the buzz – this was new territory.
Went down to the quayside to try and persuade the Anchor to do the show. The landlady turned it down, saying that the pub was mostly used by young people.
“I don’t think they’d appreciate it. Besides, it might interfere with the Gobshites.”
She did, however, suggest a bar back in the town centre: the Bean A Leanna, pronounced ‘Banner Lee Anna’. Found it just off Grattan Square and presented the new landlady with the dog-eared copy of the Kerryman to explain the tour and its conditions. Her name was Bride and she agreed almost immediately. Although still young, she was a retired schoolteacher and, I think, welcomed any suggestion of ‘culture’. She ushered me into the back bar – it was an excellent place for the show. Despite being small, it was large enough to both perform in and to seat about thirty audience. An array of brass pots and pans surrounded an old hearth and antique mirrors hung on the walls. It almost resembled nineteenth century Paris.
We agreed on a 9pm start and shook hands. Went back outside hugely bucked. In the space of ten minutes, the situation had changed from abysmal to splendid.
Spent the next two hours, armed with photo-copied posters and a roll of Sellotape, advertising the show around the hotels, tourist offices, public plaques and monuments of Dungarvan. Also managed to contact the Waterford local radio; they promised to publicise it. By 3.30pm, there wasn’t really anything else to do. Wandered down to the harbour slipway where I had crashed out yesterday. The clouds had edged away towards Kilkenny in the north and the sunshine spread out over the bay. For the first time, Dungarvan looked and felt good.
A man of about fifty pushed his aged father in a wheelchair down to the sands, then started to throw sticks into the waves for his dog to chase. The dog, whose name was Mac, while very interested in the sticks, was equally determined not to get wet. Time and again, he hurtled across the sand after each throw, then skidded to a halt at the edge of the sea, turned round and walked back looking embarrassed but resolutely dry. The old man laughed:
“Ah, sure, Mac’s got no love for the wather.”
One of the good things about Dungarvan was to hear the clear tones of a Leinster accent after the struggles to understand the Munster brogue for the last ten days.
Back at the tent. Slept for two hours and woke at seven pm. For some reason there was a lot of indistinct shouting over the wall at the Christian Brothers Training College, followed by a burst of very loud music – ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys. Thought it was rather odd? I’d heard on the radio last night that the Irish Catholic Church was ‘changing to meet the needs of the modern world’, but this seemed to be going a bit far?
Went back to the Bean A Leanna rear bar at eight pm and arranged the stage and props ready for the performance. Then realised that I’d left the desk lamp and the props wine bottle in the tent. Glanced at the watch; it was only 8 15pm. There was time to return to camp and collect them. Speed-walked back to the hostel, found the missing stuff, and returned to the Bean by eight thirty. As I walked into the rear bar, I was greeted by a chorus of yells and catcalls. Oh Jaysus!
The Belfast fishing trip crowd had arrived and were sprawled around the room and on the stage. They were also roaring drunk. It looked like they had been on the booze all day. Went to the stage table to rescue the props, then sat down. This was one hell of a dilemma. I could not abandon the bar – this was my venue. On the other hand, there was no way that the show could go on under these conditions. For a start, no prospective audience in its right mind would have come in here at the end of a pitchfork, let alone willingly. Through the door to the front bar, I could see the regulars huddled in worried, whispering groups. There was a strong chance that this could turn into a major bar brawl at the drop of a wrong word. And with Oscar Wilde right in the sodding middle of it!
Then things got worse. The singing started. But these were not the usual airs and ballads; this was real hardcore IRA stuff. ‘The Boys of the Second Belfast Brigade’ followed by ‘The Boys Behind The Wire’.
The main singer was a large hulking man who spat out the songs in sheer rage towards the front bar regulars. This was not singing, this was a simple and savage challenge. Looked at my watch again. The show was due to start in about twelve minutes. One of the men pointed at me and abruptly grated:
“Are you going to fuckin’ sing or what?”
Sing? Christ, I was meant to be acting! I suppose that this was the defining moment. I had never claimed bravery as one of my chief characteristics; there was a strong desire to grab the props and make as clean a getaway as possible. But somehow, the pig-headed resolve not to be thrown off one’s own stage was stronger. I’d travelled all this way and I wasn’t going to lose the bet now. Also, I suddenly saw a way ahead.
“Sing? Yeah. Have you heard ‘Carrickfergus’?”
Over the years, I must have sung that song a thousand times but never under circumstances like these. And, amazingly, it worked enough to quieten the room. Finally, the US cavalry arrived – Bride refused to serve them any more drink. Whether they would accept the decision was touch and go for a minute. Then, grumbling, they began to file outside. A few of them came across to shake hands.
“You didn’t do a bad job on the song. It’s strange hearing a Brit sing it though.”
They left and I slumped with relief. All the same, they hadn’t been such a bad crowd; at least they’d had the decency to shake hands. Looked around – the stage was awash with beer and glasses, the play was scheduled to start in three minutes and I was hoarse from bellowing Irish laments. Wondered how many other theatre shows across the British Isles had commenced under these conditions?
Cleared up the stage, sat down and applied the make-up. Somehow I was glad that the fishing trippers were not here to witness this: they might have accepted ‘Carrickfergus’ but I think that they might have drawn the line at lipstick. By ten past nine I was ready. Three old gentlemen had arrived, plus a family group. Handed out the programmes. The family group read one, stood up and left. However, about another dozen people crowded in, Bride dowsed the main lights, and the show started.
“I spoke a moment ago about my desire for money. I would like to explain that further. Now, of course, I wish for more money, very few men more so, for lack of it is an impediment, but to gain it only after long and forced labour and at the cost of lost liberty, this I consider is a sacrifice of ends to means. What is the use of the open door to the bird so long caged that its power of flight has gone? The drudgery of business makes men other than themselves. Hard work is merely the refuge of people who have nothing better to do.”
The bar was warm and intimate, the audience attentive and the performance as smooth and creamy as Guinness. It was a hit! It never ceased to surprise me how a good show could emerge out of a potential disaster.
Joined Bride and her affable husband, Tom, in the front bar for a very necessary pint – one way and another, it had been a bizarre evening. Two of the regulars, Sean and Fred, joined us. Sean smiled appreciatively:
“You did well out there. Did you see those three auld fellows. I thought they’d stay for ten minutes and then leave. But they stuck it out to the end. That’s the best praise you’ll ever have.”
“Sometimes we have bands playing in there to nobody at all. It takes a lot to get the regulars to leave the front bar.”
Began to feel quite high on all the compliments this evening.
At midnight, as I walked back to camp, Dungarvan town centre was still lively with drunken kids. Reached the hostel and decided to stop in the porch for a cigarette. Another man sat in the shadows devouring a kebab. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realised that he was the most intimidating member of the fishing trip – the huge one with the shaven head tattooed with scar tissue. Searching for a conversational opening, I asked him if he’d caught many fish during the week.
He shook his massive head:
“Only with chips and vinegar.”
For some reason he’d missed out on the Bean A Leanna visit earlier. I mentioned that I’d seen his friends there.
He looked across and said:
“Do you know where we come from? The Falls Road.”
He waited as if for effect and I replied:
“Well, that’s a pretty well known address.”
He gulped a chunk of kebab.
“Yeah. People start to get ideas about us when they hear that.”
We began to talk and naturally the subject veered round to the Troubles. Scarhead turned out to be an interesting and articulate man, quite at odds with his ferocious appearance. I think I learned more about the realities from him in an hour than I had in two decades of ‘News Night’.
One of the points he made struck home.
“I can’t see real peace coming at all. The place is geared for trouble. There are too many people on both sides who have made a lot of money out of thirty years of war. They’ve got away with things with the backing of the para-militaries that they’d never have done under a real government. But that means that they’re dead scared of it all being taken away from them. So they want to keep the war going. And all it needs to do that is just one fucked-up kid with a bomb in the right place.”
Later he went on:
“It’s always said that the problem is that the Irish can’t forget history. I’ll tell you, there’s another problem. The English can’t remember history. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t forget it. It might be the best thing to do. But the point is that the English have no right to moralise about it. The Yanks might have the right, even the Europeans might, but not the English. It’s like the Germans telling the Jews to stop moaning about the Holocaust. It’s an insult.”
Despite his pantomime ogre appearance, Scarhead was damned intelligent and he impressed me. He seemed to know what he was talking about. As he rose to leave, he said confidentially:
“You want to know something? There are twelve of us in the fishing party and eight have been in jail for republican activities. It sort of changes your viewpoint. Break a leg.”
He walked back into the hostel.
Bloody hell fire! No wonder that crowd at the Bean had been so vehement with the singing. They weren’t sentimental sympathisers at all – they were the real thing! Remembered my earlier efforts to clear the stage of what I thought were a crowd of holiday drunks. Unwittingly, I’d been trying to shift what was possibly a republican army platoon. Returned pensively to the tent and slept ….. eventually.
DAY TWENTY-THREE: SUNDAY
Woke at seven and lazed in the sleeping bag. Finally stirred, sat outside on a garden bench with a mug of tea and watched life continue around me. Within fifty yards of each other, Miss Havisham was knitting in the porch, the Christian Brothers were trooping off to Mass, the Garda were wandering out of the police station and yawningly preparing for patrol duty, and the Republicans were sitting in the hostel dining room eating bacon and egg. Just a cozy Sunday morning in Dungarvan.
Slowly started to take down the tent, then speeded up considerably as a sudden squall of rain arrived. Strapped Bosie together and dodged along under the shop front awnings down to Grattan Square. Found the bus shelter. A little old lady sat patiently watching the raindrops. She asked where I had travelled and I replied with a list of the venue towns. She brightened as I mentioned the Aran Islands.
“Ah yes indeed” she breathed happily. “I love the Arans. I went there as a girl. It was like floating under the sails of dreamland.”
Wondered if I would be able to wax so lyrical when I was eighty at a bus stop in the rain?
The coach arrived at ten thirty. Stowed Bosie away in the luggage compartment and climbed on board to pay the driver.
“Can I have a single to Waterford?”
He replied: “It’s the same price to have a day return.”
“But I only need a single.”
“Ah, go on, get the day return. You never know what might happen in Waterford.”
I bought the day return.