THE LOCH GARMAN ARMS, GOREY
Although I was in far finer fettle than the Dubliner, the ravages of last night were sufficient to allow the invoking of Lyndon’s hangover clause. Looked for a bus stop. Because the town was on the main Rosslare to Dublin route there was a surprisingly frequent service and, within half an hour, I climbed aboard the 1pm to Gorey. Glanced around the bus – apart from the driver and myself, everyone else was asleep. They sprawled out in the weird contortions of the uncomfortably comatose. It was really quite odd. Nerve gas? Then it dawned that they must be the night ferry-load from Fishguard. This would be the last lap of a journey that presumably had started in London yesterday and would finish in Dublin this afternoon.
Arrived in Gorey forty minutes later. Gingerly removed the head of a sleeping tourist from my shoulder and dismounted. The town, at first sight, did not look particularly inspiring. It consisted mostly of one long main street with a literally endless stream of two-way traffic that effectively split the town in half. It had the same effect as a river; the one pedestrian crossing acting as a bridge.
Found an Information Office: a very young, friendly girl checked out the possible accommodation. She said that there were no official B&Bs in the centre, no hostels in town, and no camping anywhere. Wondered whether to move on to Arklow? However, on regaining the main street, I saw a large sign advertising a B&B pub about fifty yards away. Doubts about the efficiency of the Information Office began to surface.
The B&B was called the Loch Garman Arms; despite sounding Scottish, ‘Loch Garman’ was the Gaelic translation of ‘Wexford’. The bedroom was reasonable but lacked a shower, TV, or an en suite kettle and cost twenty pounds a night. On the plus side, it was plumb central and had a bath, the first I’d seen since Galway. Also, in the residents’ lounge, there was a framed photograph of my Wexford driver, Larry O’Gorman, holding aloft the Hurling Championship Cup. That settled it – a good omen.
Returned to the Information Office to find out the location of Fred’s recommendation, the Joe Brown Bar. The girl looked blank.
“I’ve never heard of such a place. But then, I don’t know Gorey very well.”
She noticed my pointed look at the ‘Information’ sign and flushed.
“But I do know how to work the computer.”
Came back out into the street and immediately spotted a large sign about eighty yards away – ‘Joe Browns’. Went inside and asked for the owner.
The barman replied “Ah, no, he’s away at a wedding till five o’clock.”
As I strolled back down the street, a sudden cacophonous blast of car horns broke out. It sounded like the Milan rush hour but turned out to be a wedding – horn-tooting being the recognised Irish salute to a marriage. Presumably Joe Brown was somewhere amongst it.
Hung around for a couple of hours, then finally caught up with him at six o’clock. He was a cheerful man who remembered Fred from Wexford, was sympathetic to the idea, but turned it down on the grounds that “I don’t think you’d get any audience at all here. They’re all away off at weddings. Why don’t you try Quinns across the street?”
Quinns was a shrine to Country and Western music. Struggled to explain the Wilde show over the jukebox announcing that it had ‘lorst ma woman and now Ah’ve lorst ma dawg.” Got turned down again with a finality that brooked no argument.
“We don’t open the function room on a Saturday.”
After three more refusals, felt really stumped. Feck it! No, this was too annoying for euphemisms – fuck it! Since Donegal, I’d become so used to the relatively easy acquisition of venues that this was an unwelcome surprise. Wandered around the early evening town – nowhere else looked to be much use. Decided that I’d have to play the ace, The Loch Garman Arms itself. As I was a resident, the authorities might be vulnerable to moral blackmail. Spoke to the landlord who was a quiet gentlemanly fifty-year old called Michael. His long straggly grey hair and moustache reminded me of a Confederate general in the American Civil War. As I laid on the benefits of a Wilde performance with increasing desperation, he looked doubtful but eventually opened a large ledger on the desk and thumbed his way to the appropriate date. Fingering his moustache, he peered down at the blank page and muttered with visible reluctance:
“Well, I suppose so.” Then he added more sternly: “Just so long as you don’t go on any longer than forty five minutes.”
With relief, I agreed. Due to the chaotic commencement times of the show, this condition was completely meaningless anyway.
Went for a walk around town. This was going to have to be a booze-less night; I hadn’t given the liver a rest since Waterford. However, outside of the pubs, Gorey did not appear to have much to offer. There seemed to be no tourists at all, just bands of teenagers patrolling the main street while a few old men sat on benches and watched them.
Came back to the Loch Garman residents’ lounge and switched on the TV. There was a programme about the Enniscorthy Fleadh Cheoil that I might have found interesting if it hadn’t been in Gaelic. Channel-surfed; the east of Ireland could receive Welsh TV as well as Irish; it was presently showing Alan Titchmarsh’s ‘Ground Force’ programme.
This, for anybody unaware of it, consisted of three amiable horticultural experts being invited to redesign a strange garden in the absence of the owners, thus providing a congenial surprise for them on their return. Wondered idly what would have happened if they’d tried it on the Fred and Rosemary West domain in Gloucester. Bed and slept at midnight.
DAY TWENTY-NINE: SATURDAY
Woke at 8am – a really good night’s sleep at last. After breakfast, located the manager and paid up twenty pounds for another twenty-four hours residence. Counted the remaining money. For the first time so far, it was looking rather bleak – only one hundred and forty pounds left. I needed some good audiences for the last five shows, otherwise life could get tricky. It was going to be a close run thing after all.
Thumped the public telephone into submission and rang South-East Radio to ask them to publicise the latest venue. A secretary replied: “I don’t think that’s a problem. You’ll be on after the funeral announcements.”
Returned to the bedroom to listen to the Alan Maguire Show. He not only mentioned the Gorey performance but he replayed the entire interview from two days ago. The utter diamond! Felt a surge of affection for South-East Radio. And began to understand the gratitude that Tony Hawks must have felt towards the ‘Gerry Ryan Show’. There you were, fighting alone against the odds, and then, literally out of thin air, somebody else was fighting on your behalf. There was someone on your side. It was indescribably cheering.
Still, it was now my turn to drum up trade. It was a sunny day and already growing quite hot, ideal for leaflet distribution in Wilde costume. Looked out of the window across the roofs of the town. “What’s the Story, Morning Gorey?”
Returned once again to the Information Office to ask the girl where I might find a photo-copying shop. She brightened – at last I’d hit on a topic she knew something about.
“Oh, yes, you go up the street for about one hundred metres and you’ll find the cheese shop. That’s where they do the photo-copying.”
“The cheese shop?”
Followed her instructions and, sure enough, found a shop displaying an array of international dairy produce, together with various delicatessen meats. A suspicion crossed my mind that the information girl was winding me up. Nevertheless, entered the door and said with a deprecating smile:
“Look, I’m sorry about this and I know that it sounds a bit odd, but do you do any photocopying?”
The elderly man behind the counter wiped his hands on his striped apron and replied:
“Oh, indeed we do, indeed we do.”
He called out and a girl appeared from a back room. She led me around an enormous side of ham hanging from a hook and, true enough, there was a photocopier. Unfortunately, she did not seem to know how to work it. I needed A5 leaflets, approximately the same size as a paperback book page. After twenty minutes of fiddling with the machine we ended up with just about every size one could imagine except A5. The old man abandoned the Camembert to come and help, but to no avail. The copier simply refused to print A5’s. Finally, he suggested that we manually cut the best of the offerings to the right size. He cleared the surface of his bacon slicer and chopped away. I emerged half an hour later with one hundred individually sliced leaflets, each smelling faintly of streaky rind-less.
After changing into Oscar costume, I took up position by the main street pedestrian crossing – the ‘bridge’. The reaction to the leaflets was muted. Gorey was a more workaday town than Wexford, the people seemed more reserved, even suspicious. One youth did mention that he’d heard the radio broadcast.
“But I can’t come tonight. I’m going fishing.”
He walked off sniffing the leaflet with curiosity.
By 2pm, finished off the publicity drive and went for a stroll around the back streets. It was a hot, golden afternoon and the slight dust hanging around the pastel coloured terrace houses gave the town an oddly Italian appearance. Passed a newsagents window where, between adverts for the Evening Herald and Cadburys Milk Flake, there was a small handwritten notice:
‘Papal Blessings Arranged’.
Went back to the Loch Garman and checked out the performance bar – it was quite large and looked reasonably easy to play. At present, it was filled with little old ladies clustered round pots of tea. Continued to the lounge upstairs and turned on the TV.
It was showing one of those glorious stiff-upper-lip British war-time films stuffed with supporting role stalwarts: the chunky marmalade voice of James Hayter, the abrasively nosy landlady of Joan Hickson, the alarming wobbling chins of Margaret Rutherford, and Richard Wattis doing his sleek but irritable minor official act. All dead and gone now but leaving behind on film an immortal repertory company.
Dozed in the early evening, then changed and made up. Felt oddly slack – no anticipation and no nerves at all – a bad sign. Descended to the bar at nine o’clock where the character of the place had changed radically from the genteel old ladies of the afternoon. They had been replaced by a group of old gentlemen who had decided to dispense with ‘gentility’ and were attacking the alcohol with gusto. They were seated up at the bar counter next to a marble bust of the patriot leader, Charles Stuart Parnell. At a quick glance, it looked as if Parnell was part of the clientele.
As I laid out the props, they asked what was happening and I explained. The loudest of the group quoted a line from ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ then looked at me suspiciously.
“You know he went to jail for sodomy?”
“Yes, so I’ve heard.”
He grumbled back into his pint. By now, there were about fourteen people in the bar but they seemed to be regulars, rather than audience. Then a group of four arrived, a couple in their thirties and two very respectable looking old ladies. They had heard about the show on the radio and wanted to know when I was going to start.
“It said nine fifteen on the Alan Maguire programme. It’s half past nine already. You’re late.”
Evidently they were not regular attendees of Irish theatre.
Found that the flex of my stage lamp was too short to reach the plug socket. There was no choice but to move the stage area itself. Unfortunately, this placed me directly next to Parnell and his drinking pals on one side, and next to the lavatory door on the other. By five to ten, I was ready to start.
“Finally my tour of America reached California. So infinitesimal did I find the knowledge of Art west of the Rocky Mountains that an art patron, one who in his time had been a successful gold prospector, actually sued the railway company for damages because the plaster replica of the Venus de Milo, which he had ordered from Paris, had been delivered minus the arms. What was even more surprising still is that he won the case and the damages.”
From the outset I knew that this performance was going to be a right sod. Even in the most difficult of venues, the opening sentences had invariably been greeted by a curious hush. But not here – the level of conversation continued as if I was inaudible and invisible. Newcomers were vociferously welcomed and their bar orders placed at full volume. Decided that the only tactic was to keep bellowing above the noise. Even here I was in trouble. My voice was quite hoarse and there was a significant drop in vocal power. Somewhere along the line, I’d over-strained it. Damn it to hell – this was worrying. Tried a tactical switch of reducing the volume so that they’d have to make an effort to hear the words. I’d reached Wilde’s story about Narcissus.
“Did Christ teach his disciples? I wonder? When Narcissus died the flowers of the field were stricken with grief and begged the river for drops of water that they might mourn for him. ‘If all my drops of water were tears,’ replied the river ‘I would not have enough to weep for Narcissus. I loved him’. ‘How could you help loving Narcissus?’ said the flowers. ‘He was so beautiful.’ ‘Was he beautiful?’ asked the river. ‘Who should know that better than yourself?’ replied the flowers. ‘For every day, lying on your banks, he mirrored his beauty in your waters.’ ‘I loved him’ murmured the river ‘because when he hung over me, I saw the reflection of my own beauty in his eyes’.”
It worked. The volume of noise in the bar dropped as people strained to catch the delivery. In fact, they seemed to be almost caught by the tenderness and subtlety of the story.
This mood was crushed immediately by the loudest of Parnell’s drinking pals who leaned across and said:
“Yes, that’s all very well but what about the sodomy?”
He had an obsession with ‘the sodomy’ that in more psychologically sophisticated company might have raised serious doubts.
I battered on. The next major problem loomed up from stage left in the form of an almost spherically shaped old man in a black suit and rimless spectacles. He was rattling a tin can and loudly shouting for donations to the ‘Catholic Orphans Fund’. I was not sure whether he realised that he was walking across my stage or even that the play was in progress. As I tried to shout him down, he stopped and gave me a look of shocked irritation that I should so rudely interrupt his charitable work. For a few fraught moments, Oscar Wilde fought the Catholic Orphans. It was a spaghetti western face off. Then, thank God, he wandered away.
The general racket continued, as did the constant flow of traffic in and out of the lavatories beside me. However, amidst all the noise of a busy Saturday night pub, there was some laughter and occasionally even a sprinkle of applause. Even one of Parnell’s cronies was laughing at some of the quips.
It was a weird experience – half the time thinking that they hated it because of the refusal to shut up, the other half getting what was actually quite a good response. Then it struck me that what might be happening was that they were simply unused to theatre. They were reacting in the same way that they would if watching the pub TV. The audience noise was not due to malevolence but due to participation. My mood brightened at this thought but, for all that, it did not make the acting any easier. Finished the show and circulated with the hat – twenty three pounds – not too bad, considering that they’d just been pan-handled by the Catholic Orphans.
Packed up the gear and retired to the bar counter. A tanned, athletic looking man of about fifty gave me a rueful smile.
“I wasn’t keen on that crack you made about the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. My life is foxes.”
It turned out that he was a whipper-in for the Hunt at Powerscourt Demesne, a large estate in Co Wicklow. Nevertheless, he bought me a pint and we talked. He said that he had a fair bit of acting experience himself.
“It’s because of the Powerscourt connection. It’s where they filmed the Laurence Olivier film of ‘Henry V’. And the Stanley Kubrick film, ‘Barry Lyndon’. And John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’. The film crews hire us to ride horses for them. There was a crowd there just a few months ago – our job was to stage a cavalry charge. But, Jaysus, they just didn’t know when to call it a day. They kept on making us do it over and over again. In the end, we just looked at each other, said ‘Feck it’, and rode off to the pub. We left the film crew behind, just standing there with their mouths hanging open.”
A curious fact about the making of ‘Henry V’ was that, as it was filmed at the height of the Second World War, the extras on both sides were locally recruited Irish. One man who was part of the ‘French’ army received such a beating during the Agincourt sequence that he’d turned to his ‘English’ assailant and said:
“O’Rourke, get this under your helmet and into your thick skull. If you belt me like that again, I’ll reverse history.”
Another couple from Gorey joined our conversation and the wife began to tell me about their son.
“He’s twenty years old and he cares nothing for money. Just poetry and things like that. I don’t know what to do with him. He’s started studying Logic. And I can’t understand a word he’s talking about.”
It reminded me of a story about Patrick Pearse. As well as being the Republican leader of the Easter Rising, he was also a teacher. A woman once came to him complaining about her son’s lack of progress at school.
“He doesn’t seem to want to do anything except play the tin whistle. I can’t see any future for him. What am I to do?”
Pearse answered, “Buy him a tin whistle.”
I drank some fast pints and the evening began to blossom. Then, at 11.30pm, the lights flickered – a surprisingly early closing time for Ireland. It seemed to make little difference to the roar of talk though. Midnight came and it was obvious that the bar staff were itching to leave. To their obvious dismay, someone started to sing and somebody else replied with a further song. I turned to the barmaid to buy a round; she drew the pint but said:
“I can serve you because you’re a resident but no one else is allowed to buy.”
“OK, then. I’ll have a Carlsberg and seventeen gin and tonics.” She pursed her lips and banged down the Carlsberg.
The failure of the booze supply, instead of clamping things down, seemed more like throwing a match into petrol. A veritable musical battle broke out. One group was singing Dublin songs, while the other replied with Cork songs. Asked one of the latter if he was from Cork; he laughed and said:
“No, we’re all neighbours from Gorey.”
The barmaid made another futile attempt to close but was told to go away and calm down. My companions urged me to sing and, for the third time this trip, ‘Carrickfergus’ rang out. This was followed by the two very respectable old ladies launching into a comic patter tune called ‘Johnson’s Motor Car’ – they ended to a clamour of congratulations. Another man stood and gave a beautiful rendition of ‘The Rare Auld Times’, a great ballad lamenting the destruction of old Dublin by the developers and profiteers. Found it genuinely moving because I really had known Dublin in the rare auld times.
The bar staff obviously did not find it moving at all and once more attempted to shut up shop. Yet another song started up. It was strange in that none of the customers were much under forty-five, and the bar staff were in their early twenties, yet it felt like it was the kids defying the teacher. As the wife from Gorey said:
“To hell with the rules. We’re the mad Irish.”
At 1.30am, a full two hours after the first attempt, the bar staff finally got definitely heavy. “That’s the end. All out. Now!” as they stacked the chairs. It looked as if it really was the end.
Then, wordlessly, the whole company stood to attention to sing ‘The Soldiers Song’ – the National Anthem. The bar staff were completely flummoxed. It was quite impossible to do anything about it. You could not interrupt the National Anthem – well, not in Ireland you couldn’t. However, as the last strains of ‘A Naay-shun Once Ag-aain!’ died away, that really was it.
Bade a drunken farewell to my Gorey comrades and retired up to the residents lounge. A Dublin couple were watching TV; they complained that they’d had an extremely dull night and looked decidedly peeved when I described the excellent craic that had been happening right underneath them. Retired to bed – once again, an evening that I thought would be lousy had turned out to be a gas.
DAY THIRTY: SUNDAY
Up at 8am and went down for breakfast. Michael the landlord looked tired and dispirited, rather like Robert E Lee after the Battle of Gettysburg. Asked him about the best way to get to Wicklow. Hitching on a Sunday would be hellish, but it turned out that no buses went there either. Michael suggested taking the train.
Packed up Bosie and we trundled through the quiet back lanes of the town. It was a spectacularly beautiful morning. The town was empty – those Gorey residents who were awake presumably were tucked away at Mass.
Reached the charming little train station. Tree branches laden with early autumn drooped over the single platform. Sun-dappled shadows played on the train which rested gently before its journey. A lazy cat loped towards me to be stroked. In the distance, a small portly stationmaster ambled along a hedge-lined lane to open the clapboard ticket office. It all made Thomas the Tank Engine look like brutal urban realism.
Sat back and breathed in the sheer peace. It reminded me of an old Dublin saying: ‘it was so quiet you could hear a spider sneeze.”