111th Post: 28th IRELAND. 2nd Glendalough – Wilde’s Socks



Woke at 8am – another good sleep. Sat outside in the car park to drink some tea. The day was ominously cloudy and, as I raised my cup, the first drops of rain began to fall. Retreated to the lounge where Ann said that the weather forecast predicted daylong rainfall. Still, the only real jobs to do up till performance were to publicise the show and make some advance telephone calls.

As the rain increased to storm level, made a dash to the village call-box and commenced battle with the Irish public phone system. With the assistance of a pile of coins and numerous rabbit punches at the machine, I got through to my Co Meath contact, Mary, late of the Magdala Tavern, London. She replied to the news of my imminent arrival with:

“Oh, that’s good. Now, first, what brand of vodka do you want laid in?”

Had an idea that the nineteenth show might not go entirely to plan?


Next, rang the secretary of the Irish Oscar Wilde Society based in Bray, a few miles away. Her name was Carmen and she kindly promised to attend tonight’s show but added with self-deprecation:

“I don’t really know much about Oscar Wilde. I haven’t been in the job very long. Let me get this right. You do a fifty-minute monologue? Do you do a question and answer session afterwards?”

“Well, sometimes I do, but not on this tour.”

“Oh, good,” she replied. “Because I really wouldn’t know what to ask you. It seems that everyone in the Society knows more about Wilde than I do.”

“Don’t worry about that. The same thing’s always happening to me.”

We arranged to meet at the show.

The stream at Glendalough

 The question and answer session, in my experience, is a difficult and dangerous area. There are always – always – people in the audience who are better informed and the last thing that most of them are seeking is enlightenment. Their only aims appeared to be a) to catch you out, and b) to display their own superior knowledge. They are usually men in ties and unnaturally tight collars and with, yes, anoraks dangling from the backs of their chairs. With a sense of inevitability, eventually you have to respond to their uncompromisingly raised hands.

“Can you tell me what colour socks Oscar Wilde favoured during the late eighteen eighties, please?”

If you answer honestly, that you haven’t got a fecking clue, then you hear a rustling among the audience; ah, the impostor has been unmasked! So you have to lie and answer resolutely “Blue”, and move on swiftly. That usually shuts them up but occasionally there will be a response of:

“Really? On page eight hundred and thirty nine of H. Clutterbury Farquhar’s admirable biography, it distinctly says that Oscar Wilde favoured orange socks.”

The only way to handle this is to reply sternly:

“Mr Clutterbury Farquhar’s biography, while indeed admirable, was published in 1953. Since then, more recent research by Dr Elmore Hackenbakker of the General George Patten College of Fine Art in Minnesota has proved conclusively that Wilde favoured blue socks.”

This is usually infallible unless you come up against a real heavy. If you get a reply such as:

“But surely my old friend Elmore Hackenbakker has only ever written about Wilde’s sock attitudes during the early eighteen nineties”, then it is time to surrender and to make sure you get the fee in cash.

Ruins on the road to Glendalough

 Throughout the day the rain was relentless – a dirty driving downpour. Sat in the lounge and decided to abandon the publicity walk in costume. Apart from the odd sheep, there was nobody out there to take any notice anyway. Made enquiries about travelling to Co Meath tomorrow. It turned out to be a lot worse than feared. The main problem was that there was only one bus a day out of Laragh and it left at 7.15am. The other problem was that it went only to Dublin.

Quite apart from the inconvenience, I certainly did not want to travel via the capital. I wanted Dublin to be left as the glittering finishing post, the end of the trail, the triumphal arch. To go through it beforehand would be a clear case of premature climax. When Alexander the Great’s army neared the end of the epic march to India, he didn’t nip on ahead of them for a quick curry? All the same, it looked like there was no alternative. And it meant getting up at 6am as well. Damn it!

Traffic in Laragh

 Watched the rain through the window, twiddled my thumbs and waited. Decided that there was nothing else to do except go to bed. Sleep was coming easily now; the energy levels were at a very low ebb.

Woke in the early evening and came down to the lounge. Inside, there were quite a few hostellers trapped by the rain, including a very pleasant young German teacher who started chatting to me. He asked what I was doing and I went into the polished Oscar routine. His face broke into an incredulous grin.

“But yes! I have read the book by Tony Hawks. The one with the fridge. It’s very popular in Germany. And you are doing the same? That is wonderful. But without the fridge.”

He turned enthusiastically and told his fellow travellers. They regarded me curiously as if I was another ‘site of historical interest’ on the itinerary. They were a very mixed bag of nationalities: Germans, Israelis, Italians, French, etc. I suddenly realised that the rain had worked in my favour – they were a perfect captive audience. Went into a super-sales drive to encourage their attendance. One couple expressed reservations owing to the fact that they couldn’t speak English. True, that was a bit of a drawback with an Oscar Wilde monologue, but I suggested they brought their Anglo/Portuguese dictionary along. Another man frowned at the publicity leaflet and said disapprovingly:

“Your title, I am sure, is wrong. This ‘Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes’? I think it is meant to be the other way round. ‘Drink is the Curse of the Working Classes’. I have read this saying before. Maybe you have made an error in your transcription, yes?”

Somehow, I had the feeling that the world of Wildean paradox might pass him by.


After much wheedling and chivvying and gloomy forecasts of approaching hurricanes, managed to shepherd a fair-sized contingent of backpackers to Lynham’s bar. Carmen from the Wilde Society was there, together with a group of locals. By the time the stage was prepared there were about sixty people in a semi-circle out front. Things looked good.

“I had a range of choices when I left jail. My friend, Frank Harris, told me that I’d have to choose between this world, the next world and Australia. As accounts of the next world and Australia were not especially encouraging, I decided to choose this world. But England was quite impossible to live in. I tried to have dinner at the Saville Club. There was this terrible wave of hostility all around me. I felt like a lion in a den of Daniels.”

Except for one problem, the show went very well. Despite last night’s doubts, there were no distractions at all, a fluff-less delivery and a lot of laughter. Even the bar staff leaned on the counter to listen. The difficulty arose on stage right where the backpackers, though deeply respectful, sat in bafflement. It was rather like playing to two different audiences at the same time, one half watching a comedy while the other half watched a tragedy. The account of Wilde’s imprisonment, though, united both groups in a sympathetic stillness, broken only by the steady page-flicking of an Anglo/Portuguese dictionary.

Lynham’s bar at midnight

Joined Carmen’s group and sank the first pint with relish. After she left I settled to talk to an Australian woman and two Irishmen. The men, Pat and Donal, lived at the Glendalough hostel about a mile away where they received free food and rent in return for odd jobs. Aged thirty-ish, Pat was a landscape artist who said he was allergic to towns; even his hometown of Arklow was anathema.

“I have to live where there are hills.”

Pat in Lynham’s Bar

His companion, Donal, was older, probably forty, and, in contrast to Pat’s live wire cracks, was studiously quiet. Judy, the Australian, was an intelligent and well-informed government policy adviser from Brisbane. She said that, much as she loved Australia, she could not resist coming to Ireland each year to chill out.

“I suppose it’s because I’ve got Irish blood in me. A lot of Australians have. You see all these memorials in Ireland to the 1798 Rising. A lot of the prisoners from the Rising were transported to Australia. There is a 1798 memorial in Sydney today.”

Pat said: “I read a crazy story about the first convict ships. When they arrived in Botany Bay, they’d been at sea for about six months. All the women had been locked up in one ship and all the men in another. When they landed, they were all left together on the beach. Well, nature took its course. So the history of Australia began with a beach orgy.”

Judy laughed: “So no change there then.”

Donal, Judy, and Pat in Lynham’s Bar

 Looked at my watch at 11.30pm and told them that, much against my will, I had to leave early as I had to catch the seven am Dublin bus. Donal asked where I was going.

“Moyvally, near Innfield. It’s on the Co Kildare and Co Meath border.”

Donal said quietly: “Don’t worry. I’ll drive you there tomorrow morning.”

Looked at him to see if he was serious. It seemed he was.

“But it’s miles away. It would take hours.”

“That’s OK. I don’t start work at the hostel till 11am.”

Felt absolutely bowled over by such a generous offer. It would mean the end of all the transport problems. Eagerly thanked him and offered to buy a pint. He declined as he neither drank nor smoked. It was even more impressive an offer coming from someone who was stone cold sober.

Stayed on and we chewed over Australian politics till 1am. Arranged to meet Donal at 8.30 in the morning and returned to the hostel. Had one last cigarette while hanging out of the kitchen window to avoid the fire alarms, then slept.

The Glendalough signature


Woke at 6.30am and joined a German couple in the kitchen. As I broke open a ‘Cup a Soup’ carton for breakfast, they regarded it with incredulity. The woman could not conceal her giggles.

“Oh, you foreigners! Your food is very funny!”

They were catching the 7am bus – the last official way out of Laragh. We shook hands solemnly and I waved them off. Wondered whether Donal would keep his extraordinary promise or whether I was just bidding farewell to the only escape route?


Next week on Tuesday July 23 – onwards to County Kildare.

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